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New ‘Feed Me!’ iPhone App for Kids

July 13th, 2009 by Ryan Ozawa · 1 Comment · Gadgets, Hawaii, Technology

PencilBotAfter months of work, and weeks of tweaks and waiting, Honolulu-based Edutainment Resources Inc. today announced the availability of its full PencilBot-Kids line of “Feed Me!” apps in the iTunes App Store [iTunes Link].

“Feed Me!” is directed at preschoolers, and focuses on numbers, colors, and shapes. Given ERI’s expertise in ESL (English as a Second Language) education, this simple, colorful application is available in Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, French, German, Italian, Korean, and English, so parents can easily expose their kids to basic concepts in other languages.

Feed Me!” is not ERI’s first iPhone (and iPod Touch) app, as the company released its “PencilBot ESL” series earlier this year. Whereas the first series built upon the company’s successful line of ESL education DVDs, “Feed Me!” is an original effort focused on a younger audience.

The road to its release was a long one, since it came in the midst of Apple’s upgrade of the iPhone’s OS to version 3.0.  All versions of “Feed Me!” were submitted to the App Store on June 24, and most were approved and available within four days. But the last version — the vital English edition — was not approved until this past weekend.

Nonetheless, “Feed Me!” is now officially released, and ERI is eager to see how educators, parents, and kids take to its playful, purple monster. The game features over 100 questions that randomize for “endless” game play, along with achievement levels and unlockable content, all wrapped in bright, basic visuals that “designed for preschool fingers.”

ERI commissioned Black Pixel to develop “Feed Me!” and there are more applications in the works, including a parallel series focused on the alphabet, phonetics, and vocabulary.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with ERI’s CEO Lishan Chong before. She attended Manoa Geeks in February and hopes to present “Feed Me!” at the next gathering on Thursday.  And she was kind enough to answer some questions for Hawaii Blog.

Q: Could you tell me a little bit about the development about this app from your personal perspective?

From a personal perspective, my passion for education and doing something bigger than myself motivates me to take on this challenge, so that I can help as many people as possible and strive to make a difference in their lives.

From the beginning, our vision was to create a global brand in multimedia “edutainment” (to educate in an entertaining way) that covers all subjects, all age groups and all languages. The general learning goals for any of our product lines continue to be to motivate learning and to improve learning results.

We approach the design of each product line differently but the initial focus is always on the needs of our target users. Then we look at the strengths and limitations of each platform. Our goal is to optimize the combination of an effective learning model and the best use of the features of each platform.

From the start, we always wanted to bring our unique edutainment to a young audience. This age group is very familiar with edutainment as a way of learning since they have been entertained from the time they are born. As the world becomes smaller, the need to learn other languages increases, starting at an earlier age. Since we launched our ESL apps in December 2008, we have learned a lot about the iPhone platform, its strengths and limitations. We believe the timing is perfect for us to start our pre-school line.

Q: What differentiates “Feed Me!” from your previous ESL efforts?

In terms of our process of product development, it’s not that much different from our other content. I believe that the team is the most important element of executing any plan. We have a core of about seven people who have been working together as a team for about ten years, and we work very well together. Everyone brings a different perspective to the brainstorming session.

Two people in particular I want to mention are Denise, our Executive Producer, and Henrik, our Director of Creative Design. They are very creative and dedicated people. Without them and the rest of the team, we would not have accomplished what we have today.

Each product line always starts with defining the learning goals we are trying to achieve.

For PencilBot-Kids Feed Me apps, we have three learning goals:

  1. Learn the basic knowledge – numbers, colors, shapes, patterns, etc.
  2. Apply what you learn – extend the basics by focusing on development of critical thinking skills from a very young age, not just compartmentalizing each subject.
  3. Expose learners to multiple languages at a time when their minds are most receptive. There is much scientific research to support this and in my view it’s an increasing trend.

Once the learning goals are defined, then comes the design and execution with our inter-disciplinary team. The goal is to make the product fun, effective and reflective of our edutainment approach. We believe the end product speaks for itself.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the new app?

My favorite part of this app is the whole design. From clean, bright visuals, easy navigation, and clear spoken language cues that engage young learners to play while learning, to the innovative ‘Trophy Case’ that not only keeps track of learning goals but also motivates young learners during game play. Basically the design puts edutainment to work with an app that is both fun and simple to use.

It’s easy to come up with pure educational content, but it’s a different story making kids want to learn. When you have a good design to motivate learning, you maximize one’s potential to learn.

Q: What’s next?

From our vision above you can see there are many more things we can do to promote and inspire learning! We can’t do everything at once. But we do have several immediate plans in mind:

  1. For Feed Me, we will continue to improve this app based on market feedback. We are planning to do an in-app upgrade with new content as well as incorporate necessary improvements from feedback. We also plan to add a few additional languages. Please tell your audience to give us feedback.
  2. Along the same user group, we are working on a literacy app – letters and sounds to expand their learning scope.
  3. We also have plans to start another user group, as you say “tackling yet another new app and direction” under our vision of global edutainment brand.

Thanks to Lishan for taking the time to share a little more about ERI and its iPhone efforts, and for the opportunity to expose my own pre-schooler to the “Feed Me!” app!

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