Problem

Recent initiatives to engage a broader subset of youth in the field of Computer science have focused on physical computing. Studies suggest that participation in these initiatives may increase accessibility to programming and provide a meaningful sociocultural context in which students can engage and represent personal interests. There are more and more resources for projects, communities to support learning, and the cost and size of the materials are decreasing. While these trends makes exploration of physical computing easier for newcomers, the size of components make it more challenging to learn, especially collaboratively. The size of these components require more precise and careful operation, and restricts social interactions with the components.

Solution

As a way to help young learners get involved in physical computing, I developed the Exploded Arduino as an introductory kit to support collaborative play while learning about circuits, electronics, and programming. The Exploded Arduino set include scaled-up versions of LEDs, buttons, single board computers, and other components, so that kids can work together to explore how these parts work as they craft and program giant circuits across a room. These components are designed to be approachable pieces with friendly shapes and colors, and recognizable parts, like lego blocks, that are designed help kids feel comfortable and interested.

Development Process

Gabriella first developed the concept of Exploded Arduino after implementing an Electronic Textile summer program for 3rd-6th grade students. She observed many students struggled with learning crafting practices, circuitry, and programming at once. Through working with her students, Gabriella realized that the students had difficulty seeing the the important features on the electronic components and they could not easily share their circuits or progress with peers due to the size. It evolved into a design-based research study.

After developing the first design iteration of the kit, Gabriella user tested two groups of high school students during a summer program about virtual and physical computing. She identified a set of design changes and preliminary patterns of interaction with these tools, using these to guide a second design iteration. She user tested the second iteration with two classes of high school girls within an informal computational thinking class.

In tandem, Gabriella has been designing a comparative study of small groups of users using either a normally sized kit of electronics and the larger Exploded Arduino Kit, which will be implemented in the summer of 2016. One component of this has been to interview "expert" practitioners of physical computing to identify challenges, practices, skills, and mindsets that were influential in their learning and use. Gabriella seeks to continue design and research in this vein with the ultimate goal of lowering barriers to physical computing for young learners and traditionally underrepresented groups.