Bryanne Leeming: Teaching Coding Through Recess-Style Play
Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to be talking to Bryanne Leeming, founder and CEO of Unruly Studios. Bryanne is an inspiring entrepreneur working on UN SDG 4: Quality Education, with the aim of making education and technology fun for students. Let’s see how she’s doing it!
Spiffy: Welcome Bryanne, I’m super excited to talk to you today. Can you start by telling me what challenge you’re addressing?
Bryanne: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Diversity in computer science and company leadership roles remains a major issue in the tech industry. Despite efforts to introduce coding at earlier ages, schools struggle to prepare teachers to teach computer science skills and the curriculum is uninspired. Our mission is to break down barriers in computer science education to make learning to code more fun, accessible, and inclusive! Our first product, Unruly Splats, combines coding and recess-style play by empowering students to design games with programmable floor buttons that students code to light up, make sounds, and collect points when stomped on.
Spiffy: This does sound fun! Can you tell me what motivated you to create a program that could capture the attention of children?
Bryanne: I was lucky enough to be exposed to coding for the first time in 4th grade. As I went through college and started working, I realized how that early exposure to coding prepared me to feel confident building technology and ultimately start my career in the industry. In business school, I came up with the idea to build an electronic playground that could make learning to code as much fun as recess. That’s when I built the first prototype at a Makerspace in Boston and recruited the founding team!
Spiffy: That's exciting! I’m curious how you are working to make the world a more equitable place.
Bryanne: Unruly Splats are all about breaking down the stereotypes that kids start to form around computer science from an early age that contributes to the lack of diversity in the field. Coding isn’t just for kids who love computer games. It’s for kids who love all kinds of games and who love being creative! Unfortunately, it tends to be presented in a way that’s not approachable or inviting and is often solitary and sedentary. We flip that on its head and make computer science inviting—more like a team sport.
Spiffy: Teams make a lot of things better! Can you tell me about a recent milestone your company has reached? What kind of impact do you anticipate it will have?
Bryanne: We recently hit the milestone of 3 million stomps on Unruly Splats which translates to over 565,000 calories burned! I studied cognitive science in college and learned a lot about how important physical health and movement are to cognitive development. Learning to code doesn’t have to be a sedentary, isolated activity in front of a computer screen. This is important for schools as they figure out how to get kids re-engaged in learning, especially after many students engaged in virtual learning from home.
Spiffy: It hasn't been easy. I’m always curious to learn how entrepreneurs deal with failure. What about you? What did you learn from failure?
Bryanne: Well, Spiffy, as an EdTech company that produces a physical product, you might think that the pandemic hit us hard with schools going remote. It turned into an opportunity to prove we are much more than a hardware company. We provide schools with an end-to-end computer science learning experience that teachers can use for in-person, as well as virtual learning, with our app. Today, teachers see us as a strategic partner helping create activities that inspire kids to love coding in a way that’s never been done before.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, Bryanne, is there anything else you’d love to tell our audience? Maybe something interesting you’ve learned lately?
Bryanne: I’ve been loving TikTok for learning new things and found this quote on there recently from Simon Sinek: “There is a difference between being positive and optimistic. Positivity is telling ourselves and others that everything is good, even if it isn't. Optimism accepts the truth of reality and looks forward to a brighter future.” I see this so much in the teachers we work with who are bringing a sense of optimism to their classrooms and helping kids find joy in learning, even during challenging times.
Spiffy: That’s a wise distinction! And you’re right, teachers have been a bright spot for the world’s students! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Bryanne, it’s been an honor!
Bryanne Leeming is the founder and CEO of Unruly Studios, an EdTech company dedicated to making computer science education more playful, collaborative, and inclusive. The company’s first product, Unruly Splats, combines learning to code with active, recess-style play. Bryanne has been named an Inc. Rising Star and a Boston Business Journal 40 Under 40. (Nominated by Inside Out with Jane Z. First published on the Ladderworks website on October 11, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.