STEM Through Play: The Impact of Collaboration


When there is a business challenge, companies look to hire the right person or team with the expertise necessary to solve the problem. You wouldn’t hire an IT professional to solve a financial problem; hiring a marketing professional to solve a manufacturing problem would be seen as irresponsible. So why is it that many companies fail to follow this model when solving social problems?

When Mattel decided to get into STEM education, we identified a critical flaw in the field — there was a lack of fun and engaging curricula available to teach students science and math. We also knew that we didn’t have the resident experts to solve that problem. To create a framework for effective change, we needed to figure out our greatest assets, what we could bring to the table, and ultimately find the right partners to complement our strengths.

As the largest toy company in the world, we understand kids and play. We wanted to utilize that expertise to create a STEM solution that would be engaging for both students and teachers. We decided to work with our Hot Wheels toys — popular among both kids and parents — to bring play into learning. By putting our reputation and funding behind the effort, we were able to increase the solution’s credibility, and make sure the curriculum we created was accessible to schools across the United States.

We identified a critical flaw in the field — there was a lack of fun and engaging curricula available to teach students science and math.

Working with Educators

For this to be successful, we knew it needed to have the trust and buy-in from educators. Mattel has strong relationships with many teachers and schools, but curriculum development was not a core competency. Fortunately, we developed a relationship with the USC Rossier School of Education to design an effective curriculum based on classroom testing.

The USC Rossier team wrote specific lessons to bring the Hot Wheels toys to life, leveraging Mattel’s engineers and brand expertise to develop high-end videos to make the lessons fun and engaging for all students. These videos and instruction materials also create the core resources for teacher development, including the mapping of outcomes to state standards to ease Speedometry integration into lesson plans. USC Rossier also implemented a robust testing program to make sure the curriculum would meet rigorous standards.

Last October, we officially launched the program. We wanted to make sure that teachers were aware of the free curriculum, as well as the opportunity to apply for a free teacher kit that included not only 40 Hot Wheels cars, but also more than 100 feet of track to implement the curriculum in classrooms. We worked with Scholastic to leverage their trusted relationships with schools and educators. Through them we were able to reach more than 250,000 teachers.

Driving Hot Wheels Across the Country

In order to have face-to-face engagements with teachers in classrooms across the country, we worked with Direct Impact to help us with grassroots outreach in key education markets: Chicago, Austin, Denver, Phoenix and Detroit. Our goal was to gain feedback from teachers utilizing the curriculum and engagement from parents and administrators.

By bringing together Mattel, USC, Scholastic, Direct Impact, teachers, parents and administrators, we were able to reach more than 12,000 teachers from across the United States and provide them with Hot Wheels Speedometry teacher kits — thousands more have downloaded the free curriculum and parental activation models. Also, several school districts in the Austin and Phoenix areas are now integrating Speedometry into their next year’s science curriculum.

By December 2015, we hope to have the results of the full district test of the Speedometry curriculum completed and, in the coming years, we hope to expand the program to additional grades (currently it’s just fourth grade). We are also looking to find other corporate and foundation partners to leverage their expertise, funding and relationship to help us increase the amount of STEM learning happening in primary and secondary education.

We are proud of what we have been able to do so far in making a meaningful difference in the lives of children and the parents and teachers who educate them. There is much more to do.

Robert Goodwin is the Executive Director of Mattel Children’s Foundation. He was the CEO of Executives without Borders and Chief Operating Officer for International AID.