Microsoft Education: THE MINT PROJECT
UX/UI DESIGN | VISUAL DESIGN
As a team of three, we were tasked by Microsoft Education to build an affordable hands-on activity to visualize data across science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum using an Arduino and interface for students between the ages of 6-12. We developed The Mint Challenge -- a plant monitoring kit for 3rd graders that will build on the knowledge they’ve learned about plant health in previous science classes.
Our team brainstormed 10 ideas that aligned with a variety of NGSS standards for 3rd through 6th graders. We down-selected to three concepts during a session of team review and studio feedback for further development. These choices were based on the feasibility of the concepts, the strength of their alignment to NGSS standards, and their novelty among other Microsoft Hacking Stem projects.
Earth Rotation Simulator that teaches Earth's relationship to the sun and how that affects seasons.
Brain Activity Simulator exploring activation of different parts of the brain for certain activities.
Plant Monitor System aiming to teach plant needs.
Testing: Round I
We tested two of our three video prototypes, due to time constraints: the Brain Activity Simulator using a light-up cap, and the Earth Rotation Simulator displaying seasons and day/night changes.
Our main goals and questions for this session revolved around gauging interest. Were the kids excited about these topics? Did the activities stimulate learning in an engaging and interesting way for the target age group? Did this age range already understand what the activities were aiming to teach them?
Testing: Round I Findings
We learned about the aspects of our concepts that had comprehension gaps with kids. They were really bothered by the issue of scale in the earth rotation simulator. They also didn't understand the level of abstraction in the brain simulator.
After the kids watched our video prototypes, they were told to line up against a whiteboard next to "I like this," "I'm not sure if I like this," and "I don't like this." Both of our videos received mixes of "I don't like this" and a majority of "I'm not sure."
Clearly, the kids felt lukewarm about our ideas. Since we wanted kids to enjoy the activities, this was a signal to regroup on our concepts for the kit.
Iteration: Pivoting Concepts
This KidsTeam experience helped us realize that our third concept, a plant monitor that explores understanding plant health had more potential over the Brain Simulator and the Earth Rotation Simulator.
Aspects of this concept needed iteration. As a team, we prioritized seeking out feedback on how to iterate upon the concept from the studio, teachers, and students before our next round of prototyping.
Kid’s Team Testing: Round 2
To our second round of testing with KidsTeam, we brought a fully functioning prototype complete with the physical plant monitoring system and digital data visualization dashboard. We also brought a first draft of some instruction materials and the student workbook.
We were able to spend 25 minutes each with two small groups of students. Much of this time was spent allowing the students to interact with the system freely and ask questions. Toward the end, we probed with questions about the written materials and overall structure of the experiment.
Behavior Prototype: Wizard of Oz Method
It would be more engaging if the data visualization dashboard was interactive.
Explore giving students the opportunity to manipulate the visualizations.
We need to clarify the soil graph labels.
Participants were confused as to whether soil moisture, nutrients, or density were being measured.
Showing both real-time data and data recorded over time is engaging but needs to be better labeled within the dashboard.
Readability of y-axes could be improved through size, spacing, and color.
Feedback + Design Iteration
This project presented many unique constraints including the hard ten week deadline, the budget on our kit materials, and the technological constraints of using Arduino and Processing, to name a few. Along the way we discovered additional constraints including the technical capabilities of our team as well as the realistic needs and limitations of classroom environments.
Our team found the behavioral prototyping stage in our process to be one of the most fruitful for developing robust understandings of our constraints and how to design an engaging and valuable experience despite them.
After our behavioral prototyping sessions we moved into building a functional prototype.
We split up the following activities by updating the dashboard UI in response to behavioral prototyping feedback
Making the system functional through Arduino and Processing code
Experimenting with a form that could house both plants and the Arduino circuits
By creating and testing a behavioral prototype first, we were able to iterate upon our dashboard design before beginning code. We think this saved us a great amount of time in the long run.
We interviewed teachers that had a valuable perspective
about the goals and needs of students that the students themselves weren't able to articulate to us during
It's easy to make assumptions target user audiences. At the beginning, our team thought we had a pretty solid understanding of what motivates third graders and makes them excited, as well as their intelligence level. However, most of these assumptions were turned on their head during our first KidsTeam session. These kids were smart, curious, and quick to point out when something was not interesting to them. This completely shook up our ideas about what and how to create for this project.
These experiences helped us internalize the importance of continuous primary research. After that first KidsTeam session, our team prioritized check-ins with students and teachers frequently to ensure we stayed aligned with their needs along the way.