Open 2013: The Challenges of Simplifying and Packaging Creative Engineering Education


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  • This paper was a case study on the experiences of myself and my partner, Katie Morowsky, while we began developing an idea, using paper as a build material for inexpensive engineering education activities, into a product, PaperBots. We were in one of the more unique positions for this task by being graduate students, which offers a interesting environment and resources for the development of a product.
  • First let me familiarize you with the marketplace, The industry is currently about $7.5 billion domestically. It recently topped $4 trillion worldwide serving 1.4 billion students and 62.5 million educators.In 2000, during the internet bubble, investors pumped $534 million into EdTech companies. We’re seeing another boom in that with recent investments by Silicon Valley as well as the Recovery act of 2009. The National Venture Capital Association reported a $400 million in educational technology investments in 2011.
  • 41 States currently have Engineering Education Standards and Common Core also has engineering and technology standards.States like Massachusetts have EdTech Guidelines expect teachers to be using technology as part of classroom activities for simulation, data analysis, communication, collaboration and more by 2015. Based on a study by the National School Supply and Equipment Association, teachers spent an average of $936 outfitting their classroom in 2009-2010. $356 of that went unrefunded by either budgets, grants, tax refunds, or other sources. The added requirement for implementing educational technologies will further stress their wallets.
  • 4: Existing technologiesThere are many existing educational technologies that offer robotics education activities to one degree or another. A few examples are the Logo Beebot, the K-Team Hemisson, iRobot Create, and the LEGO Mindstorms NXT. But the Beebot offers no construction and limited push-button programming and the K-Team Hemisson is computer programmable but works with plug in sensors and offers no construction for novice users. The iRobot Create is both programmable and constructible upon but from a terminal programming environment and nuts and bolts hardware based construction, both skills that have a higher learning curve to them. The LEGO NXT though offers lots of construction using a familiar material, LEGOS, and accessible programming environments for young users. SLOW DOWN!!!!!!!
  • 5: Existing Technologies CostBut like with most things in life, there is a cost associated with these technologies. Now according to the National School Supply and Equipment Association, in the 2009-2010 school year, teachers spent $936 on average to supply and outfit their classroom. So let’s look at the price tags on the two full service solutions up here.Assuming 8 is enough for a class(24 students, groups of 3), the iRobot Create would cost $1040($119.99 each) and the Mindstorms NXT would cost $2,650 including software, both outside the average classroom.
  • The product line we were developing in this case study was PaperBots. PaperBots in general terms is simply a means for inexpensive engineering education. Our mission statement, well our current one, is by providing lesson plans, templates and tools for teachers to implementengineering activities which make use of readily available classroom materials, such as paper, we hope to make engineering education to schools where it was previously cost prohibitive
  • Currently we have some lesson plans and activities such as the Pull-Up Man, a cut out activity that presents rotary to linear motion using a pinned cam and shaft.There’s a rubber band car activity which helps develop experience with using classroom materials as a structural material and a hexabot made with an inexpensive hobby motor and cardstock. This fall, I plan to use kickstarter to launch the PaperBots Robotics Kit as an inexpensive option for a programmable controller and motor to implement robotics education activities.BUT this paper wasn’t on the product but the process so let’s focus on some of the more interesting things that came up while developing the idea of using paper to implement robotics in a classroom to a company model and product line
  • 26: Daisy Troop Mtg. in Wellesley – RobotsBut in that hour, the other 3 groups did program and build robots using the provided UI and the PaperBots Robotics Kit. One group built a unicorn that reacted when you stole her jewel. Another group made a butterfly that flapped its wings in the light.And the last made a chicken that flapped its wings when it ate tin foil ice cream with its alligator clip beak indicate that:
  • 14: Workshop at the CEEO – Bots and videoWithin that 3 hour time period, each group was able to make a robot that would respond to the previous robot and trigger the next. The first group made a swing arm that was activated by a tin foil switch. The arm would knock a paper cover off the top of the next robot.The second group made a hand that would crawl once the paper cover was knocked off, exposing the light sensor on the back of the hand.That hand would crawl forward and then cover the next bot’s light sensor, which would trigger it’s swing arm into action.That swing arm has tape on it and grabs the paper covering the next robot.That bot, when exposed to light, activates and rolls forwardIt’s nose plugs into a receptacle of the last bot, covering its light sensor. It starts to spin its arms and drags itself forward. The tin foil sled underneath it makes the connection that turns on the jack-o-lantern.Now let’s take a look at their final trial of the workshop.
  • $56.14 – 66.70$450-534TAKE YOUR TIME!!!!
  • This actually leads into the available graduate school resources. I’d like to preface this by saying this is all rather situational and institutional and these observations are merely my own in this one case. PaperBots wasn’t my idea, it was my advisor’s, Chris Rogers and his friend, Masao Isihara. Mr. Isihara came across this issue of the affordability of these kits when it inhibited his company from expanding distribution of Lego products into India. As Prof. Roger’s Grad student, he passed this idea onto me and allowed me to develop it a product and company. Research institutes are full of idea men and it is the nature of the graduate student/advisor relation for some flow of ideas to occur. In this case, he gave me the seed of this company and allowed me to run with it.
  • By being a student at Tufts, I had access to the rest of the faculty as well. There are few places that offer such a vast mix of specialties. I gained my partner through a recommendation from a Human Factors professor. Many of the insights that have some me much time and effort and helped guide the company came from a computer science professor with more years experience dealing with teachers and educational technologies. I had never written a lesson plan in my life but with feedback and help from some of the education faculty, I have written several which have helped to promote and implement this product in different classrooms.
  • The same is true of the other graduate students. They come from many backgrounds; industry, straight from undergrad, seeeking a career change, different regions, different schools and more. You’re also all sharing in an interesting, stressful and rather intense experience, which works to develop a desire to help one another. This offers a wide range of opinions and experience that you can access to further develop your ideas and projects.
  • Undergraduates can also be a good resource. We were able to use one of Professor Dan Hannon’s undergraduate human factors classes to test out and hone some of our activities. We were also able to pull together other test groups from the undergraduates to test our instructions and further refine them. This helped to discover many issues that may have caused issue for our target user, K-12 students. Also, I have found that sometimes elementary students are not able to voice their issues well when it comes to instructional issues but the undergraduates not only welcomed the activities as a refrain from their current studies, allowing them to think like children for a bit, they were capable of identifying and communicating the specific issues they thought would cause problems.
  • One of the most useful resources we found were the networking opportunities. As a Mechanical Engineer working as a pion at a defense contractor, it never was something I was encouraged to do nor had such passive opportunities for. I believe I was at Tufts for less than a week before my advisor had me introducing myself to some guest visiting the center and another week after that I was playing ultimate Frisbee with the new university President and his kids. The networking opportunities were amazing and something I had never previously seen the benefit in. I was able to put my product before the CEO of SparkFun Electronics to get his opinion on it, tour several local companies, trade ideas with researchers at MIT Media Labs, talk robots with the founder of iRobot and Boston Dynamics, meet with several start ups and more. This has helped develop myself as an entrepreneur as well as provide direction and opportunity for my product.
  • I will leave things there and I hope everything I’ve said has simply echoed your own collegiate experience. I have yet to see such a large mix of opportunities in resources anywhere other than in a university setting. Such large scale open source multi-disciplinary idea development doesn’t seem like something can easily exist in environments other than colleges and universities and I’m glad I had the chance to experience it. Thank you for your time and enjoy.
  • Open 2013: The Challenges of Simplifying and Packaging Creative Engineering Education

    1. 1. The Experience of Simplifying and Packaging Creative Engineering K-12 Education into Innovative Products Presenter: Brian P. O’Connell 2013 – 03 – 22 Authors: Brian P. O’Connell and Katarina A. Morowsky
    2. 2. EdTech Marketplace$7.5 billion industry in the United StatesRecently topped $4 trillion worldwideSilicon Valley invested $177 million in 2010American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009provided $650 million for Educational TechnologiesNVCA reported $400 million invested in 2011
    3. 3. Educator Needs41 States Have Engineering Education StandardsStates like Massachusetts have EdTech GuidelinesTeachers spent $936 outfitting their classroom$356 of that came out of pocket
    4. 4. Existing Technologies
    5. 5. Existing Technologies
    6. 6. PaperBotsA Means for Inexpensive Engineering Education By providing lesson plans, templates and tools for teachers to implement engineering activities that make use of readily available classroom materials, more specifically paper, we hope to make engineering education available to schools where it was previously cost prohibitive
    7. 7. PaperBots
    8. 8. First Graders in Wellesley, MA
    9. 9. 5th and 6th graders at the CEEO
    10. 10. Graduate School ResourcesIdeas
    11. 11. Graduate School ResourcesIdeasFaculty
    12. 12. Graduate School ResourcesIdeasFacultyGrad Students
    13. 13. Graduate School ResourcesIdeasFacultyGrad StudentsUndergraduates
    14. 14. Graduate School ResourcesIdeasFacultyGrad StudentsUndergraduatesNetworking
    15. 15. Questions Contact Info Brian O’Connell