Back to School with Kylie Peppler

On Tuesday, Yasmin Kafai and Quinn Burke discussed their book Connected Code. Wednesday’s post featured Jonathan Haber on his experience taking several MOOCs. Yesterday, Elizabeth Losh answered questions about her new book, The War on Learning.

To conclude the “Back-to-School” series, Kylie Peppler guest blogs about the four books from the Interconnections collection being released this fall. These books offer K-12 educators a curriculum toolkit with a design-based approach that aligns with the current Common Core standards. Kylie Peppler, coauthor of the Interconnection collection books, is Director of the Creativity Labs at Indiana University Bloomington. She sent in the following thoughts:

Our book collection, Interconnections: Understanding Systems through Digital Design, is the culmination of an initiative begun in 2010 by a group of colleagues with a shared goal: understanding how learning can be redesigned by focusing on powerful learning principles found in the best games—ones that inspire engagement, collaboration, creativity, and, of course, systems thinking.

The initial team comprised myself and Melissa Gresalfi (researchers and educational designers from Indiana University’s Learning Sciences program), Katie Salen Tekinbaş from DePaul University/Institute of Play, Nichole Pinkard of DePaul University, and the Digital Youth Network. The goal was to develop a series of modular toolkits that used the design of digital media familiar to today’s youth as a means to develop systems thinking skills. With the financial support of the MacArthur Foundation and the help of additional partners like the National Writing Project we spent three years making this a reality—writing, testing, and iterating our curricula until we had a suite of activities to promote engagement in design and systems thinking dispositions in young people.

A key part of the process of developing these curricula was ensuring that the activities that we developed would be able to work in a variety of contexts and populations, and, in particular, be modifiable in ways that would let educators meet the distinct needs of their educational settings and populations. Whether they worked in afterschool programs in places like Boys and Girls Clubs or science classrooms in rural public schools, with youths from marginalized backgrounds or privileged ones, we wanted to create something that was adaptable while remaining powerful. Therefore, a big part of the initiative involved testing and refining the modules in many different contexts over the course of two years.

The result was four sets of modular curricula we call Interconnections. Each curriculum uses a different technology platform and provides unique ways to engage in design with various approaches to understanding systems. 


The Gaming the System curricula involves game design with the Gamestar Mechanic (G*M) platform and focuses on understanding games as systems and young people as designers of those systems. Youth learn how game designers need to think in terms of complex interactions between game elements and rules and how to pull out systems concepts in the design process.



Script Changers focuses on the idea of using narrative and interactive stories to understand systems, and uses the Scratch programming environment as a vehicle to tell digital stories about systems and effect change in local communities by way of a computational system.

And a complementary set of curricula, Short Circuits and Soft Circuits, use physical computing technology like light emitting diodes (LEDs), sensors, and the wearable technology controlled by the LilyPad Arduino to show how youths can create electronics embedded in paper, clothing, and other everyday objects and understand how these creations operate as systems. In Short Circuits youth make electronic hand puppets, sound-enabled storyboards, and DIY flashlight-enabled shadow puppetry in order to delve into literacy and storytelling. In Soft Circuits they explore using the Modkit programming language to create e-fashions like light-up wristbands and t-shirts, as well as solar-powered backpacks