Interview | Incubating Young Minds to Hatch

Knowing that there was a serious lack of good software for early learners and not wanting to wait on others to fill that void, Ginny Norton began searching the country to find the right team of early education experts and gamers who together could create a next generation of technology tools that were research-based, developmentally appropriate and highly engaging. “I wanted Hatch to provide new software systems that were rigorous enough to change children’s learning lives, and fun enough so that the first thing children would want to do when they arrived at school was to play our games,” she says. For the last five years, Ginny has been the president of Hatch; their mobile product launched in January, but in many other ways, it’s been a product more than 35 years in the making. Here, Ginny discusses what she’s fierce about, what quality content has to do with the current iPad and tablet influx, her thoughts on the future of education—and she even shares a few notes about a recent Grand Canyon adventure.

Victor: What does the name mean?

Ginny: In Webster’s Dictionary, one definition for Hatch is “the production of young from an egg.” The name fits. We incubate developing minds and prepare young children to Hatch!

Victor: What is it? Who created it?

Ginny: We’re a group of people who use technology to change young children’s learning lives. We do that by creating amazing content for interactive whiteboards, multi-touch tables, computers and most recently a new mobile technology, our iStartSmart Mobile. We create content that promotes essential skills for young children.

We have a casual culture. Come to Hatch and you will see most of the staff participating in our free workouts. Half a dozen people bring their dogs to work. And Halloween and other holidays are invitations for wackiness.

At the same time, we are fierce about making every interaction with customers a good one. We also work tirelessly to provide the best technology products and services for early learners and educators.

We’re a group that is very proud to be pioneers in sharing real-time data, collected by our products, with our customers about how children are doing. We’re also a company that scours through that data so that we have solutions for 99 percent of the problems we encounter before our customers even know that a problem exists.

I try to set the right tone at Hatch. We care about children and learning. If you come to my office, you will see a large screen displaying the latest data we are getting from the field. I love being able to sit at my desk, watch children across the country making progress, and know that we have helped to make it happen.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Ginny: The latest innovation is probably our best yet. Children sit down to play with our mobile product and our system tracks their responses and provides developmentally appropriate follow-on activities. Our system’s algorithms also produce—in real time—easy-to- understand charts and graphs monitoring children’s ongoing progress. Parents, teachers and administrators can access this information on a password-protected website to learn more about how their children are doing.

For the first time ever, we are gathering information about children’s ongoing progress through a child-directed device. It’s a device that also provides children with a coherent, rigorous, and highly engaging way to learn the most important things that research tells us that they need to know to be ready for kindergarten. Additionally, our customers have found success with kindergarten intervention and meeting IEP goals.

We live in an era where technology is loaded with bells and whistles and highly creative one-off apps. At Hatch, we strive to inspire children in ways that research tells us will help them to learn. Our iStartSmart Mobile enhances 18 skills systematically. We’ve built a robust enough program that it takes the average child about half an hour a week over the course of an entire school year to complete all 72 levels of progress embedded in our learning system. Teachers don’t have to struggle with trying to figure how to make individual apps work together. We’ve done that for them.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market? 

Ginny: Our learning system’s look, feel, and functionality are unlike anything on the market. Our tablet comes wrapped in a customized, patented rubberized, green bumper. I drop my tablet during presentations to prove that it is pretty much unbreakable. It’s also fun to see the look on people’s faces when you actually toss the device across the room, watch it bounce, pick it up and then keep on using it with no problems.

Our patent-pending child login app uses the device’s camera to allow teachers to add their children’s pictures to the system with three simple taps. Pre-readers then can intuitively log into the system, making the program completely child-directed.

The kids simply touch their photo to enter their own personalized learning experience. Adaptive teaching technology then selects activities based on the child’s progress in each skill area and more difficult activities and skills are not introduced until the child is ready.

iStartSmart Mobile was designed specifically for classrooms and allows more than 120 children to use the same tablet. The educational content lives in a child-safe environment, where kids can only interact with programs that the educator chooses and can’t affect settings or functionality of the tablet. 

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history? 

Ginny: The mobile product launched in January but you could easily argue that it has been 35 years in the making. That’s when our lead developer started teaching in her first Head Start classroom. She moved on from there to become the administrator responsible for the reading program of one of our nation’s largest school districts. She also ran one of the nation’s largest professional development initiatives for pre-k, Head Start and child care teachers. She drew on all those experiences when she poured her heart and soul into making iStartSmart. She is one of many people at Hatch who care deeply that products we introduce to early learners are highly effective and meet the quality expectations of our team, education leaders and our customers.

In addition to basing products on our expertise and scientific research, we also test to ensure whether they meet the intended goal of preparing children for success in school. We have conducted a year-long research study, and preliminary findings look very positive—results will be published in summer 2012. We conducted a similar study on our TeachSmart® interactive whiteboard system, which showed significant gains in school readiness skills after just six months of using the system. Children were 82 percent ready to read and 92 percent ready to learn math, a drastic increase over original readiness assessments of 46 percent and 72 percent respectively. You can view the complete study online.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Ginny: iStartSmart Mobile was developed by our early learning experts and technology development team at Hatch. To buy iStartSmart Mobile, call Hatch at 800-624-7968 or click schedule a demo form on our website.

Victor: How about cost and options? 

Ginny: The base unit, which includes an Android tablet with the latest version of Ice Cream Sandwich, a screen guard, headphones, research-based content, dozens of preloaded apps and Hatch’s custom and patent-pending bumper, is priced at $995. Prices vary by volume.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Ginny: I particularly like what’s happening at a place called Kids University in one of Dallas’ poorest neighborhoods. Children there are making amazing progress using our iStartSmart system. By the time September comes around, they will be ready not only to Hatch, but to soar. To check out videos of the product in action, visit our website.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it NOT for?

Ginny: The product was specifically designed for children who have not mastered school-readiness skills, particularly in literacy and math. We have successfully implemented iStartSmart Mobile in prekindergarten, kindergarten intervention and special education classrooms.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Ginny: We talk a lot about education reform and it is important to be talking about getting kids on grade level and reducing dropout rates. But, we already know that America’s schools have rarely excelled at helping children catch up once they fall behind. To me, that means that we need to start by doing everything possible to prevent children from falling behind in the first place. The conversation needs to be about prevention.

With iStartSmart, we have a system that teaches young children what they need to know to be ready for kindergarten. Our system also alerts teachers, administrators and parents immediately if any problems are starting to emerge. Technology is changing our lives for the better in many areas. It is past time that we use technology to make sure that every child starts school on a level playing field, with the skills and tools they need to succeed.

Additionally, with iPads and tablet technology being introduced to early learning classrooms, what we’ve failed to consider is how that hardware will accomplish educational goals. The tablets are only a medium through which we can present impactful learning experiences. Without quality content that meets measureable goals, the tablet or iPad will be little more that an edutainment game device, a flashy but hollow diversion from the real purpose of school: learning.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Hatch?

Ginny: As a college athlete, I faced the challenge of having to hone skills consistently to compete at a high level. As part of a team, I also understood the role I had to play and the importance of supporting my teammates as we worked toward a common goal. At Hatch, we have assembled a magnificent team of coworkers constantly striving to do their best and working together to create exceptional experiences for children and educators.

Victor: How does Hatch address some of your concerns about education?

Ginny: We understand the importance of a child’s formative years and how critical their development is to ensuring children’s success in school and beyond. We are very conscious of our responsibility when placing technology in the hands of young children and, I believe, we walk the talk. Additionally, with real-time progress monitoring, Hatch offers educators the ability to see the impact of their Hatch technology program and take action to improve on areas where children require additional support to excel. We develop research-based products and prove that they work. We are proud of what we are doing.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Ginny: It’s an exciting and challenging time for education. Children have more immediate access to information than at any time in history. We must ensure that we provide an educational experience for the most disadvantaged children equivalent to what is available to advantaged children. We will be a stronger society for generations to come if we can meet this challenge.

With Hatch technology, we help bridge the gap for at-risk children and children with special needs who don’t have the same access to quality educational technology in early education as children in more affluent families and children without disabilities. It is a passion of ours to create products based on research-proven best practices that help teachers to use technology effectively. We play a role in providing our nation’s most vulnerable children with engaging learning experiences that effectively increase their skills, leveling the playing field between them and their peers.

Victor: Got any interesting stories or anecdotes about Hatch?

Ginny: We recently airlifted technology into the Grand Canyon to the Native American village of Supai, installed an interactive whiteboard in an 100-year-old, one-room schoolhouse and we even put technology in a former prison-turned preschool. I’m looking forward to seeing where mobile technology will take us in 2012 and beyond.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Hatch? 

Ginny: The value of Hatch is the confidence educators have in our company, knowing that our award-winning products are developed by education experts, based on scientific research, aligned with national standards, and work with their children. All Hatch products are created with educators and children in mind. They are easy to use both for the children and for the teachers, the environment is safe for children, the learning lessons are developmentally appropriate and the products are durable. We pair that with progress monitoring and lesson planning tools as well as best-in-class service.

In an eggshell, there’s nothing like Hatch out there. For our customers and the children using our technology, we are making a true difference.

Victor: What makes you say that?

Ginny: I say that because our customers tell us. And just as importantly, when chatting with our co-workers about what they value most about Hatch, they answer resoundingly, “I can make a difference in the lives of young children and I’m proud of that.”

Victor: Thanks, Ginny!

Ginny: Thank you, Victor!


Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to:


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