EAGER: Paper Mechatronics: Creating High-Low Tech Design Kits to Promote Engineering Education

PIs: Sherry Hsi, Michael Eisenberg, Nikolaus Correll
University of California-Berkeley
Award Details

In this Cyberlearning EAGER project, the project team is developing foundations for using “paper mechatronics” as a learning technology. Paper mechatronics makes possible a craft-oriented approach to engineering and computing education that integrates key concepts from mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, control systems, and computer programming, while using paper as the primary material for learner design, exploration, and inquiry. In this approach, learners will design foldable paper components and assemblies; program motors, sensors and controls; test their ideas iteratively; and share their designs on a website. This paper-based modeling approach to learning concepts in and practices of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, control systems, and computer programming ultimately aims to make it possible for all learners to have exposure to and the opportunity to participate in creative engineering, design, and computer programming.

The approach to learning through designing and making through paper mechatronics is made possible by a convergence of many different technological factors — the array of small computers, sensors, and actuators that are becoming available at low cost and a size that children can use; availability of a wide variety of manipulable conductive materials (threads, paints, fabrics); low-cost and precise desktop and laser cutters for paper and similar materials; a wide variety of novel paper-like materials; and new ways of interacting with the computer. The approach has its foundations in Papert’s constructionism and in the current maker movement, but it has potential beyond constructionism itself, both in practice and with respect to what can potentially be learned about learning and development in in context of its use. During the course of the proposed project, the team is addressing a variety of issues — theoretical (e.g., extending the constructionist approach to take into account the kinds of embodied experiences children can have with the proposed kinds of materials), disciplinary (e.g., which disciplinary content learning and interdisciplinary connection making might this kind of making best support and for which populations), technological, and pragmatic ones. They will identify both the design goals and the research questions that it makes the most sense to take on in a more mature project. Work on this project will lay the foundations for extending theories of computationally-based expressive technologies, design of constructionist-oriented learning environments, and assessing creativity, self-efficacy, engagement, and conceptual understanding of electro-mechanical systems with school-aged learners.