With Sparticl, TPT hopes to make STEM learning fun

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Twin Cities Public Television launched Sparticl, a new STEM-focused sharing website geared toward middle-school students, Oct. 1 with support from a major corporate sponsor.

Manufacturing company 3M backed more than two years of research and development of the site prior to its launch early this month.



Sparticl curates links to articles, videos and games built around Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics–related themes, ranging from the environment to nutrition to outer space. Links are geared toward an audience of seventh- through ninth-graders.

“Some of our executives noticed that it’s really hard to find good science content for kids, in particular on the web,” said Richard Hudson, TPT’s director of science production. Science educators tend to concentrate on curriculum for children in sixth grade and in high school, but abandon them in the in-between years, he said. “We realized that this is kind of a neglected age group.”

Visitors to the site are encouraged to create user profiles, which they use to earn badges by accomplishing a range of tasks — from reading articles to commenting on them or sharing posts on social media.

A Sparticl banner is present at the top of every redirected link, similar in style to StumbleUpon, while the boxy layout of the site resembles Pinterest. Both social media platforms served as inspiration to the designers, Hudson said.

Links on Sparticl are hand-curated rather than automatically generated, though they’re presented with minimal headlines and no editorial voice. Hudson anticipates that the site’s curation process will become increasingly crowdsourced, minimizing the limited editorial input of the current model.

A team of 10 temporary or freelance staff work on the site; half of them focus on content and half on software and promotion.

Since Spartcl launched, site traffic has peaked at 25,000 daily visitors, and roughly 500 users have registered. About 20 percent of web traffic comes from overseas. TPT expects to build on that by promoting the site as an international brand, Hudson said, “in deference to 3M,” which had requested an internationally focused site.

Sparticl’s pubTV affiliation isn’t immediately apparent to users. The TPT logo appears only on the site’s footer. By contrast, a “POWERED BY 3M” logo is featured prominently on every page and within the Sparticl banner.

Hudson is evaluating presentation of TPT’s branding on the site. “We are so cognizant of, ‘Can we keep our funders happy and keep them writing big checks?’ And I think we tend to err on that side,” he said.

Hudson declined to specify the size of 3M’s financial commitment to Sparticl, but said its sponsorship runs on a year-to-year basis. TPT is seeking additional funders.

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This article was first published in Current, Oct. 21, 2013

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