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CTR January 2019
Vol. 27 No. 1 Issue 228

Download this issue as a PDF
Let's Get Ethical, Scratch 3.0, Learn About Concrete and Jim Marggraff on Connecting Dots
I want to connect some dots to see how we can use technology for impact -- and to improve the world. Jim Marggraff, in his Dust or Magic talk “Connecting Dots - Technology for Impact.” Watch his talk, at

This was after he met a neurologist struggling to use Radio Shack technology to help a “locked in” patient. Being locked in means that you are unable to physically move, except for your eyes. Jim approached the problem using his past experiences with interface design at LeapFrog, developing paper-based interactive interfaces for his Smart Globe, LeapPad and the FLY pen. Could these ideas work with the human eye? In is November 4, 2018 talk at Dust or Magic, Jim describes how he started working on what he calls a PTS, or problem to solve -- to “transfer intent into action, through your eyes.” If you have an hour, watch Jim’s talk. It’s good inspiration at the top of a new year... to listen to a lifelong learner, who has started six companies, and assesses his progress. You’ll also learn about his recent work on some larger, global issues, including the creation of a VR movie that lets you that the point of view of a teddy bear, in the arms of a young refugee girl. The video is called “One Small Act” One of his guiding values in his most recent work with refugees is that “violence is not a sustainable means of conflict resolution.”  Watch Jim’s talk, at

So’long Flash plugins, hello touch screens. Mitch Resnick’s team at MIT has released a future-oriented version that Scratch, with some powerful features, better group management features and the ability to run old projects. Read the review in this issue.  

Sponsored by the Department of Education, this year’s free Ed Games Expo will display 130 products. These includes 15 Virtual Reality Exhibits, including HoloLab Champions by Schell Games and Scuba Adventure by Killer Snails. Many of these projects were funded by SBIR and other government programs across 25 offices. Dates are January 7-8, 2019 at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. More details at

What can stop a river and hold up a skyscraper?  It’s not superman -- it’s concrete -- an ancient substance that's easy to take it for granted. How much do you know about concrete? Is it the same thing as cement? Do you know the where the world’s largest concrete structure is, or how much a bag of cement costs? Start working with concrete, on page 3, or at
“It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”  Fred Rogers

The quote above is displayed prominently in the Fred Rogers Center exhibit at St. Vincent College in his home town of Latrobe PA. It’s a great quote, and it was selected from the thousands to be put into the steel letters of his memorial.

For me, being a hero for Fred means doing a thorough job reviewing children’s software. Over the past few years, this job has become more difficult, as the number of new products has increased, while the number of ethical publishers has decreased.

Back in 1968, Fred Rogers started a challenging career in television to use the medium to “make goodness attractive” for all children. That was back when televisions that were the size of washing machines. Although the children’s media landscape has changed dramatically, Fred Rogers’ values have not. In my study of children’s interactive media, I've found that Fred’s attributes for quality in children’s media transfer well to today’s touch screens and game consoles. So, based on the principles upon which he designed his Neighborhood, I created a Fred Rogers rubric with quality attributes: ethical, honest, empowering, child paced, supportive of relationships and well crafted.

How do we increase the time every child spends with quality, ethical interactive content?  That’s our PTS, or Problem To Solve (thanks Jim Marggraff).

The cause of the problem today is that children’s media has become dominated by technology companies who don’t understand child development; namely Apple, Google and Amazon. We’re not assuming that the people at these companies are bad or have a desire to harm children. But they are competitive marketers who encourage publishers to increase subscriptions and onboarding activities, to increase revenue.

A child using a digital device can easily fall into a slippery web of commercialism. In short, the concept of “free” is contaminating the digital media well, diluting the inherent potential of the technology as a quality media delivery system. Work on this rubric started after I taught a class at TCNJ on The Methods of Fred Rogers. [Note that while I work with the Fred Rogers Center as a Senior Fellow, this work is my own, and it in know way represents an endorsement of either the Fred Rogers Company or the Fred Rogers Center].

Here is a three-step strategy to address the PTS (problem to solve) -- to increase the amount of time children spend with quality interactive media.

1. Finding. Effectively with the January 2019 issue of CTR, we’ll start formally screening new products our Fred Rogers rubric, which is part of our new CTREX Flex Rubric system. One of the six items on this rubric is “Ethical” This simple rubric can help publishers self-assess products, and it will be used by our expert reviewers as they rate products.

2. Funding. Making quality children’s media isn’t cheap, but like Fred Rogers, we’re not ready to compromise on quality. Why shouldn’t our children have access to the best developers, making the best art, music and narration? But quality isn’t cheap. We’re exploring joining forces with a foundation to create a F.R.E.D. Fund (Fund to Rejuvenate Ethical Digital Media (for children). This fund was inspired by the work of Fred Rogers, but has no formal connection with either the Fred Rogers Company or the Fred Rogers Center.

3. Supporting a Market. Money is the oxygen for sustained growth. We want to make it easy for App stores to make a profit by selling ethical products. Our seal will be an independent marker of trust that we hope will be one of many to flag ethical content. Once parents trust the products they buy in the “ad free” or “ethical” section of the app store, they’ll buy more products. As demand increases, so will supply, creating a viable commercial market.

“Removing all the bad in the world is impossible. So the only remaining option is to create more good.” Josh Albright, TCNJ Student, member of the first “Methods of Fred Rogers” class. 

What is “Ethical?” 
Unpacking the Ethical Quality Attribute 

The age-old golden rule works well when thinking about making a children’s interactive media product, namely “do unto the children of others as you would have them do to your own.” Google's original corporate motto also works ... "don't be evil.”

As reviewers we must teach ourselves to tune into even the most subtle signs that a child is being manipulated for some other purpose other than for education or entertainment, and flag products accordingly. Here are some symptoms of bad practice (aka "evil") we’ve noted in our reviewer’s notebook.

1. Mixes play with selling. Intentionally puts items for sale in the play space. This needs to be sacred ground, and publishers should respect this.
High ___ Medium ___ Low ___  Not Applicable ___ Comments: 

2. Holds work hostage. These experiences create a context that says "you have to pay up or you'll loose your work." This is a common practice in the business world. An income tax program might keep last year's records locked until you buy the current year's software. This might be OK for an adult, but is less ethical for children, especially if the app is keeping scores or creative work.
High ___ Medium ___ Low ___  Not Applicable ___ Comments: 

3. Uses a "candy lane." It’s common practice for food markets to place candy within reach of a child, to increase begging behavior when the parents are busy, and the money is out. Ethical stores give parents a “no candy lane” option, and apps can too, by building in options to turn off display ads or tempting IAP.
High ___ Medium ___ Low ___  Not Applicable ___ Comments: 

4. Uses a timer to pressure a decision. Apps use time, either to let a child pay to eliminate waiting or advancing, or to save progress.
High ___ Medium ___ Low ___  Not Applicable ___ Comments: 

5. Mixes selling and informing. Evil practice blurs commercial content.
High ___ Medium ___ Low ___  Not Applicable ___ Comments: 

6. Contains blind alleys. These are point of purchase messages that hide the exit icon, making it difficult to get back to the play without passing through the store.
High ___ Medium ___ Low ___  Not Applicable ___ Comments: 

7. Primes the pump, or sets the stage, for buying. Apps may use a fake currency (like gems) that is initially free and given to children, but then links this currency to real money, without clear links to the actual cost, presented in a developmentally appropriate way.
High ___ Medium ___ Low ___  Not Applicable ___ Comments: 

8. Does not discourage accidental purchases with intential confusion. We’ve seen IAP items that cannot be refunded that cost up to $99.99, along with special incentives and splashy labels.
High ___ Medium ___ Low ___  Not Applicable ___ Comments: 

9. Uses an intentionally weak parental gate. Merely entering any date or swiping with two fingers is not good enough to keep a motivated child from making a purchase.
High ___ Medium ___ Low ___  Not Applicable ___ Comments: 

10. Removes adult control over the experience. Evil products remove the control over a child’s exposure to IAP, and intentionally contain easy parental gate features.
High ___ Medium ___ Low ___  Not Applicable ___ Comments: 

Because we send no more than one email message per week, there will be no CTR Weekly tomorrow.

If you're at CES, don't miss the Kids at Play award ceremony -- a partnership between Living in Digital Times, producers of the 10th annual KAPi (Kids at Play Interactive) Awards, and Children’s Technology Review.

The KAPi Award ceremony will take place at CES 2019 in Las Vegas on Thursday, January 10, at 6:00 p.m. at the Venetian Hotel, Level 4, Lando Room 4302.