Making the Invisible Tangible:

Introducting Bioengineering in Kindergarten



Overview

In this collaborative project between Wellesley College’s Human Computer Interaction (HCI) Lab and the Tufts DevTech Research Group, we are are exploring the potential of novel technologies to support young children’s learning of bioengineering.

This National Science Foundation funded project (NSF No. IIS-1149530) investigates how to design developmentally appropriate interfaces to engage 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-2) to explore the field of biological engineering through a playful approach that integrates foundational concepts and skills from engineering and biology.

Prototypes Currently in Development:

CRISPEE: Exploring Gene Editing in Kindergarten

 

We are developing CRISPEE, a novel tool based on the popular CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing tool that can cut-and-paste short sequences of DNA called “BioBricks.” CRISPEE uses tangible color-coded blocks to represent these BioBricks, and allows children to play with gene sequencing models. CRISPEE engages children in a story-based task to help a firefly with a genetic mutation, by reprogramming his DNA with BioBricks to code for bioluminescent colorful lights. Currently, the team is developing a coding language for CRISPEE with embedded sensors. Children can then use firefly bioluminescence to code other creatures to light up under certain conditions, for example when harmful toxins are present in the environment. This mimics how bioluminescent genes are used in real-world applications. Bioengineers create living solutions to help to humans and aid in new discoveries.

 

BacToMars: A Multi-player Videogame about Bioengineering on Mars

We have also created BacToMars, an educational multi-player video game that engages elementary school children in the design of bacteria helpful for sustaining astronaut living conditions during extended research missions on Mars. The BacToMars 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 BacToMars game was also designed to foster the development of basic reading comprehension, mathematics skills, creative problem solving, collaboration, and more.

Our initial pilot tests with BacToMars have shown that early elementary-aged children can learn core concepts of molecular biology and engineering (Loparev, Sullivan, Verish, Westendorf, Davis, Flemings, Bers, & Shaer, 2017). Learn more about BacToMars by watching the video below.


 

Ongoing work with Tools for Young Children to Explore Bioengineering

Research and development is ongoing to create more resources for bioengineering education in early childhood and elementary years. Current directions include a tangible tool to allow children to explore DNA sequencing, educational videos about the impact of bioengineering in nature, and a developmentally appropriate curriculum to tie it all together in learning settings. Check back to learn more and participate in our ongoing research on tangible tools to introduce foundational bioengineering in early elementary.