Making the Invisible Tangible:

Reimagining science education in kindergarten through reality-based interfaces



Overview

In this collaborative project between Wellesley College’s Human Computer Interaction (HCI) Lab and the Tufts DevTech Research Group, we are creating reality based interfaces, tangible technologies, and educational videos which enhance children’s understanding of abstract concepts in synthetic biology, creativity, and computational skills.

Over the past two decades, research on Human-Computer Interaction has generated a broad range of interaction styles including that leverage users' developmental abilities such as naive physics, spatial, social and motor skills.By bridging the digital and physical worlds these interfaces offer a concrete way to think about abstract phenomena. Research on novel human-computer interaction styles in early childhood education shows that they facilitate kindergarteners to learn abstract concepts and computational skills.


Building on this work and motivated by the need of our nation to further engage children in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), this project investigates how to design age-appropriate interfaces that engage very young children in scientific investigations. We design, develop, and evaluate novel human-computer interfaces - which utilize tangible, gestural, and multi-touch interaction - for primary school students (K-5) to explore the field of biological engineering.


Why Biological Engineering for Early Elementary School?

While a significant amount of research focuses on STEM education for the later elementary, middle and high school, and college years, little research is focused on learning abstract scientific concepts in the foundational years. We know, however, both from an economic and a developmental standpoint, that educational interventions that begin in early childhood are associated with lower costs and stronger, more durable effects than interventions that begin later in childhood. Additionally, we know that women and minorities are still underrepresented in many STEM fields. Prior work demonstrates the importance of piquing the interest of girls and minorities during their formative early childhood years before stereotypes regarding these traditionally masculine fields are ingrained in later years. Therefore, it is critical to continue developing engaging STEM-focused tools, games, and materials to begin engaging children from their earliest schooling years.

Current Prototype

Bac2Mars: We have currently created Bac2Mars, an educational multi-player video game that engages elementary school children in design of bacteria helpful for sustaining extended research missions on Mars. The Bac2Mars video game was designed to inspire the next generation of innovators by exposing children to these emerging areas at the intersection of science and technology. In addition to introducing early elementary aged children to concepts of science and technology, the Back2Mars game was also designed to foster development of basic reading comprehension, mathematics skills, creative problem-solving, collaboration, and more. Learn more about Bac2Mars by watching the video below.