Icon for: Marita Davison


CaravanLab, University of California, Riverside

Guppy Evolution Mobile App

NSF Awards: 1111627

2016 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades K-6

Evolution can be a challenging subject to explain to a child. But it is the cornerstone of the life sciences, and kids that have a general grasp of the subject are better prepared to learn about life on our planet.

Guppy Guppy Evolution is a storybook app that introduces children to evolution through an animated guppy fish named Gus. By tapping the screen kids can bring Gus and other creatures to life and hear what they have to say about the story of evolution in their stream. Videos accessed via the home screen explain foundational concepts and show how the humble guppy fish has helped us understand evolution. Parents and kids can also visit the Guppy Guppy Evolution website at guppyevolution.org to learn more about how scientists study guppies in their pursuit to expand what we know about evolution.

Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of resources available for parents to begin to expose their children to basic evolutionary concepts. The Guppy Guppy Evolution app, website, and videos were created to help fill this gap and serve as a launching point for parents to discuss evolution and the beauty of life on Earth with their children.

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Original Discussion from the NSF 2016 STEM For All Video Showcase
  • Icon for: Vivian Guilfoy

    Vivian Guilfoy

    Senior Advisor
    May 16, 2016 | 01:12 p.m.

    The App looks like it will be user friendly and very appealing to children and their parents—helping to introduce them to basic concepts of evolution and environment. How did you go about testing the concepts and the development of the app? Did you target any particular ages or groups? What challenges did you encounter in the process? Where are you in the research process—do you have data on how this is being received; what the participants are learning, etc.? Simplifying complex science concepts is extremely important and it will be good to know how this tool contributes to that goal. I would also be interested in knowing how you plan to market the App. Looking forward to learning more about your good work!

  • Icon for: Lisa Samford

    Lisa Samford

    Executive Director
    May 16, 2016 | 07:27 p.m.

    I’m also interested in hearing about your distribution plan and any metrics you are tracking. How are you actually reaching the young learners you are targeting? Are you capturing any demographic data? I haven’t downloaded the app yet, but your video certainly compels me to do so!

  • Icon for: Tamara Ball

    Tamara Ball

    Asst. Project Scientist
    May 16, 2016 | 05:22 p.m.

    I am wondering if we can break this discussion open a bit to talk about the larger context of learning life sciences through apps to begin with. Do we know anything about how young learners learners tend to interact with apps? Are there criteria that differentiate “interactive” from “non-interactive” viewing experiences? Is learning different when there is a narrative storyline vs. when it more gamelike? What is the difference between inquiry based apps and apps that are built around discovery learning (puzzle solving) ? Do we even have indicators to reliably differentiate these different genres? Are there some apps that really compel the learner to take what they are learning back out into the world off-screen? Does that matter? Or not?

  • Icon for: Vivian Guilfoy

    Vivian Guilfoy

    Senior Advisor
    May 16, 2016 | 05:58 p.m.

    These are all very interesting questions about young learners and life sciences. I would like to hear from Marita and her team about the central theory(theories) that drives their work on this particular App-and what they are learning so far in the process.

  • Icon for: Ronald Cole

    Ronald Cole

    President & Principal Scientist
    May 17, 2016 | 03:31 p.m.

    Wonderful narrated multimedia presentations! Is it possible to learn more about the interactivity in this or any other books you have developed? For example, do you present students with questions and answer choices about the presentation, followed by feedback on their choices?

  • Icon for: Marita Davison

    Marita Davison

    Lead Presenter
    May 17, 2016 | 03:34 p.m.

    Hi everyone, thanks for your comments and questions. It certainly does seem like Apps remain a compelling frontier for reaching young people with STEM content, with endless possibilities. When we set out to build this App a few years ago there was not much (any?) synthetic material out there as far as best practices in this regard. Our goal was to raise awareness of basic evolutionary principles among young children (pre-elementary to early elementary) who would be experiencing the app along with their parents or guardians in a ‘story time’ setting. We wanted to meet young people “where they are” – which now days is interacting with high quality media on tablets and smartphones. So far we’ve had almost 30,000 downloads of the app but we could definitely do a better job disseminating it – budget constraints limited what we could do in this regard but I’m hoping to find some good suggestions/ideas about App dissemination here in these discussion forums! Anyone had any successful experiences disseminating STEM apps that they could share? However, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the engagement we’ve seen given the dissemination constraints. Perhaps that means there is an audience hungry for this kind of media content? Barring budget constraints it would have also been very valuable to include methods for tracking demographic metrics and other feedback from our users – we would highly recommend doing this to others if their resources allow. Otherwise it is hard to know where the App goes once it is “in the wild”.

  • Icon for: Brian Drayton

    Brian Drayton

    Co-Principal Investigator
    May 19, 2016 | 10:18 a.m.

    This is a fun narrative. One question I have is, does it make sense to teach about evolution when kids have little experience with variation in nature, and don’t necessarily understand some pre-suppositions (e.g. that offspring tend to be similar to their parents, though not always…)? And theres’s a lot of natural history that may confuse the story — e.g. some organisms solve the “visibility against the background” problem by changing colors in context. Etc. etc.
    So I wonder if the apps might be used to aim at some other foundational ideas, which could then prepare the way for the idea of evolution at a later age?

  • Icon for: Marita Davison

    Marita Davison

    Lead Presenter
    May 23, 2016 | 05:52 p.m.

    Hi Brian, this is certainly a valid point and many people would feel that we should wait until children are older to teach them about evolution. But even though evolution can be a very complex topic, some people are now are arguing that children can grasp concepts related to evolution and that it is important that we expose them earlier that we have in the past (including Richard Dawkins, who is arguing for schools in the UK to teach children as young as 5 years old: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/sep/01...). We felt that the guppies could provide a good point to launch into discussing evolution with children since they evolve rapidly and are familiar as pets (as opposed to microbes, etc). It does seem that children naturally have a lot of questions about where life came from and that we could at least try to capitalize on those moments to start conversations that will lay the groundwork for an understanding of evolution.

  • Icon for: Vivian Guilfoy

    Vivian Guilfoy

    Senior Advisor
    May 19, 2016 | 11:23 a.m.

    Will the project be doing any research that can tease out what concepts participants are learning; what notions or ideas “stick” with them; or what foundational ideas emerge as they work through the App? It would also be useful to find out if misconceptions emerge and the strength of those misconceptions. That might help guide a next step in App design and testing.

  • Icon for: Marita Davison

    Marita Davison

    Lead Presenter
    May 23, 2016 | 06:24 p.m.

    Some limited evaluation with young children found that children 6 years old had an understanding about evolution and guppy color patterns. Children younger than that had a more difficult time grasping the concepts. It would be ideal to do additional research with the 6 year old age group to determine which elements of the app contributed to that understanding.

  • May 20, 2016 | 01:38 p.m.

    Great video and it makes the app look engaging. Are there additional activities in addition to tapping to hear the narration? How are you going about distribution? We’re looking at developing an interactive comic book for middle school and are looking at options developing it in ebook or ibook instead of an app. What was your criteria for choosing the app route?

  • Icon for: Marita Davison

    Marita Davison

    Lead Presenter
    May 23, 2016 | 06:33 p.m.

    App users can tap to move through the story (hear the narration) as well as to reveal actions by the characters in the story (they speak to the reader, hide from predators, etc). In the end, we had limited resources to devote to dissemination work (see my first comment above) but despite that had almost 30,000 downloads with marketing through social media. Hoping to discover other creative ways to disseminate from the presenters here.
    We decided to go the app route because it seemed the demand for apps was higher and appealed more to users than ibooks did. Not sure if that is still the case as ibooks have increased in sophistication. Good luck with the comic book – what topics will you be addressing?

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