An interactive planetarium for classrooms to assist teachers explain and test abstract concept of space to elementary students better.
Presented at Frog Design, Dumbo + part of the NYC Media Lab x Verizon Connected Futures III Challenge.
//MIXED REALITY, INTERACTION DESIGN, UX DESIGN
This project was a part of the Verizon Connected Futures Prototyping and Talent Development program under the category Social AR/VR. I worked in collaboration with Amy Ashida, Christine Lawton and Wolfgang Gil. This was under the guidance of Josh Musick (United Technologies), John Leonard (Frog Design) and Craig Brown (Envrmnt). I was responsible for ideating, wireframing, rapid prototyping, physical fabrication and user testing.
CURRENT LANDSCAPE OF EDUCATIONAL TOOLS
For centuries, we’ve taught kids about dynamic topics with static objects. These models are hard to understand, difficult to put together, and more importantly, don’t encourage play, and trap information inside the screen.
We began by looking at traditional models of teaching STEM topics. In order to provide focus, we decided to narrow our scope to learning about space.
Books, diagrams, 3d models, and more recently, YouTube videos and websites seemed to be the primary ways kids learned about space. All of these mediums provided great information, but they tended to focus on either physical interaction or providing information with little bridge between the two. While some good apps do exist, kids don’t have enough opportunities to engage outside of a screen.
WHY DON'T THEY WORK?
Lessons are too structured and teachers in elementary schools usually follow a fixed approach.
These methods don’t work effectively as each student has a unique learning method and grasping capacity - while some prefer merely listening to teachers, others understand more visually.
Additionally, traditional methods only offer minimal feedback.
If a teacher just stands there talking to the class, there’s no real way to know whether students fully understand the subject until assignments are graded or test time rolls around.
Planning successful, engaging activities can also be very time consuming.
We discovered some fantastic craft projects designed for kids to help teach this material, which were fun and captivating for kids, but took a lot of planning and organizing for parents or teachers to pull off.
As a result, these activities were often limited in busy classrooms and homes.
- Design a tool for teachers that helps them create 3D experiences in class easily
- Help kids learn abstract concepts such as space education easily
- Increase collaboration in classroom
Our goal was to incorporate the best elements from traditional classroom education and emerging tech. So we started asking ourselves - what if we leveraged the familiar interaction of spinning the globe in our solution? What if a globe could offer more?
After talking to a few elementary school teachers, we locked down the curriculum and mapped out the journey. For our prototype we focused on three different lessons and a unit quiz.
We then made low fidelity wireframes to flesh out the flow and interactions involved in the experience.
Once we had a structure for lessons and quiz, we tested the concept with a paper prototype. While our initial concept was to have a multiplayer quiz, our rapid prototype revealed that people enjoyed solving problems together rather than against each other. This also left room for discussion.
STORY FOR THE UNIT QUIZ
Through our discussion with teachers we also found that we needed an over arching story to keep kids engaged. We introduced a character, named Hubble the space explorer, to our experience that takes off to explore the space from the Earth in a space rocket. We realized that this would help kids understand the difference between what they see on earth versus the view from space.
We also created the unit quiz where kids are astronauts on a space mission trying to get home. They need to answer three questions to find their landing zone.
We initially studied two other technologies: iPad and Kinect. We wanted to understand different possibilities of physical and digital elements being used together. We eventually locked down on using LEAP motion for gesture tracking. We also created a 3D environment on which the gestures would be mapped.
We also wanted to add another dimension for Earth to provide an experience for students and teachers that combined the layered information of a digital application with the tactile experience of using 3D models. To achieve this we added a dome to the interface. After exploring different sizes and shapes, we modeled the prototype in Fusion360 and then CNC-ed the final prototype in wood.
We went through many iterations of the layout in varying levels of fidelity. These ranged from rough outlines, projections and video prototypes. We wanted to prototype basic interactions, which meant that we had to understand exactly where on the table those interactions would take place and the functions needed to use the gesture tracking capabilities for the device.
With each iteration our solution became simpler.
HOSTING PLAY TEST SESSIONS WITH KIDS
We arrived at our final interface and setup after play testing our solution with educators and kids age 6-10. During our play test the biggest questions we received were: "How many questions are there?", "Where is the hint?" and "Where are the hints?"
This is when we realized that we needed to make our UI not only simple but slightly exaggerated to make sure kids were not lost at any time. This was our biggest learning from the project.
Our final screens were of the unit quiz. In the quiz, kids are astronauts on a space mission trying to get home. They need to answer three questions to find their landing zone. When they receive a clue, they are prompted to move the earth, which gets it spinning.
As the child moves the earth, it orbits around the sun and the season or time of day changes accordingly.Kids can check their answer by hitting a big red button which is a big physical button on the table.
After they answer all the questions, their mission is successful and their landing zone is revealed.
PRESENTING AT FROG DESIGN AND NYC MEDIA LAB
We designed this experience as a tool for teachers to explain complex concepts to their class. Hubble fits into existing space curriculum, helping teachers reinforce important concepts and vocabulary. We envision teachers leading their students through the experience before they adventure on their own.
For our final proof of concept we used video prototypes and shifted between lessons remotely. We presented the final proof of concept and received incredible feedback.
WHAT I LEARNT
- Rules for designing for large surfaces - the UX guidelines completely change
- Designing for kids requires experiences to be over exaggerated and simplified
- Rapid Prototyping to test idea
- Environment can be an active participant in your experience as well!
- 3D Modeling using Fusion 360
- Understanding how to design experience with gestures