About Upper Story
Toys are powerful because our brains are built for play. When a toy is in front of us, it is tangible and inviting. We can't help but play until we have mastered it. In contrast, many of the subjects important in STEM are abstract and intangible. You can't play with intangible subjects, making it difficult to wrap our minds around them.
At Upper Story, making educational toys means making toys that break down important, abstract concepts into a playful, tangible form. When we design a new product, we start by looking for the gaps in education and understanding, narrowing them down to the problem we want to solve, and then developing a truly innovative product that fosters endless curiosity.
Upper Story Team
Yes, we love to play!
Co-Founder and CEO
When I was a kid, I was a maker (creating doll furniture, crocheting blankets, and making books with layers of fabric) and this has continued throughout my adulthood. I worked in education for 14 years before launching Upper Story with Paul. As a teacher and a parent of three boys, I've seen how important it is for kids to explore and create. They learn so much from hands-on experiences, and it builds their confidence. At Upper Story I thoroughly enjoy being at the helm of a business that creates toys that are deeply educational. It is satisfying to be involved in product creation, but also in all of the processes that get our products into the hands of people around the world. My goal is to equip kids and adults alike with tools and environments that let them follow their own curiosity by tinkering, designing, creating, and building.
How I played then: playing bad guys and good guys on bikes, crafting doll furniture, playing with dolls, making books, and doing needle crafts.
How I play now: learning watersports with my family, needle crafting, and reading.Contact Alyssa
Co-Founder and Product Designer
I get a thrill to the core of my being when I discover how something works and then make something new out of it. Brains are wired to understand things that can be seen and touched, but some of the most interesting, important concepts are invisible and abstract. My mission is to invent new types of toys that bring these concepts into tangible form, allowing our brains to easily understand them in the deepest way possible. I got a PhD in Analytical Chemistry because I wanted to make cool new instruments to analyze things. I did that at a little company and then as a professor at the University of Minnesota. After that, I worked at a company aiming to improve US healthcare before Alyssa and I took the plunge and launched Turing Tumble, our first product.
How I played then: playing and coding video games, making stuff with electronic parts, making little mechanical mechanisms, juggling and unicycling, burning things.
How I play now: playing games with my kids, testing out new product ideas by 3D printing, coaching a FIRST Tech Challenge team.Contact Paul
I'm a little bit of a jack of all trades, which is likely how I ended up working on social media. I enjoy the challenge of the endless stream of changes that come my way. At Upper Story, Facebook is where I spend most of my time; however, I also market on Google, Pinterest, Reddit, TikTok, and Tumblr. I love the opportunity to get to know our customers and audience. It’s truly a joy to be a part of a team that is exceptional, inspiring, and dedicated to its overarching vision.
How I played then: created snow fort libraries with the neighborhood and played a lot of sports.
How I play now: lots of time volunteering and organizing fundraising events, hiking, and playing golf.Contact Jennifer
Director of Education and School Partnerships
With four active kids, I managed the schedules of my family's day-to-day life for many years. At Upper Story, my planning skills are put to great use! I enjoy troubleshooting and solving issues that may arise, and am in close contact with our warehouses keeping an eye on inventory levels. I also enjoy introducing teachers to our products, helping them make their purchases, and providing support with anything they need.
How I played then: playing kick-the-can with siblings and neighborhood friends, crafting, and challenging my family to a game of cribbage or Battleship.
How I play now: playing catch in the yard with my kids, attending sporting events, trying new recipes, going on hikes, and playing trivia games.Contact Amy
Translation and Localization Specialist
Before coming to Upper Story, I worked with my community’s large immigrant and refugee population as an English as a Second Language teacher. I also worked in teacher education and spent time at home with my kids. Now I coordinate translations for Upper Story products. I love that I still get to learn about other languages and cultures and connect with people from all over the world.
How I played then: reading, playing board games, playing with dolls & stuffed animals, and playing in my tree house.
How I play now: reading, spending time at our family’s cabin, and watching my kids ski jump.Contact Jodie
Web Developer and Marketing Specialist
After serving in the Air Force for 5 years and then spending time at home raising my two kids, I went back to school for software engineering. At Upper Story, I split my time between website development and managing our Twitter advertising. I love the playful spirit of this team and working toward shared goals.
How I played then: taking pictures and making scrapbook albums, playing with our many pets, and waterskiing on our lake.
How I play now: spending time with family at airshows and taking thrill rides in planes and helicopters.Contact Kelly
Director of Education and Outreach
After traveling the US with a children’s theatre troupe, then serving in higher education for a number of years, I found joy staying home with my three children until being introduced to the team at Upper Story! Now I’m thrilled to be working on a number of creative projects that help educators find resources to implement our STEM products in the classroom.
How I played then: playing yard games with all of the neighborhood kids and my siblings.
How I play now: going on bike/runs with my family of five and spending time on our boat.Contact Anna
Customer Support and Distributor Partnerships Specialist
Growing up in a large family, game nights were a favorite weekly tradition. I have a master’s degree in vocal performance and have sung with opera companies around the world. Here at Upper Story, I respond to all our customer inquiries and manage our help center. I work with retailers and distributors worldwide developing new partnerships and collaborating with existing partners. When I am not working with our customers and distributors I enjoy supporting my colleagues on larger projects and hosting trivia during our staff meetings.
How I played then: playing in the woods or swimming in the lake with my siblings, playing dress-up, and singing everywhere I went.
How I play now: being outdoors, cycling, paddle boarding, learning new board and card games, and singing classical art songs.Contact Kathryn
A look back at how we got here.
In 2015 Paul Boswell was a professor at the University of Minnesota. He saw how valuable it was for all students to be able to code and have a solid understanding of computers. With three young kids at home, he tried to teach them all he could about computers, including building robots, playing games that teach coding concepts, and building electronic kits. While those things are helpful, they all treat computers like black boxes: kids learn how computers behave, but not how they work.
He starting designing a game on nights and weekends, working to create an extremely accessible and fun mechanical computer. The result was Turing Tumble, a mechanical computer that allows players to see and feel how computers work.
Two years later, in June of 2017, Paul and Alyssa Boswell launched what they thought was a long-shot Kickstarter campaign to raise $48k. To their surprise, they raised $48K the first day, and went on to raise $404k from over 4,000 backers by the end of the 30 day campaign.
The success of the Kickstarter indicated that Turing Tumble would be more than a side project! Soon after, Paul quit his job to work on manufacturing and Alyssa dug into international order fulfillment.
In March of 2018 Paul visited our manufacturer, LongPack in Shanghai to check everything before the games were assembled. He got to see the processes for injection molding and production. This was just the beginning of a strong partnership with LongPack. In June, the first production run was complete and Kickstarter backers received their games.
From the beginning, Paul and Alyssa wanted to make Turing Tumble a great product for educators. They developed two guides: the Educator Guide and the Practice Guide. They began selling games through their website and Shopify store.
As the demand for Turing Tumble games increased, the company added staff to cover marketing, logistics, business development, translations, and customer service. The team moved from the Boswell's kitchen table to an office space in St. Paul. Paul started creating a new product to teach how electronics work.
Business continued to expand into local toy stores. The team created educator resource videos and educational advertising materials to further support and reach educators.
Translated games were offered in German and French. The successful holiday season depleted inventory.
Despite being out of stock for the first months of 2020, sales were strong as people looked for ways to learn and grow in the midst of a global pandemic. The team ping-ponged between working at the office and at home. Education sales to schools and libraries were a growing percentage of the business up until March of 2020, but decreased as schools implemented at-home learning. Education sales pivoted to parents and homeschoolers.
Paul made huge strides in developing the new product, Spintronics, to teach about electronics.
Dutch and Italian translations of Turing Tumble were completed.
June of 2021 we debuted the new product: Spintronics. It teaches how electronics work through building mechanical circuits. Through a Kickstarter campaign, Upper Story successfully met its fundraising goal and raised $1.4 million.
With a second product, we decided it was time for a new company name - Upper Story: Endless Curiosity. The new name and logo allude to engaging the brain and igniting curiosity through play.
Turing Tumble added Polish and Spanish to its suite of translations, and a marble reloader was developed.
Production of Spintronics is moving along steadily despite some COVID-related shut-downs and supply chain issues. In April LongPack sent us the much anticipated pre-production sample. It was our first chance to see the entire kits: the first boxes, books, vacuum trays, and all of the parts. It all looked great with only some minor changes needed. Production has started!
We are also working on the Spintronics translations. The first release will include English, German, Dutch, and French versions.
In April we attended our first technology in education show in Iowa. The booth was busy the whole time with curious educators. In June we will be attending the International Society for Technology in Education EdTech conference in New Orleans.
Your purchase helps support an important cause.
The Turing Trust is an organization started by Alan Turing's closest family. It strives for a world of equal opportunity with technology-enabled education for all. They provide reused IT equipment, loaded with educational resources, and training to schools in sub-Saharan Africa. They reduce the global carbon footprint and provide access to STEM education to those who do not have access. We donate $1 of every Upper Story sale to the Turing Trust and have contributed over $100,000 in funds.
Thanks to your support in getting to this milestone, these computers will enable 17,000 more students to learn vital IT skills. Beyond this, the environmental impact from these computers has offset 270 tonnes of CO2 emissions, which is the equivalent of planting 673 trees, or offsetting the annual carbon footprints of 27 Scots. The embodied energy savings created are also enough to power 65 UK homes for a year as well. --James Turing