Message from Me: A new tech tool for Pre-K developed at the CMU Create Lab

A new tech tool developed at the CMU Create Lab is now in all Pittsburgh Public School preschool programs, and it’s helping kids connect outside the classroom.  The program, called Message from Me, uses an iPad to help kids connect directly with their family and friends while they’re at preschool.  Since the kids can’t read yet, programmers created a way for them to do it on their own.

Beechwood Elementary preschool teacher Shellie Grooms teaches her students how to share what they’re doing in preschool with their family and friends through the Message from Me program on iPads that sit out in the classroom.

The iPad speaks: “What did you take a picture of?  Press the green button to record your message.”  The program actually talks to kids, helping guide them through taking a picture, then recording their voice and sending it all as a text or email.

“I took a picture of a giant caterpillar,” one child tells the iPad, which then plays his voice recording back for him.

Grooms says it has benefited her as a teacher, “First of all, it gives parents a window into our classroom.”   It helps parents know their children are safe and engaged.  It helps her know what her kids are most excited about, and it also teaches the children digital skills.

Four-year-old Sara Hameed takes a picture of what she made for her classmate who is in India now.  “I made this for you,” she speaks to the iPad.

Grooms explains: “They want to send messages to their friends while they’re away to show them what they’re missing…. They came up with that on their own, and that’s amazing.”

It can be hard for parents to know what their kids are doing all day at school, so when they get an email or text from their child through Message from Me, it makes it easy to start the conversation.   Katie Gullone, program director for Message from Me, says, parents are able to prompt a conversation by asking about a specific thing their child showed them they played with at preschool in the photo.  Or the parent might say, ” ‘You’re reading that book.  Let’s talk about that book.’ It is really helping to support this conversation with family.”

The learning continues at home when the conversation begins about what happened at preschool, all with the help of “Message from Me”.  With the help of funding from PNC Grow Up Great, Message from Me is expanding beyond Pittsburgh Public Schools and is also in Atlanta public schools and some additional preschools in West Virginia and Utah.