The five habits and three visualisations
This web-app was created to help children become better learners by visualising their learning habits as a flock of boids, drum circles or a music box.
Commissioned by Thomas Tallis School this innovative educational project was designed to support the development of effective and progressive learning habits in a playful and engaging way. The resulting web application with all of its bespoke code has also been open-sourced and is available at its github repository.
It has been shown that children that focus on developing the five learning habits – being inquisitive, persistent, imaginative, disciplined and collaborative – amplify their ability to learn and to flourish at a wide range of subjects. These habits of mind have emerged from research that Thomas Tallis School had been involved in for the last few years in collaboration withThe Centre for Real World Learning at the University of Winchester. Read more about it in their research piece.
The website allows kids to report their learning habits and then visualises them in beautiful and playful way. The core of the visualisation evolves around the flock of children’s learning habits. Every child has a flock of their own habits. These habits then flow into their learning group’s flock, which in term flows into the whole school’s flock of habits.
The flock is composed of individual small geometrical creatures with a mind, shape, colour, sound and movement of their own. All of these are interlinked and modelled on the ancient concept of the four elements (water – inquisitive, earth – disciplined, fire – persistent, air – imaginative), represented by 4 materials (stone, wood, metal, glass) that in term produce four sounds (marimba, Skiddaw stones, hung drum, crystal). Visually they are represented by four shapes (circle, pentagon, square, triangle).
An additional fifth element of plastic was added to represent the collaborative habit with a hexagonal shape and a synthesised plastic tube sound.
Likewise, the individual habits also move in their particular ways – f.ex. collaborative habits, try to stick together, the inquisitive ones wander about, persistent ones stay on a particular flock direction, etc. Together (just like children) they form something that is bigger than the sum of their parts.
The second visualisation type re-arranges habits in drum circles. The more of a learning habit children have, the bigger the circle.
The last, but not least visualisation orders the habits as they were reported in time – resulting in a music-box like arrangement where kids can simply swipe across the screen to not only see, but also hear their habits’ history.
There’s also “History” view of the habits with a more traditional display of data – here habits are arranged on a graph and in circular charts. Underneath follow children comments (if made) that act as a not to one-self what they were thinking/feeling at a particular point in time.
Tech & Process
The mobile optimised web-app was built on top of a bespoke node-js back-end running on Heroku for cost efficiency. Apart from open-sourcing the whole ofTallis Habits repository, some of the building blocks that were created along the way have also been individually released under the open MIT licence such as the couch-db (node-js module that connects the back-end with the couch-db Cloudant database) and SimpleCanvas.js the front-end library that makes drawing onto HTML5 canvas much easier (deals with retina scaling and adds simple vector math).
The project was built with the school’s existing IT infrastructure and children’s devices in mind resulting in a mobile optimised web-app rather than a native app. This way anyone can access it from anywhere, without the need of installing any additional software.
The process of building Tallis Habits web-app was very much that of a co-creation. We’ve started with a workshop with kids at Google campus Londonwhere we’ve discussed colour schemes, visualisations, shapes, apps and their privacy concerns among other things.
After initial conception and building of prototypes a series of tests followed where we tested different input and visualisation metaphors to see how to make reporting of habits as simple as possible.
To build the flock we needed sound and movement ideas so I’ve led another set of workshops at Thomas Tallis School where the kids would record various sounds and film movements representing learning habits.
All of the material we’ve generated and children’s feedback (from constantly evolving prototypes and the web-app) was channeled into the final product that is now online and available for anyone to see over at tallishabits.herokuapp.com.