Explorify: Changing the way Science is taught in primary schools
Wellcome is a global charitable foundation that seeks to enhance the role of science in the world and improve the lives of people through science. In the research they conducted in 2014 with primary schools in the UK, they discovered that most children were unmotivated to learn science at an early age. This was in great part due to the fact that teachers had a difficult time making classes fun and exciting and had trouble encouraging the use of higher-order thinking skills (HOTS). Many of them struggled to find ways to encourage their pupils’ creativity and curiosity within their busy schedules and to integrate their experiences into the formal curriculum.
When I joined the project, the vision and proposition were still being developed, so I had the opportunity to contribute in its early stages. Through the first two pilots and over a period of 9 months, I was responsible for designing the user experience of a digital product that 1) made science fun for children and 2) would keep teachers engaged and positively influenced the way they taught.
The original idea was to design a digital platform where teachers would be able to access a range of activities to support their pupils’ creative thinking as well as encourage them to ask questions, think creatively and develop an interest in the world around them.
In order to start using our pilot, teachers were required to sign up, and be onboarded to the programme. A teacher’s core users tasks included searching, sorting, and filtering of activities, rating them and marking them as complete, tracking their class progress and remaining engaged throughout the full duration of the programme, which lasted several weeks.
We incorporated gaming mechanics to delight children and teachers alike, and behavioural insights to encourage the formation of new habits. I was particularly inspired by Nir Eyal’s ‘Hook’ and the EAST framework for applying behavioural insights.
What I did
- Planned and conducted all user experience research efforts with teachers, children and schools in the UK.
- Used various methods, including focus groups, card sorting, surveys, contextual enquiries, and a diary study to keep track of the changes in users over time.
- I used findings to create user journeys, personas, user stories, and other outputs that I shared with the rest of the team and stakeholders.
- I created rapid sketches, wireframes, and interactive prototypes using low- to high-fidelity methods (e.g., paper prototyping, Marvel, InVision…), then worked closely with our UI Designer and Front-end Developer to design the live product.
- The user experience was further refined by following up with new ideas after the initial launch and testing them out with users.
- Throughout the project, I conducted both in-person and remote usability tests, working in an agile environment with the rest of the product team.
- Teachers were introduced to Explorify gradually, using a combination of pilots and a beta launch in the 2016-2017 school year.
- The full launch was in September 2017, with over 20,000 teachers and 12,000 schools that signed up for the product.
- In 2018-19, Explorify had its first evaluation. The teachers that used it reported the positive effects it made on their teaching and their pupils’ progress.
- Children were able to develop and build skills to think like a scientist after completing several activities in succession, and their teachers were able to see the changes in students’ confidence and communication.
- 84% of the teachers that took part in the final survey said that Explorify had met or exceeded their expectations.
- Since its launch, Explorify has won a number of awards, including the Webby Awards Honoree in Education and the BETT 2019 award for ‘Best Free Digital Content or Open Educational Resources’.