The Prisms Story.
Prisms was founded by Anurupa Ganguly, an MIT engineer turned educator. After over a decade of teaching, leading curriculum and instruction for some of the largest districts in the US -- Anurupa became convinced that we must re-imagine how our children are educated for schools to deliver their promise to families: of developing passionate, curious, empathetic and resilient thinkers and leaders who will take on the problems of today with gusto, passion and success.
Letter from 
the Founder
Founded by a teacher and district leader, Anurupa Ganguly - Prisms has been teacher-led from its inception. Read more about her journey and path to building the Prisms movement below.
Why Prisms had to be
Creating Prisms
As a little girl, I was always in pursuit of fundamental truths, why things looked the way they did, and how to harness these truths to build new things. This pursuit landed me at MIT’s doorstep to study electrical engineering and computer science.

As I moved through my undergrad and graduate studies, however, I saw a steady drop off of students, particularly young women. And I wasn’t convinced it was because they didn’t have the intelligence or ability to contribute in extremely important ways to the mathematical sciences, and its applications to continuously progress the world we live in.

In a separate dimension of my life, I traveled to India each year, where my grandmother still lived. Each time I arrived, I was met by millions of kids who had commensurate or greater intelligence and capabilities than me and whose lives looked diametrically opposite to mine. 

I grappled with these two issues—first, a STEM education that over-indexed on abstract representations while neglecting the other ways through which we express our thinking beyond text and symbolic notation, thereby alienating many creative and multidimensional thinkers, and second, the significant disparity in access to high-quality educational experiences based on one’s Birth.

I began to envision a new world order, in which, every individual, regardless of their past experiences, would have the tools and resources to change their circumstances, fall in love with great problems, and create lives of mind to solve them. 
As such, there was no place for me to go, but into the public school classroom. 
Like many of my peers, I did not board a flight to San Francisco. Instead, I became a bright-eyed high school physics and math teacher in Boston Public Schools and I was introduced to the most captivating ~100 9th graders who would change my life forever.
I spent the next decade delving into the research on how students experience, retain, and develop passions in the mathematical sciences. I wrote new STEM curricula based on student- and problem-centered methodologies, trained teachers, and scaled these methods to thousands of educators in the US and India. However, after a decade in school district leadership, I came to understand that our efforts were somewhat in vain.

Our world is 3D, complex, and multimodal, yet even the most well-intentioned learning models in the vast majority of public schools remain flat, confined to small, dismembered white and black rectangles. These models rarely allow children to make deep connections with themselves as curious, motivated learners or with the world outside the classroom.

The research on the matter was clear as well. Amongst the top indicators of success in the mathematical sciences are spatial reasoning, and the ability to think abstractly.

We learn through experiences: our senses (touch, sight, sound, perception etc), movement (actively), and our emotions (problems and people that we care about). But rather than scaling these methods, we’ve been largely busy digitizing antiquated teaching models. “Innovation” has included creating online video and lecture libraries and developing drill-and-kill tools with coins, animals, and gamification, in lieu of codifying how humans best interact with and grasp a mathematical or scientific structure or phenomenon for the first time and determining: how to scale THAT approach?

As I grew restless and all but convinced we had a path forward to change the game for kids without a magic wand, luckily, computers continued to evolve. The Oculus Quest 1 hit the market, and finally… I saw a glimpse of a future, filled with rich learning designs more connected to our bodies, sensibilities, and multidimensional representations of thought… that could maybe unlock a new day for schooling.

With the belief that we now had the technological advances in software techniques and hardware to create a new way to teach, aligned to both what we know about how we learn best, as well as teachers’ ideals and why they got into the profession in the first place — I founded Prisms in June 2020 with the support of the National Science Foundation.

We got to building a new way to discover and learn Algebra I through embodied real world problems! I knew we could engage students in VR, but we had a much harder charter to prove: can students learn and transfer this knowledge to problems and collaboration outside of VR?
The first Prisms VR learning experience we built was on Exponential Functions in Algebra I, as Prisms was born during the Covid-19 Pandemic. The learning design was simple:
  • Students put on their VR / AR headsets, and they’re transported to a world as first-person actors. In this case, they were in a food hall. They begin by buying their food and take in the environment. And then, there is an emergency mayor’s announcement: “There’s an alarming growth of an unknown virus—stay safe!”
  • Students are taken by surprise, but are quickly endowed with the power on their watch to go back in time and experience “how was this virus spreading?” They observe the cashier spread it to a man he handed an order to, over to a woman who sneezed on her friend, and walked back to a group of 5 people and spread it to them as well. It’s a physical understanding of multiplicative growth, not an intellectual one. We haven’t used the words - equation, function, or factor. They just see one person spread something to 5 people.
  • Students accept their Mission: How many weeks until the hospitals in your community reach capacity and will need more resources, including PPE? We believe in the goodness of little people, and that we don’t need to trick them with coins and candy. Create the conditions for them to connect to important and real problems, provide them the tools to solve them -- and children will rise to the occasion.
  • To solve this mission, students connect the physical understanding they had in the food hall to a simulation of their experience. First abstraction: the humans went from having hair, eyes, and clothes in the food hall to becoming sprites in a simulation.
  • They then connect the simulation to a tactile 3D data visualization, where they can quantify the week-to-week growth in a discrete form.
  • They collect the data into a 2D table, from which they discover the repeated multiplication that they experienced themselves in the food hall: 1, 5, 5 times 5, 5 times 5 times 5.
  • Before they derive the form y=5^t, from which they generalize to y=ab^x

With mobile VR/AR, the math and science classroom is no longer a sterile, word problem on a screen, piece of paper, or a video with penguins and sharks. Rather, we place students as first-person actors in important scenarios across different geographies, real-world industries and social problems–  problems they experience with their five senses, develop emotional resonance with, and a desire to solve - and naturally abstract up to simulations/models of those experiences, 3D tactile interactives and data visualizations to discern structure and patterns, to 2D representations (tables, graphs) more helpful for analysis, and finally to 1D (formal language, equations) most helpful for speed and efficiency. This arc is really scalable - it’s most of secondary math and science! So we kept building!

Our message to students: Your job in school is to fall in love with great problems and discover frameworks of thought to solve them. Not to memorize other’s creations, only.
In Winter 2021, at the height of the pandemic, we released our first problem-based VR-based instructional model for Algebra I to 10,000 8th and 9th graders in 14 pioneering school systems in the US.
We then spent the next 3.5 years building new VR learning experiences on bottleneck concepts holding students back in Middle School Math and Science, Algebra I, Geometry, Chemistry, and Biology and then jumping into classrooms with teachers to teach them. 

VR/AR is a modality, a technology. It’s not a teaching method. By contrast, Prisms takes responsibility for student and teacher outcomes for every school community we serve, which requires meticulous design of the classroom management and instructional routines that surround a VR learning experience - everything from the teacher planning process, just-in-time feedback and questioning systems / strategies powered by real-time casting, analytics and customization, student grouping methods, student discussion frameworks, and tools for connection to paper/pencil fluency to ensure progressive pedagogy doesn’t come at the expense of standards-based fluencies that are tied to future opportunity.

By continuously teaching, iterating, refining each lessonin the classroom, and teaching again (inspired by both Japanese lesson study and agile s/w development), the Prisms team and pioneering teachers in 200 US school districts co-designed the first spatial classrooms that would go onto become lighthouses for the rest of the country and beyond.

Prisms’ ultimate goal is to build a new set of tools and community that invests in and uplifts the professionalism of teaching. A community that enables teachers to engage at the highest intellectual levels, grow their pedagogical practices and deliver outcomes for every one of their students. It’s a movement to improve relationships between students and their education, teachers and their students, learners and their peers, and build true connections between math to self, math to math, and math to the world (and now science too, humanities and all else coming soon).

We have a long way to go in realizing the full potential of Prisms, as we are at the beginning of modulating a whole new medium akin to the first films 150 years ago. The affordances and possibilities of this medium are endless as you add the z-axis, movement, spatialized audio, multimodal assistive agents, and so much more to create a new learning world that’s experiential.

Over the next decade, the Prisms team in collaboration with the teaching force and research community will continue to module this transformative new medium across subject areas, grade levels, and learning settings (informal and formal). We urgently invite everyone to join now to build with us. For many of us, we learned in spite of the system, not because of it. And many of our students just don’t have that luxury.
To the future classroom that every child will love and thrive in!
Anurupa Ganguly
Founder & CEO, Prisms
Invest in our country’s future
Prisms seeks to write a new chapter for education that harnesses the next generation of computing with monumental advancements in spatial computers, AI, and network infrastructure. We’ve partnered with the best minds in technology, research and evaluation, and education policy to create whole systems change versus building a product.
A new paradigm for education
Prisms is the world’s first spatial learning platform in which students learn core math, science, and everything else through abstracting up from physical human experiences.
Learn about how Prisms is changing how students experience their education.
What is Prisms
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