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IES Contract

Title: Design Environment for Educator-Student Collaboration Allowing Real-Time Engineering-centric, STEM (DESCARTES) Exploration in Middle Grades
Center: NCER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Whitmer, Christopher Awardee: Parametric Studios, Inc.
Program: Small Business Innovation Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (5/1/2017-4/30/2019) Award Amount: $900,000
Type: Phase II Development Award Number: EDIES17C0034
Description: p>Project Website:
Video Demonstration of the Phase I Prototype:

Purpose: This project team will fully develop and test DESCARTES, a game-based simulation platform paired with a 3-dimensional (3D) printer to support grades 4 to 7 classrooms in design-to-build engineering projects. Research demonstrates that students who express interest in STEM in middle school are more likely to pursue STEM-based degrees and careers later in life compared to students who do not express interest. While the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) increase emphasis on the "E" in STEM (engineering), at present the field lacks interventions that integrate engineering into the elementary and middle school curriculum.

Project Activities: During Phase I, completed in 2016, the team developed a prototype of DESCARTES, including a workspace for students to design a virtual boat using engineering principles linked to a 3D-printer to create a physical representation of the boat. At the end of Phase I, researchers conducted a pilot study with four grade 4 classrooms and 92 students demonstrating the prototype operated as intended. Findings also showed that students were highly engaged while designing boats in the simulated environment and creating the boat with a 3D printer. Further, teachers were able to integrate the activity into classroom practice. In Phase II, the team will refine and expand the simulated environment, add new design modules, create supporting curricular units, optimize web deployment, and build out the teacher reporting dashboard. After development is complete, the research team will conduct a quasi-experimental pilot study to assess the feasibility and usability, fidelity of implementation, and the promise of DESCARTES to increase student learning in engineering topics. The study will include 14 grade 3 to 5 classrooms over 4 weeks. During an engineering unit, half of the classrooms will use DESCARTES and half will follow business-as-usual procedures. Researchers will compare pre-and-post scores on standards-aligned engineering topics and attitudes towards engineering.

Product: DESCARTES is a game-based engineering environment where students design, test, and build projects, including boats, airplanes, and other models. The web-based student-facing environment will include challenges, topic introductions, tutorials, and tools for analyzing and improving projects. Following completion of a concept in the environment, students will then build and test real world prototypes using a 3-D printer. Students will be able to work together in teams, keep a log of their activities, and share designs, reports, and ideas with classmates and teachers. The teacher portal will track student progress and provide curricular supports and materials for classroom implementation.