Erica Girges

StorySquad: Turning Screen Time Woes into an Immersive Learning Experience

Girl wearing a rainbow headband sitting and looking and down at a tablet device.

It’s not unknown that we’re living in a tech-driven society. There’s just about an app for anything you could need or imagine these days. Amid the pandemic, we’ve all grown even more reliant on our devices to get through our everyday routine. Adults are using these devices, but now it’s imperative that our children use them.

When I was in school, learning how to use a computer was an elective skill. Today, kids are expected to know how to use various applications and navigate the internet to get through their school day. For many of us, this has been even more so the case as many school districts have transitioned into distance learning programs where 100% of the student’s class time and education is online.

Many parents worry about the effects extended screen time may have on their children. As adults, we’ve been there ourselves; it’s addicting and eliminates the desire for true social interactions. I’m a parent of 2 kids myself (ages 4 and 9) and continuously struggle between wanting to have a sanity break and immense guilt about the amount of time they spent in front of a screen. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, right?

Joining the Team

As a Lambda School student, we’ve gotten to work on a lot of great projects. As part of the experience, in the last unit of the web development program, we work with an outside organization on their live product. I got the honor of working with StorySquad who’s sole purpose is breaking the screen zombie cycle. The app is an engaging storytelling game geared towards children ages 8–12. Yes, it’s an online game but what makes it stand out is that participants’ stories must be handwritten. The StorySquad team recognizes the need for an online educational platform and the importance of incorporating handwritten stories to strengthen a skill that’s often forgotten.

StorySquad faceoff page displaying children matched to compete with each other based on writing and drawing submission.
StorySquad faceoff page displaying children matched to compete with each other based on writing and drawing submission.
Faceoff generation page. Matches children from opposing teams against each other to later be voted on.

StorySquad has developed cutting-edge tech with their data science team to score and match children’s submissions. This system is designed to filter submissions based on their content and considers all skill levels and abilities. The goal is to encourage children of all writing/drawing skill levels to participate. With this system, they can match children into teams based on similar writing/drawing styles.

As a developer on the web team, our tasks included helping to implement features necessary for the game mechanics improving the overall user experience. One of those features was to develop a leaderboard that would update at the end of each weekly game cycle. To do that, we would need to ensure the game was fully functional from submissions, squad matching, faceoff generation (as seen in the photo above), voting, and winner declaration.

Debug, Code, Repeat

Our team thoroughly tested the game from start to finish. Each time, coming up with more questions and discovering new things that we wanted to dig into further. One concern was a noticeable bug in the voting system for the faceoffs. We noticed that the recorded votes weren’t calculating a winner. The current voting logic was that the user with the best 2 out of 3 votes would be the winner. However, even though three votes were registering and a winner could be determined, one was never generated.

This presented an opportunity for our team to delve into the codebase to understand the current logic and destruct bits and pieces of the code. As we started connecting endpoints with frontend functionality, we discovered that it was imperative to fix existing issues with the faceoff voting functionality before implementing the leaderboard feature.

code showing two radio dial components where values were updated to just 1 and 2
code showing two radio dial components where values were updated to just 1 and 2

We were able to isolate and fix specific bugs in the code then later develop new endpoints to help generate the consecutive steps of the faceoffs feature. In some instances, bug fixes were as simple as seen above, where it was a quick change for component values. In other cases, it required an entirely new system to replace old endpoints.

One new endpoint I was able to develop was calculating the updated total points per child user at the end of the game cycle. This addition to the codebase was huge because it’s the first step in creating a leaderboard feature. The endpoint also handled the calculation internally in the database where we take the faceoff winners submission to track it back to the correct child. Then we calculate the newly awarded points from the faceoff to the current total points of the child. This execution ensures we are applying points correctly to each child. We are also able to provide each child a separate breakdown of drawing and writing points accumulated.

Reflection

Although our team wasn’t able to complete the desired features within the 4-week window we were assigned to the product, we did contribute by tackling essential issues with the overall faceoff and game mechanics. The groundwork and time spent resolving these issues were crucial to the overall game functionality. I’m confident our efforts and contributions will be beneficial to all future teams on this product.

As we have wrapped up our work, our number one goal has been to ensure we’re providing the next team with everything they need to be successful. The best way to do this is to provide up-to-date documentation on all of our progress throughout the last four weeks.

One feature that we didn’t get to, but I could see the benefits of being developed, would be implementing a trophy room. Many kids thrive when in an environment where they’re recognized and praised for their work. Having a trophy room feature would encourage kids to continue to participate and provide that reward-based system for them.

Being a part of StorySquad has been an enriching experience. Not only have I gained exposure to working with a heavy data science-driven application, but I’ve also discovered a genuine interest in EdTech and the benefits these programs have for our children.

I’m excited to see StorySquad’s growth throughout future Labs’ teams. Technology is forever evolving, and using it to create tools to nurture children’s developing minds is most fulfilling. I couldn’t think of a more rewarding experience than benefiting children’s development, especially when they’ll be the ones building the next big tech someday.

You can learn more about StorySquad and keep up to date here: https://www.storysquad.education/

Mom, Software Engineer, talk to me about Neurodiversity