Get to Know Us! Featuring Product Manager, Nancy Balter

How long have you worked at Educational Insights?

I started here in 2005, so eight years.

What drew you to working here?

I was a teacher. I had been a teacher for 11 years and I really enjoyed it, but I was ready for a change. I wanted to stay in education, and I found this job off monster.com and it looked interesting. That’s how I wound up here!

So, you taught math and science, right?

Yes, 7th and 8th grade. It’s fun because the kids are old enough to talk and interact with the teacher, but they’re young enough to come running into the room and say, “What are we doing today, Mrs. Balter!”

What was your favorite toy growing up?

It might have to be my stuffed rabbit, Marshmallow, which I still have in my closet.

What’s your favorite toy here at EI?

My current favorite might be the Solar System Mapping Tool, just because that’s my idea. I find it useful, and I think it’s fun and cool to take your class out. I love the idea that you instantaneously understand relative distances in the solar system with it.

In terms of my kids, my favorite toy is the Wonder World Map. It’s a gigantic map with velcro locations that you take on and off; it’s a map of the world. That thing has been growing with my kids since day one. As babies, it hung over the changing table, so when they were frustrated with their diaper changes, they could just pull the pieces off and throw them on the floor. And now as they’re getting older, they’re interested in what’s on the map, where things go, and where we live. My sister’s been doing that with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter (I gave her one). That map is just super cool. It looks good on the wall! It’s a really great product.

Are there any products that you got the okay for, but never got manufactured?

Oh yeah, there are a whole bunch of things. Last year, we had a math game that the inventor of Inching Along sent us that I liked that involved using a balance scale, and that never got manufactured.

How is your life outside of work? What is life like for Nancy outside of the office?

Chasing two children around. That is all I do. I do love it—sometimes it’s boring, but most of the time I love it. I either pick up the kids or have my husband home with the kids, and we chase them around or try to get them to consume something and change their diaper, or usher them into the potty!

How old are your kids?

I have a 3 –year-old and a sixteen-month old. They’re perfect and they stand around being cute all day.

Do you have any kind of thing you do that gets your creativity flowing?

Right now as my kids are getting older, watching them and seeing what they’re interested in and seeing what they’re doing in school helps a lot in terms of my creativity and coming up with product ideas. Searching online helps a lot. Just before I came here I was actually just looking on YouTube to see what people are doing with the metric system. Seeing what teachers are doing now also helps a lot.

I sometimes laugh that the only free time I have is when I shower or when I drive. And, honestly, that’s when I come up with most of my ideas because you can’t do anything else but think when you’re in the shower or driving. That’s pretty much where I get my inspiration.

List of Favorites:

Favorite animal?

Rabbits.

Favorite color?

Blue.

Favorite season?

Well, I was born on the first day of spring, so spring.

Favorite movie?

I love The Shawshank Redemption.

Favorite food?

There’s a coconut soup that I love at Thai restaurants…and really good pizza. Chocolate, always. The hip things that I love at the moment are goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. Over the summer, blackberries and mangoes.

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Get to Know Us! Featuring Product Manager, James Tu

How long have you worked at Educational Insights?

For a very short period of time, actually. I started last February.

What drew you to working here?

Actually, a connection! Nancy Balter is related to my wife. We moved here to California from New York last June. So I left a user-experience design job there.

For that company, we worked on a lot of non-traditional user experiences. One of the biggest projects that we worked on was for the World Expo in 2010. Our company was tasked to design the visitor experience for one of the pavilions, the Shanghai corporate pavilion. We did everything from the queuing experience, lining up to get ticket, and figuring out what to do while you’re getting tickets. We had to design something to do while they were waiting. So we did things like videos and interactivity, where you can control some of the lighting patterns for that building. All in sort of preparing visitors for the inside of the pavilion. So they go inside and they were treated to this multi media show. Some of the stuff is interactive, and in the end, they get lead into this big theatre where they experience this interactive film.

When I relate my past experience to my experience here, I say that I make large-scale toys. Everything is a user experience. Kids will manipulate things, press on buttons, and listen to the content. When you’re designing a product, you’re really crafting a user experience. I’m just taking my experience from designing things in spaces to products.

How do you like it here so far?

Its great! The people are great; the things I work on are really cool.

What was your favorite toy growing up?

I liked Lego building blocks, and I liked some of the electronic toys like speak and spell with the funny electronic voices. The interesting thing is that now in the age of high fidelity with amazing sound and images, if the use experience isn’t there, it doesn’t matter how good your media is. So although back then those toys were “low tech”, the designs of the products were still pretty good. The speak and spell really taught you how to spell things, and there were others like speak and math.

What’s your favorite toy here at EI?

I haven’t experienced all the products, but we used to carry Blokus. It was a board game that I first connected a product with EI and that’s how I got to know EI. I like KaBam! It’s really cool. Play foam is an interesting product. BBQ Blitz is a good product that I’ve seen kids really gravitate towards. I gave it to my niece and she really loved it; she was flipping the burgers and matching them up. I think that it’s just a nicely designed game for that age group. Blurt is also pretty good.

What is life for you outside of work?

Well right now we have an 8-month-old daughter, and she’s basically everything right now, like our lives center around her. She’s actually an inspiration to me. Well, she’s too young right now, but eventually, hopefully I’m designing things with her in mind. Also, I’m trying to be fit. I used to play a lot of volleyball. I’m a big competitive volleyball player in high school and college, so coming out here to the beach and seeing all these volleyball nets makes me kind of want to get into it. I sort of did, but I need more time!

List of Favorites:

Favorite animal?

This is kind of silly and simple, but I really want a dog! It’s kind of a boring answer.

Favorite color?

Blue

Favorite season?

I really like Fall. I like the changing colors of the leaves, and I actually like fall fashion. Fall is a nice in between where you see people layering.

Favorite team?

I don’t actually follow professional sports in that way, so I don’t necessarily have a favorite sports team. But I’m rooting for Brazil for the Olympics volleyball team.

Favorite food?

I love Ramen.

Favorite movie?

I really like Cinema Paradiso. It’s an Italian movie about this kid who really loves movies. Eventually he becomes the projectionist in this theatre, but they would censor movies take out all these kissing scenes. But in he end, he takes all the kissing scenes and turns into one big movie. It’s good.

Get to Know Us! Featuring Product Manager, Brent Geppert

How long have you worked at Educational Insights?

I’ve worked here for 2 years.

How do you like it?

I hate it. [Laughs]. No, I’m just joking. It’s wonderful. Incredible. It’s a dream job in many ways. I get to make toys, make games, and play games with the kids. It’s awesome. I love it.

What drew you to working here?

I was attracted to being able to develop something that would enrich kids. Its fun, but there’s also enrichment and educational value. There’s something about just building toys and games that are educational and all that that’s exciting to me.

I have a little background in this but I am not, by trade, a product manager. I’ve done marketing and whole slew of different types of things. So, this is a very new thing for me. I don’t come from a huge background of developing toys and games, but I had a lot of experience as a kid.

When I was a teenager I had my own skateboard company. I’ve always had a creative flair. My dad was an incredible craftsman and woodworker. He could make anything out of anything! He would make suits of armor out of cardboard, he would do spaceships and swords, and I just watched him!

So what was amazing was that when I got this job, it all just came out and I was able to do just all this… All these great things.

I’m an artist too, I can paint, I can do so many things, and it all just came together in this job.

So you invented the EI Puppets. Tell me about that.

I love puppets, I grew up watching the Muppets and with my boys… I’ll put a sock on my hand, and boom, instant puppet! Anything can be a puppet! A dinner roll can be a puppet. A pillow. Anything. That’s what I would do with my kids… have fun little puppet shows. All kids love puppets.

Somehow I realized, hey, puppets are great. How about come up with a new kind of puppet? Something that kids could use…something that’s easy. Something that’s fun, that’s imaginative.

What was your favorite toy growing up?

It was called Fisher Techniques. It was this building set from Germany. We played with Fisher Techniques for hours and hours. All the different combinations of pieces. They’re very durable. Once you put something together, you were able to play with it.

What’s your favorite toy here?

Well I am partial to the puppets, but I love play foam! It never gets old.

What was your most unconventional inspiration?

Well, I came up with the talking bug net. So, I love bugs. I am always looking at bugs. If I see a bug, I’ll stop and I’ll look at it. I’ll try to pick it up as long as it doesn’t have a stinger.

My sixth grade teacher had a praying mantis in the room, and it was just the coolest looking thing. We went away on a weekend and the mantis layed an eggsack and it had hatched, and there were baby praying mantises all over the room! So that was really cool to me!

So a couple years ago, I bought my own praying mantis at a gardening supply store. I got one, hatched it myself, and I just watched them! So that was where I thought it would be cool to have an electronic praying mantis!

There are more bugs on the planet than humans by far. They’ve been here forever, and they probably will be until the Earth blows up! You know, roaches have been here since dinosaurs and they’ll stay here.

Bugs are fascinating to me, so I took that inspiration from  my excitement from bugs and made the talking bug net.

What’s your favorite animal?

I think most animals are really fascinating. But I think I’m fascinated by… well here’s another inspiration. You know the fish puppets? The deep sea angler?

Deep sea creatures are really fascinating to me. For one, they’re weird, and for 2 they’re just unbelievable that they can survive at the depths of the ocean. So, I’d say deep sea angler if I had to pick one.

What’s a day in the life of Brent outside of work?

Well I’m a father on two very active young boys who are constantly moving and wanting to interact with me whether it’s playing a video game, basketball, or wrestling.

How old are your boys?

6 and 8. So, I do a lot of that. [laughs] I also love surfing, and I brew beer!

List of Favorites: 

Favorite color?

Blue

Favorite season?

Summer

Favorite team?

Lakers

Favorite movie?

I’m a world war history enthusiast…

Saving Private Ryan (Drama) and Forest Gump (feel good)

Favorite food?

Carne Asada Burritos!

Get to Know the EI Staff: Product Manager, Marcia Gresko!

How long have you worked at Educational Insights?

I have worked at EI for 14 years.

What drew you to working here?

I’m a former teacher. I was a teacher for 15 years. We do materials and products that help kids in the classroom and help kids learn at home. It seemed like a natural extension of what I had done before, but it was also something different. After teaching for 15 years, I was looking for something different as well.

What did you teach?

I taught high school English for 8 years, I taught preschool for 7 years, and I worked in a pull-out program for a year with gifted kids, but I don’t really count that with the 15 years because it was part-time. I still volunteer in a classroom every week. I work for an hour in a local literacy program teaching struggling readers.

What was your favorite toy growing up?

[laughs] If I tell you that, then you’ll know how old I am! Did they have toys? Let’s see, we played with sticks! Well, I can tell you what I remember. Well, I loved skates. I had skates when I was a kid. Back in those days, parents just let you go anywhere. My mother wanted me and my brother out of the house. We skated everywhere. I also loved my hula-hoop. I had a doll that was called a Patty Play Pal that was 3 ft. tall. My uncle was in the toy business; he was a distributor. He got me this Patty Play Pal for the holidays one year…it was huge!

What’s your favorite toy here at EI?

Well, of course, Magic Moves wand. It’s my invention from last year and its fun because it’s deceptively simple. It really does teach kids a lot of things even though you’d think it was just a movement toy. The biggest thing is that kids get up and dance and move creatively, but it also teaches vocabulary. I had a lot of sophisticated vocabulary for the age group it’s designed for. It’s really designed for three-year-olds to maybe five-year-olds. It uses words like slither and soar, but it also uses bounce and jump, which are really simple words. It uses sophisticated words so that they are exposed to some rich vocabulary, which I think is really important for kids.

There are some technical things that as a teacher, if you were to work with kids moving to the tunes that I would actually do that would help kids surprisingly with things like the alphabet. So, if you swim and if you cross what’s called the midline of your body, that’s really that kind of physical activity that is supposed to be good for beginning readers. You move fast, and you move slowly. It’s really just a kind of deceptively simple thing. It’s well designed. I worked really hard with the team here. I worked with an outsider. I’m really proud of it and it’s doing well.

What inspired you to make that? What was your most unconventional inspiration?

What inspired me to make that game was that I was a former preschool teacher, and again, back in those days [laughs], we used records. I used records and I would give the commands like, “Okay, stomp like a dinosaur!”

First of all, it has all the light shows and everything, so it’s not just a command. It has entertaining and colorful light shows. It also allows kids to lead a musical session. It’s not always the teacher in control. So, when we filmed our little commercial here, one of the kids was actually in charge. It really allows kids to build self-esteem and build some element of control.

What’s a typical day like for you outside of work?

[Laughs] Who’s outside of work for enough hours for it to make a difference? The weekends are probably what I can speak to. Around here, we work very long hours, especially during the summer because it’s our busiest time since we’re trying to get product out.

I run errands. I love to bake. I love to read.

EI’s Pumpkin Decorating Contest

In addition to dressing up for Halloween, the gang got together for a pumpkin decorating contest! These were the results:

Brent’s tiki pumpkin is an aloha surprise.

Isn’t that Shelby the Office Pooch? Lisa worked hard to keep the eye from rolling around!

Nancy, our math and science product manager, made her very own pumpkin pi!

Jess’s vampire pumpkin is thirsty for human blood.

We think James has inspired a few “rooooars” with his dinosaur-inspired carving.

Awww, how cute and petite is Sonia’s little one…with a mouthful of seeds and everything.

Riley’s gradient and origami decoupage pumpkin is sittin’ pretty.

Ernesto nailed the black and orange contrast with this scary creation!

All Dressed Up!

Here are all the pictures from yesterday’s Halloween shenanigans yesterday in the office. We’ve got some truly creative people here at Educational Insights!

Here’s Brent, one of our product managers, as Felix the Cat!

Our graphic designer, Ernesto, as the Dark Knight.

Riley, our Creative Director, as the tortured artist that he is!

Jess as the Wendy’s cold drinks training video star. Her inspiration source comes from this gem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJ-JBFXh2IU

Sonia, our senior production artist, as the Green Hornet.

James Tu, another one of our product managers, as the ever popular Psy doing the Gangnam style!

Our marketing assistant, Caitlin, as a California cool surfer chick.

And last but not least, our office pooch Shelby as the Wonder Pug!

Here’s Lisa, our manager, and Shelby.

Happy Halloween!

To commemorate this holiday, here’s a look past at Halloweens past here at the Educational Insights office.

Marcia Gresko, our Sr. Product Manager, makes a dazzling Undead Spider Bride.

Amy Opheim, our Marketing Director, bats her wings.

Shelby the lioness. “I am Pug, hear me ROAR.”

Our Creative Director, Riley Wilkinson, as an Olympic champion.

Our Creative Department as themselves.

Silent-but-deadly Jessie Cho– our Design Manager.

Sonia Hernandez’s real side. She’s our Sr. Production Artist!

Ernesto (our Graphic Designer) is on fire!

Have a SAFE and Happy Halloween tonight!