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Mobilizing creative learning with OctoStudio

A new coding app from the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab enables young people around the world to use mobile devices to express themselves creatively.
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A colorful cartoon of an octopus and the lower case words 'octo' in dark letters and 'studio' in bright purple letters.
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Caption: OctoStudio is new programing app, developed at MIT, than enables young people to create anytime, anywhere on a mobile phone or tablet.
Credits: Image: MIT Meda Lab

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A child seated at a table in a white room holds a smartphone up to the camera to show off their soccer project.
A student in Brazil shows the interactive soccer project they created in OctoStudio.
Photo courtesy of the Brazilian Creative Learning Network.
A colorful cartoon of an octopus and the lower case words 'octo' in dark letters and 'studio' in bright purple letters.
OctoStudio is a new coding app, developed at MIT, that enables young people to create anytime, anywhere on a mobile phone or tablet.
Image: MIT Meda Lab
A colorful illustration featuring four hands holding mobile phones. The first says: "Create with photos, drawings, and sounds." The second says "Code: Snap together blocks to animate your project." The third says "Interact: Shake, jump, or tilt to play with your project." The fourth says "Share: Send videos and GIFs of your projects to family and friends."
Kids around the world can create, code, interact, and share with the new OctoStudio app, designed to enable young people to express themselves on mobile phones and tablets.
Image: MIT Meda Lab
Two children at a table share a tablet computer.
Two children collaborate to create an animation in OctoStudio during a workshop in Brazil.
Photo courtesy of the Brazilian Creative Learning Network.
Two small children seated next to each other in a classroom share a tablet computer. There is a desk behind them and a bookshelf to the side.
A young person in Brazil helps a friend learn how to code OctoStudio projects.
Photo courtesy of the Technology Sector of the Homeless Workers' Movement.
Close-up of two hands holding a smartphone showing a photo of a squirrel and some editing icons
A young person works with a photo they just took of a squirrel, which they will include in their OctoStudio project.
Photo courtesy of the MIT Media Lab.

A group of schoolchildren in Chile walk on a hillside, taking photos of plants and animals with mobile devices. They later integrate the photos into animated stories about the local environment.

Two friends in Uganda create an interactive game with an animated chicken that moves across the screen as you tilt the phone — and speaks aloud in Swahili when it finds water. 

A girl collaborates with her mom to make an animated birthday card for her grandmother, including family photos and a personalized birthday greeting that she sings into the phone. 

All of these young people created their projects with a free mobile coding app called OctoStudio, released publicly today by the Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the MIT Media Lab. 

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OctoStudio in Action

Around the world, more and more children and teens have access to mobile devices, but many spend hours passively watching videos and scrolling through social media. By contrast, OctoStudio invites young people to use phones and tablets to express themselves creatively — and, in the process, also learn computational and problem-solving skills.

“We designed OctoStudio to expand opportunities for young people to create projects anytime, anywhere," says Natalie Rusk, the Media Lab research scientist who leads the OctoStudio project in the Lifelong Kindergarten group. “We’ve seen how much children learn when they have opportunities to build on their interests, express their ideas, and share with others.”

OctoStudio builds on decades of research by the Lifelong Kindergarten group on the design of new technologies to engage young people from diverse backgrounds in creative learning experiences. The group previously invented Scratch, the world’s most popular coding language for kids, used by tens of millions of young people around the world. 

OctoStudio is designed especially for children and families in communities where access to computers and internet is limited, but mobile phones are widespread. Throughout the design process, the Lifelong Kindergarten team has been collaborating with educators in Brazil, Chile, India, Korea, Mexico, South Africa, Uganda, and other countries around the world. To ensure widespread access, OctoStudio is completely free of charge and does not require any network connection or data charges. 

“The majority of my youth don't have Wi-Fi at home. They don't have laptops or desktops. But most of them have access to a cellphone, and that means they also have access to OctoStudio. And what that is going to do is spread the love for creating,” says Dolores Hernandez, who introduced a prototype of OctoStudio to youth at the Clubhouse after-school learning center in San Antonio, Texas.

Linford Molaodi, lecturer and program manager of the creative coding project at University of Johannesburg in South Africa, appreciates how OctoStudio is designed with images, sounds, and examples that connect with the interests and experiences of young people from different cultures. “It’s important for children to be able to create projects that are meaningful and relatable to them, and that reflect their neighborhoods and surroundings,” he says.

As young people create with OctoStudio, the world is their palette, full of creative possibilities. They can take photos and record sounds, bring them to life with coding blocks, and send their projects to family and friends. Using the phone’s sensors, they can create projects such as musical instruments that play sounds when they jump, games that react to the tilt of the phone, or collaborative projects that use Bluetooth to beam signals between phones.  

“When the students start to use OctoStudio in the classroom, they become engaged in playful exploration and creative learning,” says João Adriano Freitas, a creative coding specialist with the Brazilian Creative Learning Network. “Kids start creating, experimenting, collaborating, and sharing ideas with one another.”

At OctoStudio workshops in public libraries in Tacoma, Washington, MIT researcher Jaleesa Trapp saw a similar spirit among children and their parents: “The families were so enthusiastic. Some of the parents shared their children’s projects with family and friends. The parents were so excited to show what their children were able to create with code — and that’s huge, to get parents on board.”

OctoStudio is now available for free in app stores for both iOS and Android, and includes translations in more than 20 languages. OctoStudio does not collect any personal data, and does not track people who use it in any way.

More than a dozen people in the Lifelong Kindergarten group are now working on OctoStudio. The group continues to add new features, resources, and translations based on its ongoing collaboration with educators around the world. Key collaborators include Brazilian Creative Learning Network, the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium, Future Lab, Cruzando Foundation, Pratham Shah PraDigi Centre, and the Creative Communities group at University of Colorado Boulder. Financial support for OctoStudio comes from the LEGO Foundation, Smilegate Foundation, Little BlueBridge Foundation, National Science Foundation, and the MIT Media Lab.

Press Mentions

The Boston Globe

Writing for The Boston Globe, Prof. Mitchel Resnick explores how a new coding app developed by researchers from the Lifelong Kindergarten group is aimed at allowing young people to use mobile phones to create interactive stories, games and animations. Resnick makes the case that with “appropriate apps and support, mobile phones can provide opportunities for young people to imagine, create, and share projects.”

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