people are weird

I guess it is time to make something ?

Hello hello !

I’m sure everyone is waiting on the edge of their seat to hear about our big presentation from last week. Well, let me tell you, it is crunch time over here at BitBox – after all the feedback from our peers and advisors, we are moving full into prototyping and testing, the meat of this capstone informed by all of our previous research.

First things first, how’d the presentation go? Well, I think. I mean we started off with this lovely slide from Brian Taintor himself, so you be the judge.

Anyway, a week ago, we delivered our user research presentation, in which we discussed each of our key interviews and research tactics, delved into who exactly were our users, highlighted key insights, and touched on next steps.  We acknowledged that through our research, we realized that our users were not just the students, or even just the teachers, but we had a multitude of players that had to be involved in our design process if we were ever going to be able to achieve any real change. This could be anyone from school administrators, for instance, Tony Monaco, to the state and national legislators that influence education policy. It could also be parents, the hardest group to please when it comes to education. Our complicated user map is shown below. Kind of a mess, but what can ya do?

We then summarized these findings into a detailed report, which we submitted a few nights ago for review. Here are 7 key insights that we synthesized from our ethnographic research:

  1. Create an environment in which the learner has agency over their education.
  2. Educators need adaptive tools that empower them to approach district, state and federal standards in new ways.
  3. Reimagine the merits of required attendance.
  4. Supervision, not surveillance
  5. The world is malleable – any physical space can be used to foster engaging, collaborative learning.
  6. Educators are constrained by time and money – reduce the need for subject matter expertise and training
  7. Public schools look for sustainable investments.

With these insights, we move forward into creation of our first prototype. We are all set to meet on Saturday, and each team member is to bring an analysis of 5-10 tools that could be included in a mobile space, as well as an initial concept for that that space would look like.

Maybe something like this? this fancy rendering 0.o

Image result for mobile makerspace

or maybe it’ll be like this super basic space that can amalgamate different resources:

Anyway, once we have our first prototype, we will return to our users to begin testing and iteration.

While this post has been short, a lot has happened in the last two weeks, from compiling our research, synthesizing insights to actually drafting a report about each tangible goal. Our next update will hopefully feature some mocks and some usability testing from the field.

Thanks for reading <3

A dive into observational research

Alright alright – we are back with a report from the field, gearing up for our User Research presentation next week. The BitBox team has been busy interviewing experts in creative education and exploration to inform our future directions.

Here’s what went down.

We formed a few key questions:

  1. How is a curriculum based on a makerspace formed, created and maintained?
  2. What kind of expertise is needed to achieve learning outcomes?
  3. What are the learning outcomes of the space?
  4. How were materials chosen and how were those materials obtained in the first place?
  5. What is the biggest challenge your organization faces and how was it addressed?

…and then with our basic interview script in hand, headed to some makerspaces in the surrounding area. Of the many spaces we saw and people we interviewed, from the adult maker community of Artisan’s Asylum to the for-profit educational center Einstein’s Workshop, two conversations really stuck out.

While at Parts and Crafts, we learned about the democracy of their lesson plans. Every month or so, all of the students get to discuss what they are interested in. One week, everyone seemed into fish and making benches (separate? related? unclear), so that was the direction the course went, while another, computers were the center of attention, from learning basic circuitry and computing, to how that all comes together to form the the interface we know (and love? hate?). Some things are less possible than others, but according to the staff at Parts and Crafts, there is always a few core principles to be distilled from each high level idea. From rocketships to robotics, each brainstorm yields a slew of potential lessons to keep students engaged with what they actually want to be learning.

Afterschool @ Parts and Crafts

Over at Tufts, we spoke with Amanda Strawhacker, a Ph.D. candidate at the DevTech Research Group, focusing on makerspaces and creative making experiences in early childhood. She had a multitude of good suggestions, as well as some questions for us to think about as we move forward.   She asked us about our objectives, and encouraged us to examine how our products could give educators opportunities to create tools for their own space because as users, they have the most insight into what they actually need, which also points to why current kits for makerspaces on the market are not super successful or useful.  How would educators use our product to customize a lesson rather than rely on our product for the lesson? How might an educator use our tool to expand on the context behind a theoretical lesson and further promote learning outcomes?

Amanda encouraged us next to look at standards of education, from the next-generation science standards to the Massachusetts k12 frameworks to the common core (boooo…) and let state-defined objectives ground our thought process.

With many useful interviews under our belt and a whole host of new ideas, we head in to this week thinking about how we are going to apply these insights into tackling our initial research problem.

Some last thoughts and ideas for now is that finally, I think we will be moving away from BitBox, because as we learned in our interviews, boxes tend to constrain ideas and tools into single purpose materials, as opposed to the dynamic curiosity we are hoping to encourage through our products. Thus, we feel confident that our final form will be centered around a mobile creative lab (cart? box? TBD). In addition to this, we want our toolkit to be adaptable, collaborative, and reusable, so to do this, we will be examining the feasibility of setting up an online network for sharing and enhancing the initial lesson plans. We have talked about a feature to “meet a maker”, or possibly allowing kids to share their design process as they go along (QR codes? blockchain? such possibility!).

Some takeaways:

We have solidified our learning objective: To encourage and foster an interest in the potential of STEM in late middle school to early high school age students; this a moment right before major dives into deeper parts of a curriculum and where building interest, confidence and self-curation in STEM is critical to future learning and advancement.

Next steps:

After we begin prototyping next week, we’ll head out to Malden and back to Parts + Crafts to test and get feedback from our initial ideas. We will be reaching out to all the places for advice on how their successful lesson plans were created.

For now,  here is one makerspace example that seems like it really works though, where each color is coded for how certain materials can be used (taken from the Portable Maker Workshop, championed by Kristen Wendell and her team at Community-Based Engineering):

Love, forever & always,

Isaiah, Tess & Brian

A Crucial Pivot

Hello all! Isaiah here with the BitBox team to kick off the spring semester in capstone class.

It has been a while since we last spoke (about 12 weeks to be specific), but in the meantime, we developed a company, tore it down, re-centered and re-pitched a new idea, and here we are, a week after the new pitch!

Let me break it down for you:

We started with the initial idea that a classroom of the future would be a classroom focused on equity and accessibility, a classroom that could be implemented regardless of funding. With that ethos, BitBox was formed, a company aiming to create low cost tools for equitable and effective STEM education.

To start, we identified 5 key design requirements for our products:

    • Low cost materials
    • Can be implemented in any classroom
    • Could be reusable across multiple lesson plans
    • Includes both group and individual learning objectives
    • Grounded in a focus on collaborative learning

Next, we met with two key faculty in the Tufts Department of Education, Dr. Brian Gravel and Dr. Jess Watkins. From their suggestions, we found some initial inspiration for our future tools, such as the Foldscope, an extremely low budget paper microscope that can be used anywhere, or a DIY Gel Electrophoresis kit. What was unique about these projects is that both offer viable alternatives to inaccessible, unaffordable technologies. We hoped that our products, boxes as we called them, could address a similar barrier to learning.

However, we did experience some early roadblocks. We wanted to explore alternative STEM activities that we could facilitate with inexpensive reusable materials; in exploring our ideas surrounding music and circuits, we realized that most kits would require soldering and other prefabrication work. Although the raw materials were extremely cheap, students needed to have access to soldering irons and other tools to work with them.

When we looked into the existing market for STEM education kits we discovered that there were dozens of companies doing this already, but the kits are extremely expensive and can only be used by a few students. Public school teachers nationwide already make substantial personal investments for classroom materials. If we just create another kit, we’re not really solving any problem.

Given that, we decided to pivot! All great companies have done it: Apple started as a company selling elementary computer kits and YouTube started as a dating site. Cool, yeah pivots worked out great for them, lets do it.

Upon realizing that our initial idea of universal, pre-made, low-cost (apparently saying cheap is bad for marketing even though it’s a good word), collaborative STEM kits was a bit outside our scope and expensive versions were already on the market, we went back to our trusted faculty. We discussed that while it was difficult to create a cheap, reusable, effective kit for classrooms, with makerspaces in schools we can give educators and students the tools they need to explore collaboratively. With a larger initial investment, we can create more effective and sustainable learning opportunities for more students. Given this line of thought, we have shifted to investigating these types of spaces, who uses them, in what ways, what benefits they provide to the classroom, and how can they be implemented universally.

With our new questions and some user research deadlines looming, we are heading off to check out various successful maker spaces in the Boston area. Our scheduled visits are with:

Artisan’s Asylum, a non-profit community makerspace in Somerville.

BosLabs, a community biotech lab in Somerville.

Boston Makers, a maker space and fabrication shop open to the community in Boston.

Parts&Crafts also seems cool.

Anyway, our new direction is promising and while it took us a while to get there, it was a necessary part of the design process. Our deliverables will include a detailed analysis of the most effective tools and resources for promoting collaborative student learning in any school budget, and our project will retain the initial focus on equitable and effective STEM education. Stay tuned!


Alright party people, welcome to this beautiful blog of mine!

In the first day of class, I learned that over the course of this semester (and I guess the entire year?), we as a senior class of Engineering Psychology & Human Factors future professionals will be taking a deep dive into the future of education, affectionately coined the Classroom of the Future by our creative director, James Intriligator!

What is the ideal Classroom of the Future? Well, in class we looked at a variety of technologies, from the fancy Google Jamboard to ergonomic chairs to a strange video where faces were projected onto mannequins, which could then be used in theory for remote lecturers or people who want to virtually be involved in the class. I am not sure exactly what we will be focusing on (stay tuned!), but I suspect that it will involve a hands on approach where we spend time trying to gain empathy for classroom students, kinda like what Ford and IDEO did here. This means that we will try to get into a mindset of a student (ha! we already are students!), and look at their needs both inside the typical classroom environment and outside in their daily lives (work-life balance, heard of it??).

While I have not landed on a particular topic yet, I was recently reading an article about Silicon Valley’s relationship with current teachers (linked here). Tech companies are scrambling to influence the Classroom of the Future, determined to be ahead of the curve and slip their latest educational tech into classrooms. Because of this desire, they have begun to recruit top teachers and essentially sponsor their classrooms, giving them free access to the next generation of learning devices in exchange for vital user feedback. I think that this is going a little far, as this both creates conflicts of interests for teachers and also a slippery slope for school districts that are unlikely to reject the advances of large corporations like Amazon, Google or Microsoft.

Just something to think about!  More to come after next class…

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