Prelude is a learning game that fosters the 21st century skills of self-knowledge, empathy, creativity, collaboration and appreciation for diversity, which are key to success and essential to civil society.
Prelude was created by Heliotrope with support from teachers, principals, psychologists, social workers, community agencies, non-profit organizations and private sector companies.
Participants move from self-exploration and self-expression to teamwork and group work. They are guided through five modules, which meld psychometrics and creativity: iStar involves self-assessment; iTag involves individual expression based on one's iStar; weTag and allTag involve team and group work based on previous modules, and StarSmart is a post-game activity enabling players to practice more.
Prelude uses the elements – fire, air, water and earth – as metaphors for temperament. It also uses the Pythagorean star to symbolize the fifth element, known as quintessence or excellence. These timeless symbols help players picture themselves, each other, their communities and the world in a positive, holistic light.
Each activity may be played over time or in one session of four hours online, manually or in combination. Training is under one hour. Support materials are available online for download.
Prelude is used from Grades 5 to college, including First Nations youth programs.
Heliotrope CEO Howard B. Esbin has been a senior manager in business, international development and philanthropy. He has a PhD in Education from McGill University and in 2004 he founded Heliotrope as a social purpose enterprise to develop and market a new kind of learning game, inspired by the work of Don Pavey and based on Esbin's own doctoral research, which he conducted in Kenya.
Esbin spent three years researching and developing a prototype, including piloting the prototype in schools and community agencies.
Prelude was designed to be a life spectrum resource for youth and adults at all stages and in all endeavours. Its design is informed by both Western and non-Western philosophies to make it of value cross-culturally and for both mainstream and more specialized communities, such as learning challenged, at risk and others who may be marginalized.
Education has a two-fold problem. First, students need to develop 21st century skills – creativity, communication, collaboration and appreciation for diversity – which are key to success in the global knowledge economy. Second, schools have an Emotional Quotient gap: almost half of all US schools have no formal social skills program.
There is also a profound need for empathy training in the workplace: research shows that an estimated 50 million Americans have been bullied at work.
Making a Difference
To date, more than 25,000 youth and adults from diverse cultural backgrounds have played Prelude in over 35 institutions, including at: middle schools; high schools; alternative schools; independent programs such as drop-out prevention, life-work skills and pro-social skills; aggression replacement training; prison youth gang reclamation; youth entrepreneurialism, and colleges in Canada, the US, the United Arab Emirates, India and Scotland.
Prelude was selected as one of 2012's most innovative and relevant new education tech products by the Software Information Industry Association. It also received the coveted Seal of Quality from Curriculum Services Canada the same year.
Prelude was designed to help enhance social and emotional skills for vulnerable, marginalized youth who may be newcomers, learning challenged, at risk, or visible minorities, yet it initially faced indifference and/or resistance. It took a number of years and the support of some intrepid educators and counsellors before it was given a fair chance.
In addition, the financial challenges experienced by public education and non-profit organizations have not improved in the years since Prelude was first introduced.
Vision for the Future
Heliotrope has started by transforming the blended learning game into an online version. Participants will soon be working on virtual teams, all sharing the same challenge: how do virtual strangers become effective collaborators online?
Millions of students enroll in massive open online courses but research shows only 7 per cent will complete their courses. An estimated 1 million younger students are enrolled in virtual schools. Virtual study teams are one potential solution and Prelude Virtual 1.0 will offer a dynamic solution to accelerating crucial trust.
Heliotrope is an incorporated social purpose enterprise founded late in 2004 to develop a learning game that was ultimately called Prelude. The enterprise has a small advisory board, which includes MaRS as its institutional advisor, and active, committed shareholders, practitioners and collaborators.
Best Practice Contact
Howard B. Esbin, CEO, Heliotrope
627 West 23rd Ave. Vancouver, BC V5Z 2A5