The winner of the Small Biz Salute Pitch Off contest imagines a new day for STEM learning.
Entrepreneur Bryanne Leeming dreamed of a digital playground, one that would prepare children for the world of tomorrow – while giving them some good, healthy fun.
So she got to work designing a toy that could teach kids to code. The challenge: How do you make a teaching aid that kids actually want during playtime?
Her answer went splat … as in Unruly Splats, programmable electronic floor tiles that enable running and jumping (recess-style) games for children.
The UPS Store, Inc. and Inc. magazine took notice of the innovation when they named Leeming and her company, Unruly Studios, the winner of the Small Biz Salute Pitch Off contest. The small business owner is using the $25,000 prize to develop hands-on curriculum for teachers.
Read more below about Leeming’s commitment to making STEM learning fun for kids, both inside the classroom and at home.
Longitudes: What are Splats exactly?
Bryanne: Splats are programmable floor tiles that pair with a tablet preloaded with games. You spread the Splats out across the floor and depending on the game, the tiles respond with lights or sound.
Once kids learn how the preloaded games work, they can change the code and even start from a blank slate to create their own unique games. No one else in the world has built a coding game that is active and hands on like this – these kids are running and jumping and often don’t even realize they are learning.
Longitudes: What inspired you to create this product?
Bryanne: I learned to code in elementary school. I didn’t think much of it. I wanted to be an artist, not a programmer.
Ten years later in a computer science course in college, I realized that just a little coding exposure had helped me grasp more complex computing concepts.
Later, I thought: What if we could reach kids and get them comfortable with coding while they are having fun? Additionally, I wanted to spread this way of learning to children beyond ones already destined to be engineers – to make it more mainstream.
Longitudes: How do educators and parents use Splats?
Bryanne: Typically, when students learn how to code, the classroom is quiet. That learning environment doesn’t always engage kids. Splats create a buzz in the room. We call it an “Unruly Classroom.”
The kids are learning critical STEM skills through active play. It’s really cool to see them naturally break off into groups and work collaboratively on their games. Teachers love Splats because they harness their students’ passion for creating. We have a 10-pack of Splats for classrooms, complete with lesson plans for teachers.
We also sell a two-pack for play at home. You can create games using just two Splats spread across the family room. Parents and kids are posting videos online to share their creations. It’s exciting to see the creativity.
Longitudes: Describe your time spent in makerspaces.
Bryanne: This was all new to me. My undergrad degree is in cognitive science. I had no engineering experience.
I felt early on that to make my idea come to life I had to build the first prototype myself. I had advice from a Babson classmate who had engineering experience, then took advantage of a makerspace on free hacker nights. It’s an amazing community willing to work with you.
My first tiles were made out of poster board with wooden frames I cut at Home Depot. Now I work with a great team of engineers. But back then I was on my own, testing these homemade tiles in my friend’s second grade classroom and at the local YMCA.
Longitudes: What new technologies will you work into Splats?
Bryanne: Voice integration is something we are developing. With voice, kids will be able to tell the Splats what they want to do.
Technology innovation will also help us drive down the costs of our hardware. This is the type of interactive tool that was once only available at science museum exhibits, and we’ve kept the costs low enough that parents can buy it for their homes. We will continue to make it more affordable.
Longitudes: What are you reading, watching or listening to that inspires you?
Bryanne: I love listening to podcasts like NPR’s From Scratch. I like to watch anything funny to unwind.
I love watching stand-up comedian clips on YouTube. Comedians can help people think differently. That help spur ideas.
Longitudes: How has UPS changed the way you do business?
Bryanne: We were fortunate to win The UPS Store’s Small Biz Salute competition. The $25,000 prize allowed us to air ship for our first production run and develop our interactive teaching content.
We will do container shipping in the future, but the air shipping helped us get our products out five weeks earlier. I love that UPS can provide strategic ways to help us get our product into the hands of our customers.
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