We went to Emerson’s place with a cardboard suitcase, a pegboard, and several wooden platform-building pieces and simple machine miniatures. We made prototypes of his favorite characters with found materials from TLTL. Magnets are essential to our design as it created a magical playing experience. It allowed Emerson to control his favorite characters and bubbles as if they were automatically moving.
Once Emerson saw the materials we brought, he knew exactly what to do with them. He had a lot of interesting ideas on the scrap pieces that we found from the laser-cut recycle bin. “This can be a cage, like a prison” or “This piece can be like a hammer that falls from the sky.”
He thought of more items to add in the game and gave us his list.
Emerson, we are going to design a toy for you together. Before we start designing, I need to ask you several questions. Can you help me answer these questions?
Can you show me the things that you like to play? Why do you like it?
What is your favorite cartoon character? Why?
What is your favorite color?
Do you prefer soft or hard toy?
Is there something that you particularly don’t like? Or something that I need to know about designing the toy for you?
Take a look at these tools, what are something that you can make out of these materials?
What subject do you like most at school?
What is the thing that you wish you can get better at?
If you can unlock one skill, what skill is that?
Let’s draw out some ideas we have for the design.
A summary of the interview notes:
Emerson: 7 years old, Grade 1
Emerson and his sister were finishing their dinner at home when Nicola and I arrived. It took us around 30 minutes to encourage them to eat before we could begin the interview. I have known Emerson for about 4 years and I think we get along well. He was very comfortable being silly around me and was very playful when we began the interview. We sat at the dining table and sometimes he would sit or roll on the floor. Emerson’s favorite color is yellow. His favorite characters are from the show “Octonauts.” If he can unlock a new skill, he wanted to know how to climb a tree. He loves the game “Little Big Planet 3,” “Rayman Legends” and “Super Mario Party.” He likes the Super Marios Party because it is like a board game and it is fun. I think Emerson must really like the PlayStation’s Little Big Planet 3 mainly because it is the game that he has been talking about since I knew him (he always has new game or characters that he like every time I met him). Emerson likes the game because “there are a lot of stuff in there and a lot of items.” Little Big Planet 3 is a platform building game … His favorite character is Sackboy. We were looking on the interest to see his favorite characters from Little Big Planet 3 and Super Mario Party, and Emerson said “we should make a Little Big Planet 3 Make Set” I got very interested in his idea and got him a piece of paper so that we can start drawing. He said “I can make little levels for Sackboy. I like drawing.” He asked if I want to level to be “hard, normal, or easy.” Then he started to draw a platform game with multiple obstacles. He asked if I wanted a “skateboard level” and drew skateboard on the paper. I came up with an idea of a physical Little Big Planet game set which he can physically design his own levels and obstacle. We ended up playing Little Big Planet for the last 30 minutes. He showed me how the game worked.
A description of the initial idea(s) for the dream toy
What toy/toolkit did you and the kid converge on?
A physical game for building and designing a game platform game.
What are the learning goals of the toy?
Be able to design different variations of the game by himself.
Problem solve Grade 1 math concepts with the game design. (I will have a set “Newton Cards” (Newton is the bad guy in Little Big Planet 3) as design prompt/ challenge for him to create a platform game. Specifically shapes, addition, subtraction, units, and measurement. More info common core: http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Content/1/introduction/
What design decisions did you make about the toy/toolkit, and why?
Kids can express themselves and create their own platform on the gameplay in the digital Little Big Planet 3. I want to create a game that is opened for Emerson to express himself and be creative with his design. Since “Little Big Planet 3” is his favorite game, he was very particular with the correctness of the items or characters in the games, I wanted to keep those major elements. Additionally, I want to design the game with the constructionist principle where he can playfully explore different elements of his own design alone or with peers. I also want to use this opportunity to have him explore basic math concepts.
Are you going to incorporate 3D fabrication into your toy or in your omni animal? If so, how?
Game suitcase: woodshop, laser cutter
Items in the game: laser cutter, 3D printing
Obstacle: woodshop, craft materials
How do your decisions for medium (virtual, physical, etc.), format (game, puzzle, free, tutorial, etc.) and interaction possibilities align with the learning goals?
The physical Little Big Planet set can help a child to learn essential math skills, particularly shapes, measurement, and basic arithmetic through prompts that will lead him to design a platform game.
What did you learn from the process about the kid, about the process itself, etc
It requires some flexibility when interviewing young children. The interview protocol is useful but not the most important. Sometimes emergent conversation or unexpected interaction is more helpful in working and understanding young participants. For Emerson, he wasn’t responsive in answering my interview questions but when I asked him to show me the games he likes or have him draw, he was very excited and engaged. He wanted to take a more active role in the interview.
What will you change when you do user research for your final project?
I will definitely be more flexible in the interview and make sure I ask a lot of “Why?” for further insights in understanding the needs of my users.
Making the Rube Goldberg machine, I experienced how the construction of knowledge in the head happens best when constructing tangible objects and share in the world (Cole & Wertsch, 1996). The creation of an artifact allows me to externalize and iterate on my thinking throughout the making process. For example, when I was thinking about the functions that I could create from a Gogo board’s motor, I needed to externalize my idea through sketching (Figure 1 & 2). I came up with ideas like making a fan that would blow a ping pong ball to another direction; a pulley that would drag a basket of a ping pong ball up and down. I made a small prototype (Figure 3) to test out my idea. Turned out that making a fan wasn’t working well, so I moved on to the new design.
Figure 1&2: A sketch of what can I do with a Gogo Board’s motor
Engaging in a constructionist learning environment, I took an active role in my own learning by designing, building, and exploring my project ideas (Ackermann, 2001). I looked for inspiration for the new design on Youtube and Pinterest (Figure 4) and found that pegboard is a good and manageable start for a Rube Goldberg machine. I tinkered with materials, repurposing tools, and problem-solving design challenges. For instance, I started by measuring the diameter of the dowel (that I would cut out as pegs) and it was 0.25 cm. Then I printed out a circle with 0.25 cm diameter on plywood and found that the circle was too loose for the dowel to fit. I tinkered with different sizes by printing out multiple circles with the diameters of 0.24, 0.23, and 0.22; 0.23 was a perfect fit for the dowel peg. After that, I made more copies of the 0.23 circles and aligned them on illustrator to create a pegboard design. Being at the lab, Jonathan, Monica, and Yipu helped me with the woodshop tools, which I learned how to use these machines for the first time (Figure 5). This reflects Vygotsky’s work on the Zone of Proximal Development as it emphasized the level of which I am capable when working alone and the level that I’m capable of reaching with the help of an expert (Cole & Wertsch, 1996).
Working toward the design of the Rube Goldberg machine, I experimented with different ways to design the layout and make the marble falls into places. At first, I made a sharp slide down which made the marble fell off the pegboard (Figure 5). Thus, I needed to redesign the layout so that it fell to each ramp smoothly. After a series of rolling marbles down the slopes, I learned to make my ramp less tilted and used small pieces of plywood so that the marble wouldn’t fell off the ramps. I contacted Melissa (the previous -stage group) and she said that she would splash water to trigger the rain sensor. I used a servo motor to start the marble rolling down on to the ramps. Once Melissa’s team splash the water to me, the marble will start rolling. I often met Elliot and Qi at the lab and we discussed different sensors that we would use as a transition. We ended up with a light sensor. To end that, the marble runs down the ramp and stops on top of the proximity sensor. The proximity sensor triggers a motor that is attached to a string. The string pulls up a small box. The box exposes the light sensor for the Elliot and Qi’s machine (Figure 7).