It will be a long time before paper is ever truly exiled from the classroom. The necessity of learning to write (and not just type) creates a space for it that modern day tablets are hard pressed to fill.

Children are familiar with paper, teachers are familiar with paper, most of the world is familiar with paper.

Which is why Google’s Material Design framework seems to be such a good fit for the classroom.

As a necessary part of our work at non-profit One Education, we visit primary schools (K-6) around Australia. The durable, low cost laptops we’ve distributed to 50,000 children are rapidly switching over to Android as their primary OS. This has brought along a slew of app requests from teachers and students alike, meaning that whenever I end up in a classroom — I’m testing to see what they like best.

Kids are tactile creatures, and much of Material Design centres around interaction and response. The layout specifications suggest plenty of white space, use of cards and tiles, all of which are more forgiving for those with developing motor skills.

When a screen washes away at their touch (instead of simply disappearing) the elicited response tends to be along the lines of “Coooool!” and when it’s cool, you know it’s more engaging. If they’re going to be using these interfaces constantly, the more delight and engagement you can eek out of the every day, the easier you make things for the teacher.

Material Design Reel

The teachers themselves represent an unusual twist on your idea of the average user. There’s a heavy weighting towards functionality over form. Whatever you’re making had better work, and it had better not waste their time. From what I’ve gathered (and teachers, jump in to correct me) their checklist about what makes a good piece of software is something like this:

  1. Do I (the teacher) understand it?
  2. Does it work?
  3. Do the students understand it?
  4. Is it attractive?

Fortunately, Material Design’s paper and card analogy tends to tick at least two items off that list. It behaves in a way that both the teachers and students understand, and most of the time they think it’s pretty (although this is subjective.) Reactive enough to be engaging, clean enough not to be distracting while allowing students to focus on the task at hand — and as more apps out there “materialise” the overall Android experience gains some much needed consistency.

When One Education began making the jump to Android and identified a few gaps in the current digital tools available to classrooms (more on this later), it was a relief to know that a reasonably well documented framework existed. The specifications, layout templates and sticker sheets have been a tremendous boon in speeding up our design and development process. We’ve been able to lean on both Google and the surrounding community in order to rapidly produce MVPs of apps for a generation caught between physical media and the desire to reach out and touch a screen.

All of this because of paper.

It may not be appropriate for every app (check out the non-material but ruthlessly charming Endless Reader, in-app purchases) but if you’re looking to bring clarity, usability, and a dash of delight to apps designed for classroom use — you might want to materialise.


Road to Infinity

Building the Infinity, a computer for any child.

    Paul Cotton

    Written by

    This guy.

    Road to Infinity

    Building the Infinity, a computer for any child.

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