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Faceball

Future, alongside the New York City Department of Education, were charged with the challenge of encouraging children and young adults living in New York Queensbridge public housing to further develop and retain English literacy skills during their summer break.

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The challenge focused on developing resources that are available during the long summer break to continue to develop English literacy skills. Queensbridge housing projects is the largest public housing community in North America with approximately 8,000 residents occupying over 3000 units.

 In June 2014, I applied to undertake a 10 week design residency at the innovation firm and was successful, alongside 4 other applicants, at gaining a place at Future in Silicon Valley, California. During this time, I was fortunate to have the opportunity, together with a small team, to develop ideas towards a prototype stage for this challenge. The ideas have been generated by Future together with the New York City Department of Education, parents, designers and community members during a 2-day inclusive workshop known as Rapid Ingenuity Blitz.

 There were many diverse ideas conceived during the workshop.  ‘’Faceball’’ was one of them that was taken and developed further into a working prototype and 3 others are being developed.  Faceball is a basketball shooting drill in which players are given rubber discs each displaying a letter of the alphabet. On the reverse side are words associated with that particular letter. The words were ,derived from an official list (Fry sight words) that are a standard in the United States for basic English literacy. The children and young adults would choose a word at random and then proceed to shoot from each corresponding letter placed on the court to make up the spelling of the word. The key to the game was learning to play basketball with learning English as a by-product. In essence, the children and young adults did not realise they were learning words as they were more interested in learning basketball although at the same time they were learning sight words. This is a creative example of taking students out of mainstream learning environments and utilising existing resources to achieve positive recreation, learning and positive outcome experiences.

 Faceball was developed with the intention of remaining simple to use and implement without the need of direct supervision from adults. Children and young adults could take a kit out to the court and play without the need to be coached directly. This is a community that thrives around basketball as a sport and many opportunities are presented to the community through basketball including college basketball scholarships and professional opportunities.

 Faceball was developed into a prototype by Future so that Queensbridge children could begin to play the game and improve and/or develop their English literacy.  In a short time, it has and has already become a great success while at the same time being an affordable way of producing a game that further develops English literacy skills — the overall goal. The hope is that Faceball kits will be rolled out among Queensbridge youth in the coming months and will eventually be utilised in other communities through a growing social movement instigated by community members and the New York  Department of Education.

 This is a brilliant example of being bold and using simple but ingenious approaches that have been adopted by the education sector in New York City through combining design thinking and innovation towards greater collaborative initiatives for social change in communities at all levels. 

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Keir Vaughan