2019 • microsoft.com

Microsoft Education’s Hacking STEM program combines play and learning through Arduino-based activities for kids.

For a student project, I worked on a team of 3 to design and code a potential new entry to the STEM activity catalog. We won an award for our technical implementation.

01. Setting the Stage

01. Setting the Stage

I led the user experience and front-end development for a digital data dashboard that pulled data from an accelerometer.

My team and I worked with kids and teachers to develop and iterate on both digital and physical components of a STEM education kit. We recieved an award for Best Technical Implementation during an expo at Microsoft in Redmond, WA.

Made alongside the talented Javan Wang and Sakshat Goyal.

The challenge

"Build an affordable inquiry and project-based activity to visualize data across science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum."

Specifically, we were to create an experiment that cost under $10 per student (excluding the Arduino and computer), and that aligned with a Next Generation Science Standard.

02. The Response

02. The Response

The Trebuchet Trials: demonstrating the relationship between potential and kinetic energy

The Trebuchet Trials is a STEM education kit that encourages learning through play. Developed with the help of teachers, 4th grade students, and Microsoft Education, it addresses the need to provide experiental STEM education to kids growing up in an increasingly digital world.

Our response was based on the 4th grade NGSS Standard 4-PS3-4: Apply scientific ideas to test a device that converts energy from one form to another. In our case, the trebuchet teaches the concepts of transforming potential to kinetic energy.

Live graphical mirroring

Using data streamed from an Arduino accelerometer, a digital trebuchet mirrors the movement of the physical trebuchet to create a delightful interaction.

Targeted challenges

We found through classroom testing that students need specific goals so that the play-learning is structured. Asking them to hit certain criteria with their tests encourages critical thinking and pattern recognition.

Automated data tracking

Every time a projectile is launched, the interface automatically calculates the kinetic energy and graphs it in the data tracker. Minimal manual input lets students focus on identifying trends, not rote recording.

Low-cost setup

Not including the Arduino and computer, this 3-student group activity is made from classroom materials. The main components are a $5 accelerometer and printed cardstock templates. It costs ~$4 per student.

03. Design Process

03. Design Process

Starting with the literature

At the outset, we knew we needed to develop a conceptual framework about what makes a successful educational experience for kids. We noticed trends in STEM education have shifted towards creative experimentation and play as a form of learning. Some thought leaders like Mitchel Resnick also argue for the value of a constructionist approach, where students assemble the tool that is then used for experimentation. We also thoroughly reviewed Microsoft's Hacking STEM projects.

Straight into concepting

Our ideation process started by selecting an interesting NGSS standard and generating a physical experiment and digital interface that we thought could teach it, while considering what we had gathered from our literature review.

Narrowing to 3 directions

There were so many unknowns: were any of these ideas technically feasible? Would they spark joy and also be educational? Are they age-appropriate? We did our best to extrapolate these unknowns by gathering feedback from the studio for the most promising directions forward. We looked more closely at the ideas that excited us and enumerated the unknowns, risks, and education value of each.

After a couple rounds of studio voting and discussions with advisors, we narrowed to the trebuchet, a hydroelectric turbine, and a DIY speaker, shown in sketches below.

Pushing ahead with prototypes

We needed to start getting our ideas in front of kids and teachers to help narrow into a single direction, so we made video and experiential prototypes for each concept. We showed the video prototypes to elementary school teachers, and brought the experiential prototypes to a group of kids to gather their feedback.

Triangulating stakeholder perspectives

Generating rapid prototypes made us start to grapple with designing for multiple stakeholders. We found that kids were highly engaged with the speaker and trebuchet concepts, that teachers thought the trebuchet was the most educational, but that our contact at Microsoft thought that the trebuchet might descend into classroom chaos. We needed to find a way to make the experiments manageable in the classroom setting.

In fourth grade we do an energy unit and this could perfectly tie into the unit, and actually work better than some of our existing experiments... I would totally purchase this kit for our energy unit next year if you created it.


05. Details to Come

04. Details to Come

Thanks for reading so far – I'm working on adding the rest of the details to this project.

Consider this a case study MVP. I'll add more detailed designs and the process once I get the chance.