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Things I'm working on and thinking about

Here’s the informal statement about my masters project, just to provide some context for what I’ll probably be posting about on this blog.

The goal of my project is to create a device that can teach elementary-aged students how programmable devices work and encourage discovery through trial and error.

Arduino microcontrollers, while considerably more accessible and inexpensive than other prototyping systems, can be challenging for students to use, particularly when they have little or no background in basic circuits or programming. ┬áThe components are small and the software requires at least some prior programming knowledge. Systems like Lego Mindstorms, Hummingbird (the so-called “pre-Arduino”) microprocessors, or littleBits are easier for beginners to use, but may be cost prohibitive, or encourage following diagrams rather than truly “inventing” or grasping concepts.

Proposed solution:
My project will be a system that simplifies the programmable microcontroller, using larger (easier to hold and manipulate) materials that are easy for anyone to obtain. This object will not necessarily result in a specific final product (like a Mindstorm robot kit), but will provide feedback to the interactor as he or she builds upon it.

The finished project deliverable will be a microcontroller, based on the Arduino or similar device, but with a simpler (more targeted) visual interface (both in terms of the industrial design and the software interface). I will develop an accompanying kit of common materials that can be used in conjunction with the device.

The kit could be tested in a classroom or workshop setting, or easily demonstrated to adults with no previous experience with programmable devices.

Additional areas of inquiry:
Use of craft materials (High-Low Tech)
Making the system appealing to girls, or, at least, gender-neutral design