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published: March 2004
analytic scripts updated:
November 7, 2010

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0  License

Kids Design Network: Live Communication Between Experts and Children
Lee Anne Burrough, DuPage Children's Museum, USA
David Schaller, Educational Web Adventures LLP, USA

Demonstration: Your Colleagues - 1

The Internet's potential for linking students to experts in a field has long been recognized. Many museums and government agencies have outreach programs based on a Web site where information is presented by the institution and/or the students, and students and experts communicate via e-mail. Kids Design Network (KDN) takes the important next step and makes this two-way communication live, secure, and integral to the learning process. The DuPage Children's Museum (DCM) conceived KDN as a way to integrate technology into the elementary school curriculum by using real-time communication with engineers to aid children in completing an age-appropriate engineering challenge.

Through the KDN Web site (www.dupagechildrensmuseum.org/kdn) , an engineer introduces a challenge and relates it to a real-life engineering challenge she or he has faced. Elementary aged students work collaboratively with an engineer (via real-time communication on the KDN Engineer Chatboard), their classmates and teacher to design a gadget that meets the challenge. Students use KDN's on-line drawing program to draw a design for their gadget. On the KDN Engineer Chatboard, both students and engineer see the design, mark on it, and discuss it via live text chat. Students build their gadget using materials found in their recycle bins, then test and modify it with help from the on-line engineer, teacher and classmates.

From an educator's perspective, KDN provides a way to: 1) engage young children in activities combining computers with hands-on activities in science, engineering, and problem solving; and 2) meet state and national curriculum goals especially in the area of design technology. Emphasis on the open-ended nature of engineering challenges allows students of different aptitudes and learning styles to succeed. Students are introduced to safe, secure, on-line communication via the KDN Student-Engineer Chatboard. KDN brings the professional expertise of engineers to culturally and geographically isolated areas. Engineers, typically not found in an elementary student's experience, are able to communicate their enthusiasm for science and technology to a new generation and serve as role models.

From a technical perspective, KDN provided many challenges, from the prevalence of aging computer hardware in elementary classrooms to school district firewalls which block the streaming data necessary for the synchronous two-way communication. An extensively refined Java client-server solution ultimately offered site security, user friendliness, and the necessary visual component to communication.

The DuPage Children's Museum was concerned that KDN remain consistent with the museum's philosophy emphasizing open-ended problem solving and experimentation by young children. Based on a successful school outreach program facilitated by museum personnel, KDN extends the museum's educational programs to a much broader audience - potentially spanning the globe. Extensive teacher and parent guides include the philosophy behind KDN as well as pragmatic help such as a materials list and tech check to ensure KDN works on the school's computers. Everything from Web site graphics to text to engineering challenge content is carefully scrutinized to ensure a user friendly experience consistent with the Museum's Mission.