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BUILDING BLOCKS: ACCESSIBLE STEM EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN

How might we use kinesthetic learning to teach chemistry concepts to younger students?

THE PROBLEM

Science and math can often be difficult to teach because the concepts are very esoteric and hard to grasp. There is an anxiety associated with technical subjects that make them difficult to absorb. I wondered, is there a way to leverage design and technology to teach basic chemistry concepts to students in a tangible, fun, and interactive way?

THE SOLUTION

My focus on creating a chemistry educational toy stems from my academic background and my passion for providing access to STEM education to students.  'Building Blocks' is an interactive chemistry educational game that is designed for children in grades 3 – 5.  Children can create molecules and be immersed in chemistry through kinesthetic learning, experimenting with wooden blocks. After users create their chemical compounds, they can learn their physical qualities, applications, fun facts, and impact on society through screen based interactions. 

 

Scope: 6 Weeks

Categories: Physical computing, UX design, product design and fabrication

Role:  Individual Project. Owned idea generation, prototyping, coding, and execution 

Tools: Arduino, Javascript, p5, React, Meteor, Sketch

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

The Process

Building Blocks was the result of an iterative process with multiple prototypes. First we considered the medium and interface that would make the game the most affordable and the most conducive to learning. For that reason, I picked wooden toy blocks and used very basic circuit switches in my box to create the technical component of the interaction. 

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For the computer component of the game, you can plug the physical element into any traditional USB port of a computer. There, I used Meteor, React, and p5 to create an interface that responds to actions that you take on the toy itself. This required a combination of Javascript and C. 

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My goal was to make this interface clear and easy to use for children, and multiple iterations were tested on a group of children ages 8-10. Bright colors and easy to read text were used to make it easy and enticing for children. There was also an added auditory element to make the interaction more engaging.

When the chemical compound is actually built, the content displayed is easy to understand and approaches the material in a holistic and interdisciplinary way. For example, for the compound water, not only does the screen display the chemical properties of the molecule, but it also touches upon environmental, political, and social angles of the chemical in order to provide the children with the context behind the learning. 

 

The Solution

Building Blocks is a fun, interactive way for children to learn basic chemistry in a contextualized way. 

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 Presenting at New Lab, Brooklyn Navy Yard

Presenting at New Lab, Brooklyn Navy Yard

 

FAILS, FEEDBACK, AND NEXT STEPS

A point of feedback that was consistent was that the screen interaction was too text heavy and not interactive enough. In the next iteration, I will be concentrating more on the screen output to flesh it out more.