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UB partners with Explore Interactive to teach STEM remotely to elementary students


Fri, Jun 3rd 2022 11:10 am

The effort, funded by a $1 million National Science Foundation grant, aims to make STEM learning fun & engaging for young students

By the University at Buffalo

University at Buffalo researchers have partnered with Explore Interactive, an Indiana-based startup, to develop technology for teaching young students STEM-based concepts in fun and engaging ways.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

The team’s plan is to build an augmented reality app to support younger elementary kids getting involved in engineering design projects and develop skills like team collaboration – all while not inside a traditional classroom setting.

Augmented reality is an enhanced version of reality created by overlaying digital information on an image being viewed through a tablet, smartphone or other device. Pokémon Go and Snapchat are examples.

The team is supported by a $1 million Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation.

“This comes at a time when it’s becoming increasingly important to bring engineering education into K-12 settings,” says Corey Schimpf, assistant professor in the department of engineering education at UB, who is leading the research team for the project. “This partnership with Explore Interactive is a tremendous opportunity to have a real impact on engineering education and expand what is possible for younger students.”

Explore Interactive was founded in 2017 at the Foundry at Purdue University. The company's MindLabs’ platform will include a series of products for young students. The first in this series is geared toward collaborating on engineering and circuit design challenges.

For his part, Schimpf will develop, implement and research a data-logging system within the platform that will enable researchers to better understand how students collaborate and develop as design thinkers. The system will also allow the team to manage socioemotional factors that affect students as they work through complex problems.

“We will be using data logging system to start to build feedback systems to support students – for example, encouraging them to try to a different approach to their problem or collaborate with a teammate if they have been working solo,” Schimpf says. “It will also help support teachers by providing a dashboard or metrics on team actions and where they might be struggling or at least flag teams to interact with.”

The general framework of the system, called Large Data for Design Research, or LaDDR, has applications outside of MindLabs, Schimpf says. It has three main principles: capture actions that involve creation and analysis of artifacts, provide students with a large simulation space for interacting, and unobtrusive logging.

In addition to the SBIR award, Explore Interactive announced a $75,000 grant from Elevate Ventures through the state of Indiana’s SBIR/STTR phase II matching program.

The startup also announced a partnership with Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Indiana, to bring its educational content to even more students.

Karen Anaszewicz, executive director of Mascot Hall of Fame, said, "We are thrilled to embark on this project, which we see as a way to reach a broad and diverse group of students while fulfilling our mission to spark creativity, promote fun and engage in our communities throughout the world with our model of combining science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics educational principles and sport mascot entertainment."

"This funding will allow us to both build compelling content and bring augmented reality together with the engineering design process for the first time for young students," said Explore Interactive CEO Amanda Thompson. "We're also excited to partner with the Mascot Hall of Fame to reach a wider audience through combining our interactive (augmented reality) platform with the museum’s engaging approach to STEM through sports and entertainment.”

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