Greater Playful Learning Landscapes Team
Andres Bustamante is an Assistant Professor at the University of California Irvine’s School of Education. He designs and implements play-based early childhood STEM interventions in places and spaces that children and families spend time (e.g., parks, school yards, grocery stores etc.). He maintains an intentional focus on translating rigorous science from the lab, into meaningful research in the classroom, and the community. Andres is invested in research that has practical implications for school and life success for the children and families that need it the most. He is also committed to sharing and interpreting early childhood research with a broader audience through blog posts for the Brookings Institution, Huffington Post, BOLD Blog, and other media outlets.
Rebecca Fabiano (Community Advisor)
For over two decades, Rebecca has been a bold and innovative leader in youth development. As the founder and president of Fab Youth Philly, her professionalism and standards of excellence make her a sought after partner and strategist. More importantly, though, her public sector commitment and legacy of investing in young people is a necessary example for practitioners, organizations and philanthropists. Rebecca is a natural convener and believes in the tremendous power of collective impact to create change. In 2017 she created the Play Captain Initiative, a project of Fab Youth Philly, to capitalize on an underutilized resource in Philadelphia and to offer quality summer jobs to teens. Coined after the Block Captain and Jr. Block Captain roles, the Play Captain Initiative is a workforce development and civic-engagement initiative with the mission to empower and train teens in leadership, playful learning and facilitation to make the Play Streets and neighborhoods of Philadelphia more playful. Rebecca holds a BA from the University of Hartford and earned her MSEd at Brooklyn College.
Brenna Hassinger-Das (Science Advisor)
Brenna Hassinger-Das, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Pace University. Her research examines children’s play and learning in home, school, and community contexts, particularly for children experiencing poverty. Her areas of expertise encompass executive functioning, early number sense, and vocabulary acquisition. She is particularly interested in investigating the role of play and games for learning. She is committed to translating her research for use by the public through community-based research projects as well as blog posts and commentaries featured in outlets such as The Huffington Post and additional local outlets.
Kathy Hirsh-Pasek (Chief Science Advisor, Co-Founder Playful Learning Landscapes)
Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., is the Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. Her research examines the development of early language and literacy as well as the role of play in learning. With her long-term collaborator, Roberta Golinkoff, she is author of 14 books and hundreds of publications and a fellow of the Cognitive Science Society. She is the recipient of the AERA Outstanding Public Communication for Education Research Award, the American Psychological Association’s Bronfenbrenner Award, the American Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Service to Psychological Science, the Association for Psychological Science James McKeen Cattell Award, the Society for Research in Child Development, Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Child Development Award and the APA Distinguished Lecturer Award. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society, is the Past President of the International Society for Infant Studies and served as the Associate Editor of Child Development. She is on the Steering Committee of the Latin American School for Education, Cognitive Neural Science as well as on the advisory board for Vroom, The Boston Children’s Museum, Disney Junior, The Free to Be Initiative and Jumpstart. Her book, Einstein never used Flashcards: How children really learn and why they need to play more and memorize less, (Rodale Books) won the prestigious Books for Better Life Award as the best psychology book in 2003. Her recent book, Becoming Brilliant: What the science tells us about raising successful children, released in 2016 was on the NYTimes Best Seller List in Education and Parenting. Kathy received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and is a frequent spokesperson for her field appearing in the NYTimes, npr and in international television outlets.
Shelly Kessler (Senior Consultant)
For over twenty-five years, Shelly has been both a practitioner and advisor to nonprofit and philanthropic organizations nationally, as well as nongovernmental organizations globally. She has deep experience in strategy and business planning, organizational and leadership development; and program planning and assessment, as well as being a trained facilitator.
From 2000-2013, Shelly was a Partner with TCC Group a national management consulting firm with offices in Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco. She headed the nonprofit strategy practice as well as being the Chief Financial Officer for the firm. Prior to joining TCC Group, Shelly spent six years as Deputy Executive Director of the International Clinical Epidemiology Network (INCLEN, Inc.), an international nonprofit organization working with medical schools in 24 countries to establish centers of research excellence. She came to INCLEN after eleven years in international development, primarily with the international relief and development organization, CARE.
Shelly has written a number of articles on strategic planning over the years including “The Death of Planning” for the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal; “Funding for Impact: How to Design Strategic Grantmaking Programs,” and with Jared Raynor “When Things Fall Apart: Building Organizational Strength of Humanitarian Organizations” for TCC Group.
Shelly received her master’s degree in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Brown University.
Omo Moses (Community Advisor)
Omo Moses was born in Tanzania, East Africa in 1972. He is the former Executive Director and founding member of the Young People’s Project (YPP), a national non-profit organization with programs in over ten US cities that utilize mathematics to prepare students to succeed in school and in life. YPP evolved out of the Algebra Project, which grew out of the Civil Rights activism of the Algebra Project’s founder and MacArthur Genius Grant winner Bob Moses, Omo’s father. Omo founded MathTalk, a community based ed tech start up, in 2015. MathTalk products help adults and kids enjoy math everywhere! One of four siblings, Omo grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, attended the University of Pittsburgh and George Washington University on basketball scholarships, where he majored in mathematics and minored in creative writing. He received the Black Issues in Higher Education Sports–Scholar Award as well as the school’s Creative Writing Award. Omo is the producer of Finding Our Folk, an award-winning student-filmed documentary featuring the Grammy nominated Hot 8 Brass Band that tells the story of members of YPP who organized themselves and others to respond to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Omo is a member of the MSNBC Grio 100, a Huffington Post Person of the Day, a Barr Foundation Fellow and father of two precocious little ones, Johari who is 7, and Kamara who is 5.
Itai Palti (Architecture and Design Advisor)
Itai is a practicing architect and researcher focusing on designing with the human experience in mind. He is Director of Hume, a science-informed architecture and urban design practice backed by research at its Human Metrics Lab. In 2015, Itai founded the Conscious Cities movement – a new field of research and practice for building people-centered environments that are aware and responsive using data analysis, AI, tech, and science-informed design. Itai is the director of The Centre for Conscious Design, a think tank focused on using design to address urban challenges facing society. A fellow at The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health and the Urban Design Forum, Itai also carries out thought leadership roles in bodies such as Harvard and Brookings Institution and is on the Advisory Council of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture.
Molly Schlesinger (Science Advisor)
Molly Schlesinger, Ph.D., is a statistician at The School District of Philadelphia. Previously she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Temple University in partnership with Kathy Hirsh-Pasek. During this time, she focused on two primary lines of playful learning research: creativity, play and learning during early childhood and community-based projects leveraging the Playful Learning Landscapes framework in Philadelphia, nationally, and internationally. Molly’s doctoral research explored the interaction of media, technology, and cultural environments on child development, and psychology more broadly, particularly for underserved populations; and has a background working with cultural institutions that strive to provide high quality childhood experiences.
Rachael Todaro (Science Advisor)
Rachael is a Postdoctoral Fellow working with Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek on designing, implementing, and researching the impact of Playful Learning Landscapes at a local, national, and international level. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at Kent State University under the supervision of Dr. Bradley J. Morris. Her dissertation investigated the effectiveness of innovative, evidence-based mathematical interventions and the impact of individual differences on performance with underserved elementary school students. Related work investigates the optimal presentation formats for early literacy and mathematical learning. Her research interests include promoting early math, number sense, and literacy learning through evidence-based, playful interventions.
Jennifer M. Zosh, Ph.D.
Jennifer is an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at The Pennsylvania State University’s Brandywine campus. As the Director of the Brandywine Child Development Lab, she studies how infants and young children learn about the world around them. Her areas of expertise and publication include playful learning, the impact of technology on children, working memory, mathematical cognition, and language acquisition. Notably, she was co-lead author on a recent (2015) publication in Psychological Science in the Public Interest about putting education back in educational apps through the application of research in the science of how children learn. She presents regularly at professional meetings including: the Society for Research in Child Development, International Congress on Infant Studies, National Academy of Sciences Children and Screens colloquium, International Mind Brain and Education Society, and others. A major driving force in her career is dissemination and translation of scientific discoveries to the public via blogging and media appearances. This translational work has appeared on The Conversation, PBS Parents, The Huffington Post, the Brookings Institution, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, NPR Radio Times, and beyond. She is also involved in the dissemination of developmental research through her involvement with Living Laboratories embedded in children’s museums and her roles on advisory boards for organizations (e.g., Ultimate Block Party, Urban ThinkScape). She received her bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of Delaware and her Ph.D. in Psychological and Brain Sciences from Johns Hopkins University.