Design and development of a multi-sensory collaborative puzzle for children of ages 9- 12 that is to be solved using the concept of spring force.
My Role: Concept Ideation to Development
Project Type: Individual
Timeline: Feb 2019 - May 2019
Tools: Processing, Arduino, Madmapper
The rise of personal digital devices and personalized experiences for children, is leading to neglection of teaching them the importance of team play and collaboration. Team play is common in Physical Education classes in schools, however, if children are attracted to the fun digital games, there should be fun digital experiences that imparts the same values that collaboration and cooperative play does.
I read through some literature (articles, Youtube videos and research papers) to gather information that helped me answer the following questions:
+ Is teaching collaboration important? What benefits does it have? What age group does it have the most impact in?
+ Why is cooperative play in schools limited to game periods?
+ What lessons do kids learn from playing in teams?
+ What would digital playgrounds look like in schools?
+ Are there examples of digital collaborative play?
I learnt that it is crucial to teach mutual care among kids especially for children from low-income communities and troubled families. When students notice the value of their input and effort, a more internal locus of control and belief in one's ability is fostered, thus embedding social and work skills. I also learnt about the concept of Self Organized learning for children through deep dive into Dr. Sugata Mitra's research study on how kids can learn by themselves. The method is called Minimally Invasive Education.
I visited 5 schools in and around the city of Hyderabad, India. To get a first-person insight into the system, I interviewed teachers asking them about their daily school routine, learning activities, and the improvements they wish to see. I interviewed students in a group asking them about what they love doing, extracurricular activities and what they think about computers and the internet. I externalized the findings through post its and grouped them in categories.
"School's alumni donate money and we buy equipment for our labs. But as you can see this does not even meet the minimum lab standards. We would love for our students to get lab experience"
-Teacher, Government School
"At home, I like to watch a lot of TV or play games on the phone. Our teacher showed us this chemistry experiment which was very interesting. I want to see more of those."
-Teacher, Government School
INSIGHTS FROM INTERVIEWS
Low Student to Teacher Ratio which often results in a single classroom for students of different grades(ages)
Poor lab-based infrastructure for students to learn by doing and experimenting
Knowledge of computers and internet is limited to Youtube and Tik Tok which can be unsafe at a young age.
Keep children engaged through activities that can be moderated by adults who are necessarily not qualified to teach, like care takers.
Present economical solutions for lab-based learning.
Solutions that can be used and shared by all the schools
Introduce technology as a fun way to learn and to keep up with the current world.
Increase awareness of the uses of technology for the future.
How can I use play to excite children about science? And how can this be a collaborative experience in the form of informal learning?
The goal is to design activities that provoke learning through play and exploration, and nurture mutual care through collaboration
BUT, HOW DO CHILDREN COLLABORATE?
Especially with no one around to monitor
I chose participatory design as a process to learn how children collaborate. I made a quick prototype where kids were asked to create a music sequence by filling water(on the screen) in test tubes. I recruited 7 children (family and friends) to carry out a quick test around their creative collaboration.
One major take away from this user testing was that for a successful collaboration, I had to design for equal participation. The two children on the left took turns to play and were courteous of each other. On the right, there was a clear power dynamic because the boy was a popular kid.
WHAT THEY SAID, WHAT THEY DID, AND HOW THEY FELT
CHOOSING A CONCEPT FOR SELF-LEARNING
The physics of springs
I decided to lay focus on physical sciences because I have always been fascinated by how the mechanics exist everywhere. In physical sciences, I picked forces and motion, spring force in particular. The concept is that when spring is pulled displacement of the spring is directly proportional to the distance the object moves.
DESIGNING THE PLAY
COMPONENTS OF THE PLAY
The digital interface that is projected on the table. When scaled up, these projections could easily turn rooms into a playgrounds enabling embodied digital play.
To enable embodied and multisensory learning, I decided that the controller would be a tangible one that would truly mimic the physics of springs.
Game Mechanics (Collaboration)
A single controller for all the 4 players and the interaction of passing the controller between players ensures that they pay attention to each other play. This in turn encourages conversation among the group of children strategizing and helping each other in order for all of them to reach the next level
'Ensemble' has two parts- a digital interface and a tangible controller. The digital interface is coded in processing and is projected onto the game board via a projector that is mounted on the roof. The controller runs on MKR1000 with a Time of Flight sensor that senses how far the spring has been pulled and a Neopixel ring that indicates whose turn it is. Case of the controller is 3D printed and designed so that the child has a firm grip to pull the handle. Group dynamics of passing the controller after your turn is designed with the intention that the child patiently waits for their turn.
I user tested the game twice with children of different age group.
Testing the working and concept learning
In the first user test at the New York Hall of Science, I tested the game to see if kids liked the game and if they played until the whole puzzle was solved. They did! After a couple of rounds, they learned that the spring controlled the lines on the screen and started meticulously pulling the controller to finish the puzzle.
In the second round, I tested the collaboration. Although the interaction was addictive and they wanted to play all by themselves. Once I told them what the lights on the controller meant, they started recognizing that they need to pass the controller. They were eagerly waiting for their turn.
This game has been designed to portray potential solutions to provoke learning and curiosity. I envision this game to have multiple levels. For example, instead of lines intersecting to form a rectangular piece of the puzzle, there could be arcs intersecting as circles. Depending on the age group children learn about the different shapes, the intersection of shapes and areas.
It is crucial for a child to develop social skills and mutual care among their friends and classmates in this world of increasing personal devices. Hence, there is a need to design collaborative games that are technologically equipped to excite the child.
I envision community educational centers to solve the issue of low infrastructure schools in rural areas in India. These community centers are like exploratoriums that would be spread across the country and easily accessed by road. The goal is to present kids with exhibits that would excite them about potential applications of STEAM for the future.