Books n’ Bucks

Overview: I worked as a Product Manager for Books n’ Bucks (formerly School Bucks) to help create tools for low-resource, LAUSD classrooms that help engage students online through positive reinforcement. I worked with the non-profit “Why Can’t We Make A Difference” alongside the talented Shaden Awad, Yazan Awad, and Yojairo Morales.

As the gears of society ground to a halt at the early stages of the pandemic, citizens across Los Angeles were able to get a clear look at the systemic inequity that exists in this city. I heard countless stories and read a deluge of articles that reinforced how the impact of the pandemic was being disproportionately felt by low-income, low-resource communities. This impact was felt especially hard in education.

In LAUSD, – America’s largest school district – there is a large population of low-income students who struggled to navigate online education and don’t have parents who can help them figure out the basics of logging into Zoom that we often take for granted.

The team’s first product sprint involved creating a website of resources and custom-made tutorials explaining how to log into class. It was a huge success with hundreds of students using the resource to get a better understanding of the shift in learning taking place.

The website introduced us to a lot of teachers and faculty, and as we talked to more and more of them, we realized that there was another major problem facing these online classes.

Student motivation was at an all-time low.

Students were beginning to fall out of classes, participation in class was dwindling, and teachers didn’t have the tools to re-engage their students.

Our team spent some time thinking about the problem, and an idea struck us when we were talking to one faculty member who used to reward students for good behaviour and participation using an incentive system called “school bucks”. School Bucks was a form of Monopoly money the teacher would award to students when they completed activities and excelled in class, which could later be exchanged for rewards at the end of the semester. It was a simple mechanic.

Over the course of the next few months, we bootstrapped and tested out different versions of “school bucks” with teachers and saw a clear jump in engagement (it’s amazing what a carrot incentive can do for kids). We also started developing out a website that integrated with google classroom, where teachers could award points digitally and students could redeem their bucks in an online shop.

The prototype and designs are below:

Bonus: no-code prototyping

During one of our early meetings with faculty from LAUSD, we realized that it was hard for them to envision exactly how the app would work by just looking at the UI prototype we had created for them (using Figma). As a challenge, I took the day to sprint on working with a new no-code app I was curious to try out: GlideApp.

Using a simple structure, we were able to create “student profiles” and students could be awarded points by a teacher. Although we didn’t have as much customizability with the UI itself, we were able to showcase how the app would work to the same teachers at our next meeting, which helped them get a better grasp on the concept and ultimately influenced the approval of the project’s rollout.

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