Twelve years ago, I started Small Factory Productions, a multimedia and technology studio for kids. Within the first couple months, I noticed that a lot of my students coming to the studio had special needs or were on the spectrum. These students loved the technology and were highly skilled in using it, but needed support when it came to working and interacting with other students and staff. I wondered if there was a way to take their love of technology and use it to improve their social and emotional learning. I reached out to Bernadette Mullen, a speech language pathologist, to run the idea by her. She was in! Together we set out to create a technology-based social skills class.
Our tech-based social skills class became really popular. In the class, students would create characters and write a story about them. Through the writing process, Bernadette would give the characters social problems that they would have to navigate and learn from in the story. Story lines includes topics such as asking good questions, conflict resolution and interrupting. I would then record their voices in a sound booth and animate the story. The process was fun, engaging, and gave students their own social stories to watch, rewatch, and learn from. After working on these cartoons for 10 years, I won an Emmy for Socially Conscious Cartoons. Additionally, students’ parents and teachers were seeing the students’ socialization improve. After making hundreds of animations, I realized there must have been a better way. After unsuccessfully searching for a solution, Small Factory Innovations was founded and SiLAS was created.
The first version of SiLAS was a downloadable 2D software that only worked on PC. Yet, the company was able to secure research studies with researchers at both Princeton and Kean Universities that showed favorable results. The company applied for an NSF SBIR grant and was awarded the grant in January 2017. After 6 months of development, the new browser-based 3D version of SiLAS was ready for launch.
As we continue on our journey, our team will remain committed to fostering the growth of students’ social skills through the effective use of technology by continually making improvements to SiLAS and researching the most effective learning techniques. Subscribe to our blog to stay up to date with the team and for some interesting tips and tricks on how to facilitate your students social-emotional learning.