Monsters on the Move

Monsters on the Move is a toy set that includes: Construction pieces, microcontroller parts, monster pieces, and story cards.

By: Sam Thanapornsangsuth, Caitlin Davey, and Eddie Lin for MSTU4083 Instructional Design for Education Technology

Our design encourages kids to construct toy houses catering for different conditions of monsters who are moving between across different environments. The story cards feature a cartoon monster accompanied with a vignette that describes the monsters problem they need help solving. For example: “Red monster is moving from a town where the sun doesn’t set to a city where it gets very dark early in the evening”. Red Monster then asks the reader for help in designing a house where they can still read their bedtime stories. The solution to this can include pre-programmed parts such as a sensor that turns on a LED light when it is dark. However, the kit will include various sensors and actuators, along with construction pieces players can use to construct a house to help out the monster characters.

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Front and back of the story card
Designing a house for red monster using a light sensor to activate light
Designing a house for red monster using a photosensitive sensor to activate the LED light. The clear acrylic pieces allow children to use washable markers to draw.
Red Monster's house with LED using photosensitive sensor to detect level of light
Red Monster’s house with LED using photosensitive sensor to detect level of light

Where will Monsters on the Move be played?

The audience we have designed for is elementary girls (aged 8+), engaged in play with physical toys, in informal spaces. These informal spaces would generally be their homes or their friends homes. As elementary students are in school for a large part of their day we imagine our toy would be played predominantly at home. We chose to design for children’s play at home as we thought of this space as a setting where kids not only often use toys but where they are able to engage in more fun, free, and exploratory play. Whereas in school settings, toys are either not included in the classroom for older students or they are selected by teachers for inclusion.  

An account of the assumed mechanism of your design (How will it work?)

Our project incorporates several learning features including storytelling, collaborative building, and designing for problem solving. Children can play Monsters on the Move alone or with their friends and family.

Game Play:

  1. Each player first randomly picks a story card to a build house for a monster. The card challenges the player to design a house that would solve a monster’s problem. For example, Green monster, has hairy fur that makes their new hot home very warm.
  2. The players have to decide which pair of sensor and actuator would solve the monster’s problem. By plugging them into the microcontroller, the players can experience the different input and output. They can change the combinations as many times as they wish.  In the case of Red Monster, a player can choose any sensor from a photosensitive one to a simple switch.
  3. The players are free to build and tinker with different designs of the house or building pieces to suit the monster’s need(s) or extend the story. The acrylic pieces are designed to build structures by easily snapping together. Structures first begin by snapping wall pieces into the large base piece. As there is no time limit, they can have fun decorating or make endless creations to complement the story cards or invent their own. For instance, a player can use colorful markers for example, to draw a flower garden for the monster on a clear acrylic piece. She could also use cotton balls as snow, representing the cold climate Green monster is described as moving from. If the monster is described as living in a hot climate, the player can make a house with a lot of windows for a better ventilation or add a fan to keep the monster cool.
  4. After the players have finished building their houses for the monsters, they can present their creations to others by telling the stories of the monsters (What is its name? Where does it come from? Where is it now? What is its problem? What is its favorite food? What are the things that it like to do? etc.) The players can use their environment to extend their designs. For example, a player can turn off the light (as if it is at night), so that an LED light can be activated using a photosensitive sensor.
  5. Once every player has presented, everyone can connect his or her base piece together and engage in further collaborative play. A player’s monster can visit another player’s city and they can keep redesigning the houses together. They can build on one another’s stories and keep on adding new pieces to their designs. The players can also pick more story cards from the deck to build additional houses. The playful opportunities are endless!

Design Concept: Engineering design for others

Monster on the move is ‘designed for designers.’ The children are not just users of the toy and technology, but become designers as they work through problems and express their own ideas with it (Martin, 1996). Incorporating Engineering Design and design thinking, processes for transforming challenges and understanding user’s needs to produce creative innovation that reflects what targeted users want (Brown, 2008), children empathize with the needs of the monsters through the story cards, while coming up with a house design to cater to the monster needs. The design is open-ended; the only requirement is to build a house for the monster’s described needs. The children are encouraged to come up with their own stories as an extension to the pre-made story cards. David Kelley, the co-founder of IDEO states “we [designers] have a methodology that enables us to come up with a solution that nobody has before” (Tischler, 2009).  As we view children as an inherently creative group of designers, we are excited to see their novel and inventive solutions. Moreover, engineering design is suitable for building a collaborative, optimistic, and experimental learning environment (Brown, 2008). Monsters on the Move can be played alone or with friends and family. Playing and designing collaboratively helps the players gain different perspectives and ideas. They can exchange ideas and extend their stories from others as well as solve complicated problems together. Additionally, engineering designers are optimists, believing that their designs can create change no matter how big the obstacles are; for them, solving challenges is an enjoyable process (Brown, 2008). Designing houses that can help the monsters will hopefully create a sense of achievement and pride for children as they solve the problems prompted by the story cards. Finally, engineering design is an iterative process, the designers are given the permission to fail fast and learn from their previous mistakes. They can always come up with the new ideas then add on them to receive feedback and make changes. It is always a work in progress (Brown, 2008). The design of Monsters on the Move supports both experimentation and iteration. There is no time limit to game play as children are encouraged to try new designs with the provided construction blocks and even combine them with everyday materials they find at home. Once they have finished building, they can share their stories and creations with others to get feedback for their next iteration.


Working Process

User Interview:

To examine whether our proposed design would meet the need of our target audience, school-aged girls engaged in informal play, we interviewed a friend’s child about her favorite toys. While our young interviewee may not be representative of all young girls, she was very interested in construction toys and shared insights on what aspects of block-based toys she enjoys most. [Insert her name], loves playing with Legos and brought a small machine she had made that day to illustrate the types of toys she regularly plays with. 

Our interviewee shared with us that she likes to build LEGO houses. She also told us that she is always full of ideas about improving housing design when she sees things in the house not being “convenient” or “not smart”. When we presented our idea about integrating Lincoln Logs and electronics components, she liked that combination and thought that would be a good extension beyond the capacity of conventional Lego pieces. She told us she’s been thinking about putting some mechanic function on some of her current Lego houses, but she hasn’t got a chance to do so. She likes the notion about imagining the living needs for the cartoon monsters we create in different story cards. During the interview, she quickly sketched her architectural design for the cartoon figure we created. She told us she enjoys thinking about potential events that monster is likely to encounter and she can build a proper house for the monster based on those events.

She showed us the “M&M dispenser machine” she is currently working on using bricks from her LEGO friends set.

Our prototype: