AUSTIN (KXAN) — Adults are having a hard enough time completely understanding COVID-19 and everything surrounding it, so how can young children comprehend and navigate an event of that magnitude?
An Austin-based company is working to answer that question using augmented and virtual reality.
DisruptED, a company built on educating young learners from the Pre-K level to the third grade, is releasing BEE Safe, a book and activities centered around “staying safe in these tough times,” referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like all its products, BEE Safe uses both augmented and virtual reality to capture young minds with creativity and help them (and their parents) learn about the world around them. In the instance of BEE Safe, they are learning about taking precautions during the COVID-19 and, of course, how to be safe.
And yes, a bee is the main character that guides the reader through the story.
“It’s a labor of love for us to put this out,” said Kate Peiler, CEO and founder of disruptED. “We’re excited about putting this out for people to utilize, and help parents and educators to help children learn better about this pandemic and follow the rules.”
The books and activities disruptED produces, coupled with a smartphone/tablet app, create immersive, highly-interactive stories that not only entertain children, but educate them as well. BEE Safe is the fourth book disruptED has released, and it comes out in hardback Friday.
“It’s a new world with all new rules,” said Ed Heck, disruptED’s creative director. “I thought, ‘what would kids be going through?’”
Heck is the writer and illustrator of disruptED’s books, and he said the bee character had been in the works for other subject matters, but once the pandemic put its stranglehold on the country, he knew the bee could help immediately.
“I thought BEE Safe would be a good one to start with right now,” Heck said. “Just to kind of explain to children what’s going on and to give them a positive turn on it, and let them know that it’s not always going to be bad.”
Heck also said the book serves as a jumping-off point for parents to have discussions with their children, “then they can go as deep as they want in the explanation of what’s going on.”
A $25,000 “Work Together Talent Grant” from Upwork, a company that pairs businesses and freelance workers together, helped Peiler, Heck and the rest of the disruptED team put together the materials at an accelerated rate to make the book available.
The best part about the book, perhaps, is it’s free to everyone. Anyone can download the book and supporting materials from the company’s website and use it immediately. There’s an expansive teacher’s guide that can be purchased, but everything else is free of charge.
“We want kids to be interested in something like that, and the content to be sticky,” Peiler said. “There’s not a lot of materials and guidance for those teachers, and we’re excited to put out all that material to help with a blended learning approach.”
But, in order to take advantage of the augmented and virtual reality portions of the material, you’ve got to have the app downloaded on a smartphone or tablet and have a pair of Google Cardboard googles at your disposal. The company sells a starter kit that includes the googles, along with three other books and supporting materials for $69.95.
The googles alone from Google cost anywhere from $10-$30.
Peiler said while there’s plenty of material for older learners, the young ones tend to not have much material geared specifically to them, and that’s the main need disruptED is trying to fill. She said disruptED is in schools across the country and being able to give teachers something that’s on the cutting edge of education while being both fun and intuitive is what she’s most proud of.
“We want kids to be interested, we want the content to be sticky so they realize this is important, but it can be presented in a fun and educational way,” Peiler said. “We’re super proud about what we put together for this program, and we’re excited to bring joy and empowerment to the kids who want to learn.”
As well as the BEE Safe book, disruptED contracted with Long Lat., a manufacturing company, to make masks Heck designed. For every mask purchased, disruptED will donate one to frontline workers, Peiler said.
With online learning becoming a more central part of curriculum across the country due to COVID-19, Heck said he’s proud disruptED positioned itself to be available to students and teachers in the beginning stages.
“I think this pandemic has kind of accelerated what was already happening,” Heck said. “This type of learning is becoming the norm, and we just want to get this out there and help kids.”