09 January 2007

thesis proposal intro

in case anyone was wondering where the hell i went for a while, i was caught up in writing my thesis proposal. i figured that since i spent so much time on it, it would be good to put it here piece by piece. so here is the intro:

For my thesis I will create and study a more diverse construction toolkit that is to be used for building a wider variety of interactive computational artifacts than what currently exists. Rather than being fully formed, the new toolkit incorporates wire and other found and flexible materials to expand the possibilities for expression and to encourage the designer to learn principles of mechanical and structural design in order to use them. Through using this kit in a workshop setting, I will explore how flexible construction materials enable deeper exploration, learning, and comprehension about key ideas in mechanics, engineering, physics, and mathematics. I will also examine how flexible materials can expand the genre of computational constructions and how such an expansion potentially attracts a more diverse population to creative work in engineering and science.
The basic concept of learning through constructing is that by having to confront the challenge of making something function in the world as desired by the builder, one needs to acquire knowledge about the underlying principles. While the use of robotic materials for understanding control, systems, and feedback has been explored, the limitations of existing pre-fabricated construction kits and materials do not enable the same understanding for principles of mechanical and structural engineering. By incorporating wire and other flexible materials, one changes the constraints on what can be built, thus enabling not only a different kind of expression and creativity, but also demanding that the learner begin to understand and appreciate the properties of the materials, the geometries, and the underlying principles of mechanical and structural design. Some examples of these principles include using triangles to build truss structures, changing geometry to increase bending stiffness, and converting the motion of a motor to the final desired motion.
In working with children, I will use the creation of interactive kinetic sculptures as a means to connect with a population that might otherwise not be engaged with learning mechanical, structural, geometric, mathematic, and scientific concepts. My hope is that the open-endedness of the toolkit will provide an opportunity for the builder to use their own interests to engage with and explore new realms of knowledge.
This thesis will present the new toolkit, explore how the toolkit facilitates learning of key principles in mechanical engineering, study how children learn the underlying principles and put them into practice, and study whether new populations change their points of view about engineering and science.

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