8/15/2014 Daina Savage

Inspiring Curious Minds

This magazine article is part of Summer 2014 / Issue 78

Members of the F&M community revive reading for a new generation of children 

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They are moments that mark the beginning of a journey all children take toward learning language and understanding the stories of their lives: making meaning out of shapes and symbols, interpreting sounds, solving the mysteries of letters, words and sentences.

Sandra Fluck P’89, P’95 will never forget the first tentative attempts her grandchildren made in understanding language and learning how to read. But for Fluck, the moments represent more than just warm family memories—they are the inspiration for educating a new generation of young people, and introducing children to the exciting world of language.

For the past two years, Fluck led a collaboration of Franklin & Marshall College alumni and a retired professor to create Sally Sentence, an educational learning game for children ages 5 to 8. Developed for the iPad, Sally Sentence is now being sold on the App Store and, with the help of F&M language professors and assistants, has been translated into several languages, including French, German and Spanish. It also has its own website, sallysentence.com.

The game helps children build their reading, writing and thinking skills by “playing” with words chosen from one of six original illustrations such as pets, bugs or the shore, then tapping, moving, matching and rearranging words to compose simple sentences.

Fluck and her collaborators, including her daughter, Justine Fluck ’89, Maeve Broadbin ’13 and Jay Anderson, F&M’s Barshinger Professor of Computer Science Emeritus, introduced the game against the backdrop of President Barack Obama’s Early Learning Initiative to foster more opportunities for young children to succeed in school. With mobile devices and other handheld amusements playing a more prominent role in society, the collaborators thought the iPad was the best way to inspire a new generation of children.

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“I have been a reader since I was 3 or 4 years old,” says Sandra Fluck, who has published the writing textbook “Experiential English,” several chapbooks of poetry, and taught writing courses at various institutions, including F&M. “Books saved me when I was a kid. But the reading landscape has shifted since then. We want to nurture the art of reading and writing in a way that’s engaging and connected.”

Sandra Fluck enlisted Justine to envision how learning objectives could translate into an iPad game. Her daughter then worked with Anderson to determine how that vision could manifest as an app; Anderson had previous experience in designing apps, having launched several mathematical tutorials for the iPad and iPhone—including one with more than 10,000 downloads—during the past few years.

The team didn’t need to look further for its designer than F&M’s art department, where Maeve Broadbin ’13, a senior at the time, presented her portfolio for consideration.

“As with my other F&M experiences, Sally Sentence was creative, collaborative and educational,” Broadbin says. “Projects like this are important for a recent grad.”

In another family collaboration, Jay Anderson recruited his son, composer Chris Anderson, to produce the music.

Members of the Sally Sentence team believe the game is helpful to young readers in a variety of settings. “I think the tool would be appropriate for almost any situation that encourages early reader learning, be it the classroom, after-school program, home game time, or a road trip,” Justine Fluck says.

The Flucks have also launched the website bookscover2cover.com for an audience of adult readers and writers. It features thoughtful long-form writing, book reviews and recommendations, and original works by a team of writers. One of the site’s featured writers is Sandra’s son, Jason Squire Fluck ’95, who wrote the novel Jon Fixx, set to be published in paperback later this year.

For Sandra Fluck, building the app with the aim of creating more young readers was personal. “How do you explain why you’re doing something that you love? You just do it because you love it."

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