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Designing Family Math – A Case Study

Lab News

Client: PBS SoCal

In the first half of 2020, the Early Learning Lab partnered with PBS SoCal to facilitate a human-centered design process that put parents at the center of designing a family math curriculum that inspires parents and caregivers to have fun with math with their young children anywhere, anytime. 

The Challenge

Children with a strong start in math by age 5 are critical thinkers and problem solvers—and are more likely to have a bright future ahead of them. Research shows that early math is a strong predictor, even more than reading, of academic achievement in elementary school, high school graduation, and college enrollment.

Yet, math is rarely emphasized in early childhood, and low-income and communities of color in particular have limited access to early math learning opportunities.

PBS SoCal’s Compton Family Math Initiative aims to create quality resources and experiences that empower families to engage with their children in math early and often. The team at PBS SoCal engaged the Early Learning Lab to build their human-centered design capacity and ensure their family math curriculum and future initiatives would resonate with local families.

Our Approach

The Early Learning Lab led a human-centered design (HCD) process that brought the PBS SoCal team together with parents from Compton, CA to design early math experiences for their family math curriculum. The Lab also incorporated strategies from behavioral economics, systems thinking, and regenerative innovation to design in uncertainty with equity. 

Our methodology included:

Human-centered design training: The Lab conducted a training for PBS SoCal on how to use HCD to create programs that meet the needs of families.

Design sessions:  We worked with PBS SoCal to craft experiential prototypes of math activities families can do with their children. Then, we tested these prototypes and gathered insights through two design sessions with a total of 25 parents of young children. During the sessions, PBS SoCal played a hands-on role to apply their new HCD skills. 

Interviews: PBS SoCal led one-on-one discussions with eight parents to gain deeper insight into the attitudes, needs, and challenges families have related to early math.

Surveys: A week after the design sessions and interviews, seven parents completed a follow-up survey about what they have done and their views on supporting math at home since the design session, what they liked most, and what they would change.

The Results

PBS SoCal gained actionable recommendations for designing the family math curriculum as well as guidance on how to use human-centered design to continuously refine programming and keep families at the core of the initiative. Through our training and research, we delivered the following: 

  1. Capacity building in human-centered design including identifying and redefining challenges, prototyping, design sessions, listening to communities, and insight gathering
  2. Prototype feedback to validate or refine math modeling exercises and media for parents and caregivers
  3. Insights into parentsattitudes, likes, routines, and challenges that will help inform the delivery of the family math curriculum
  4. Family math ideas from the Lab’s child development perspective
  5. Design principles and recommendations for implementation to prioritize in developing the family math curriculum
  6. Tools and templates for holding future design sessions, tips for interviewing, and additional resources to learn more about HCD.

“It was a great opportunity for me and my team to learn new ways to solve community challenges and develop design principles to drive, strengthen, and raise families’ voices and perspectives.”

Throughout our research, participating parents demonstrated that they are deeply interested in bringing new life to math for their children by bringing it into their lives. From here, PBS SoCal will leverage the insights from our partnership to develop their family math curriculum to meet the needs of local families. 

“It was a great opportunity for me and my team to learn new ways to solve community challenges and develop design principles to drive, strengthen, and raise families’ voices and perspectives,” said Susie B. Grimm, director of early learning at PBS SoCal.

“Compared to other design thinking workshops, the Early Learning Lab truly helped us understand how to use design thinking as a creative approach to meet the needs of families.” 

View the Designing Family Math report for our full findings, design principles and recommendations, tips from the Lab’s child development perspective, and guidelines for interviewing parents and running design sessions in the future. The report is also available in Spanish