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Slice It!

Abstract:

Too often, children obtain a shallow understanding of mathematical concepts that goes unnoticed. Our product aims to have children engage with fractions and what they represent in a way that is both exciting and effective. Through a two-player game that asks children to race to piece together various fractions in different ways, children will gain a more profound understanding of what fractions are and how to manipulate them.

Overview of Developmental Domain:

Our project lies mainly within the domain of cognitive development. Within that domain, we chose to focus on fractions. Not only are fractions an important concept that is used in day-to-day life as well as academic settings, but they also provide an exciting opportunity to explore how abstract concepts can be represented visually. Understanding representation is important across all academic domains, and especially within mathematics. Too often children obtain a shallow understanding of a mathematical concept. The goal of our project is to motivate children to thoughtfully engage with what the numerical representation of what a fraction means. In order to motivate children, our final product is intended to be a two-player game. This allows children to develop in other domains such as social and emotional. Our product will be developmentally appropriate as it incorporates touch, visual cues, and concrete representations of fractions (actual blocks of different sizes and colors that the children can hold), as well as the playful element of a game. This allows children to learn in various ways and what is most comes naturally to them.

Project Idea:

We aim to create a game that helps children understand what fractions represent. We want our game to rely heavily on the visual representation of fractions, as well as the tactile component of actually being able to hold the pieces and placing them on a disk representing one whole. Our game should ensure, for example, that children understand that a half, ½, can be represented by a semi-circle, as well as two quarter-circles or three ⅙ blocks. The technology will prompt the child for different representations of the same fraction. Each different “kind” of fraction will be a different color (all the ¼ pieces will be red, all the ⅓ pieces will be yellow, etc) so that the child can easily differentiate between different pieces. Our game will have a two-player mode in order to introduce competition as a motivator. The first child to successfully represent a fraction (which will be displayed on the screen) using the pieces will win that round. We hope that the final version of our project will also include a “challenge mode”, wherein a child can give the other child a fraction that must be represented in a certain number of different colored blocks (for example: represent ½ using only red blocks (which are ¼ blocks)). This will encourage children to be creative and reflect on their own thinking as they try to identify which problems might be challenging for another student.

Project Implementation (Curricular):

Although standards on fractions are not added to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks in Mathematics until 3rd grade, the concept is introduced to children since kindergarten.

The following is the Second Grade Common Core Standard for fractions:

CCSS.Math.Content.2.G.A.3 Partition circles and rectangles into two, three, or four equal shares, describe the shares using the words halves, thirds, half of, a third of, etc., and describe the whole as two halves, three thirds, four fourths. Recognize that equal shares of identical wholes need not have the same shape.

Slice It! is a fun learning game that teachers and parents can use to help children practice basic knowledge on fractions while having lots of fun. Adult intervention may be required to explain the rules of the game; however, this new technology is easy for children to play on their own. In a classroom setting, teachers will introduce the game once the children have been exposed to the vocabulary related to fractions, and they have had the opportunity to practice their knowledge through different fractions lesson plans, such as activities using manipulatives, read aloud, and worksheets. Game can be set up on math center during “free choice”. Although the pre-set commands are limited, thanks to the “Challenge Mode” feature, children can explore their creativity by challenging their opponents. This will allow hours of a fun learning experience.

Project Implementation (Technical):

Various technologies will be featured in our initial prototype. The main feature of Slice it! will require children to lay plates that are representative of various fractions onto the main gamepad in order to score points. To make this actually possible, we need several components. Hardware-wise, on the actual gamepad, there needs to be a way to differentiate between the different fraction plates. A common way to do this is using light sensors to “see” how much the piece covers on the board. This information would then need to be relayed onto an LCD Panel. The LCD Panel would also relay information to the child on what fraction they are building. For our initial prototype, we would like to have the preliminary simple fractions display on the LCD. This actual requires some coding. We would ideally like to randomize what fractions are given to the students, but not be overly complicated to the them. Over time, the students would progress through different levels based on the child’s performance. The software would randomize a number and display that as an output. The final project, would have this more complicated algorithm display harder fractions as the kids become more comfortable with easy fractions.

A big feature of our game would be to notify the student when their opponent has finished the fraction before them and notify that they have lost. We hope to make this notification system fun for the players to incentivize competition. For our prototype, we can simply vibrate the plate of the loser as notification. For the final, perhaps we could make a collapsible door under the pad, or a pad that throws the pieces in the air. This would be representative of a race as the loser would not want plates thrown on their side of the board.

Project Evaluation:

The overall research question in the area of child development and education we are aiming to answer is “Does the technology create an experience in which children are motivated to gain a deeper understanding of fractions and what they represent?”. This overall question can be broken down into two main parts:

1 - Are children engaging with the technology appropriately from a socio-emotional perspective? (I.e. are the children motivated?)

Our evaluation will be primarily observation-based. We will keep written records of quantitative data (such as age, grade level, how long was spent playing with the toy overall), as well as qualitative data such as a description of the emotional reaction of the child to the game, whether they won or lost, how they aimed to overcome difficulty with a level, etc.

2 - Does the technology encourage connections between the numerical representation of fractions and their meaning?

Talking with the children, as well as observing how they play with the technology will be critical in determining whether our technology is effective. Because we have limited class-time with the children, we have limited opportunities to test our product, and although administering some sort of written pre- and post- assessment might be a good idea for a long-term product, it does not seem doable given our timeline. Therefore, our evaluation of the technology will be based in observing the children as they play with it. Asking them questions such as “Why was your answer wrong there?” will help to determine whether the children’s understanding of fractions is actually deepening as they use the product. Quantitative data will come into play here as well, as we record the amount of time it took to progress through each level and which level seemed to challenge them.

Project Plan:

For the construction of this project, it is crucial to understand what we need before we begin building and allocating resources. Right off the bat, construction is a major issue that has to be discussed. The materials which this is made of has to be both lightweight and strong enough to resist the abuse of small children. Wood is a definite possibility as it depending on the wood chosen can fit both criteria. However, wood presents difficulties during construction, such as formation of the shapes. Acrylic is a plastic that has great versatility. It is able to be heat bent to various shapes and easy to construct with, but it is fairly brittle, which makes children handling it an issue.

Once the hardware issues have been dealt with, creating a code will be crucial in our interface. Most of our user interface is based on buttons to confirm input, and knobs to change levels. Overall, we have a very interactive physical interface, but the display will be the one giving the students the visual cue. We intend to use an Arduino and the Arduino IDE to configure the output, recognize the input from the sensors and compare their values. This controlled feedback system will allow us to create a game that is fast paced while still teaching children core concepts of fractions. Both the construction and software will be the focus of the engineer’s in the next coming weeks in order to make sure we have a working prototype for the deadline.

It is the CD students’ responsibility to ensure that our project focuses on the child and what the child is gaining from the experience, as opposed to how much the technology can do on its own. We should consider how the decisions we are making at every step will affect the children’s experience. The project should be developmentally appropriate, and incorporate the six C’s into the experience.

To stay on track while planning and developing Slice It! we have created our own version of a Gantt Chart in Google Sheets. The idea is to use the spreadsheet to add any and all deadlines we set for each other and for each part of the project to the document. With all deadlines being displayed in one document in an "easy" to read format, we can keep each other accountable as we complete our project.

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(Link to presentation post: http://mechatronics2018.dreslab.com/pages/120333)