Digital Dream Lab

Tangible Programming System for 4-5 Year Olds
Client: MAKESHOP
at Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Contribution:  Art Lead, Experience Design, Block Design and Fabrication, Character Design, Installation Fabrication
Website: http://www.etc.cmu.edu/projects/digital-dream-lab/ 

Digital Dream Lab was a client project with the Entertainment Technology Center in the Spring of 2012.  As a team of 7, we worked with Makeshop at Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to develop a tangible programming system for their space, aimed at 4-5 year olds. 

Because MAKESHOP is a hands-on environment where children learn how things work, we wanted to ensure our delivered system has that hands-on component to it as well.  We decided to use a puzzle block system that would allow children to learn the basics of programming (and, or, binary, and the concept of a variable) through playing with the puzzle pieces.

The block system we developed went through many iterations, involving playtest aimed at discovering which shapes, colors, and connections make the most sense to young children.  We developed a set of blocks that include an object, where each block maps to one of 8 computer-generated animal characters that exists in one of three environments, a park, an ocean, and a jungle, which can be controlled by the background block.

Each of the characters can be manipulated through size, color, and animation pieces, which teach about manipulating attributes of an object.  These blocks can also attach to one or more object blocks, which allow children to learn the concept of ‘and’ and ‘or.” The final block is a variable tray, which, when placed around a collection of blocks and records their information, then maps them to a token, which the children can place on the table and duplicate their original creation.  When they change something inside the tray, the tokens update as well.

We accomplished this by using ReacTIVision technology, where a fiducial marker maps each of these blocks into the program and makes the characters and their attributes appear on the screen.  We built a table that houses the computer, webcam, and the other components that help this become possible.  We sewed bags that match the colors of the blocks, so that the museum’s youngest visitors can sort blocks as well as give them them a storage home.  Lastly, one of MAKESHOP’s motivations is to show children how things work, so we included windows in the table for children to look through to better understand how the installation works.

We’ve gotten a great response from the museum, as well as visitors of all ages!  Check out the gallery below to see images from some of our playtests.

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