High School Math Academy students practice human centered design & engineering

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mathematics Academy at the University of Washington is an intensive, four-week residential program for high school students who are entering their senior year, to help develop the math and problem-solving skills necessary to succeed in engineering. Every summer, Math Academy brings students from across Washington state to the UW Seattle campus to engage in coursework designed by UW faculty, and explore career opportunities through lab tours, research projects, site visits, and networking events. The students stay in the campus dorms and are given a glimpse into the lives of engineering students at UW.

Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) Professors Julie Kientz, Sean Munson, Gary Hsieh, and Senior Lecturer Andrew Davidson were among the College of Engineering faculty who prepared problem-solving and design-thinking lessons for the 2014 Math Academy students. In the third week of the program, Julie Kientz gave all Math Academy students an introductory session defining human-centered design and engineering as a field. The group critiqued good and bad designs, talked about principles of good design, and watched a video that illustrated the design process. Students then conducted ideation and sketching sessions on four different topics: procrastination, biking, the home, and clothing. Two of those topics were to prepare students for their more in-depth focus groups taking place on the fourth week. On the last day of the program, students presented their work from the focus groups in front of a packed room of families and friends.

Andrew Davidson’s students presented their results from the three-day user-centered design focus group where they researched, designed, and engineered a user-friendly bike computer. Davidson provided the students with Arduino kits, physical-computing tools based on a simple microcontroller board. The students began with preliminary brainstorming: what kind of people ride bikes, what is a bike computer used for, what kind of bike riders use a bike computer, and what features of a bike computer are important. From there, they developed personas around the different types of bike riders, and created physical prototypes of bike computers using Arduino. Each student assumed the role of a different persona, and the students tested and modified their prototypes based on feedback from the personas.

Students Presenting at the 2014 UW College of Engineering Math Academy

“I wanted to give these students a glimpse into an actual HCDE class,” Davidson said. “This project is very similar to what we do on the first day of HCDE’s User-Centered Design course.”

HCDE Assistant Professors Gary Hsieh and Sean Munson’s students presented the results from their focus group about influencing human behavior change through mobile apps. Hsieh and Munson’s students began their project by walking around campus asking passerby what kind of bad habits they have or that they think are common. The students identified procrastination and sleeping (trouble waking up and trouble falling asleep) as common bad habits and divided into two groups to tackle both problems. The teams used paper prototypes of phone screens and sketched ideas for interface features.

Students Presenting at the 2014 UW College of Engineering Math Academy

For people with problems sleeping the students designed an interface that walks the user through a “warm up” routine in the morning and a “cool down” routine at night.

Students Presenting at the 2014 UW College of Engineering Math Academy

For people with procrastination problems the students designed a solution that tracks and displays the users’ progress on a certain task using a process bar and a visual countdown of time remaining to complete the task. That team also integrated features intended to give the user satisfaction when a task was complete—the user can check an item off of a checklist and then share the milestone through online social networks. The teams brought their paper prototypes back outside on campus to test their design concepts. One student described the campus testing as the most insightful part of the project, saying “We found that testing even people who didn’t have problems procrastinating were interested in using the app because it would make them more efficient.” Another student said “We learned that getting other people’s input is the most important part of designing products because the data we gathered influenced our design.” 

At the end of the presentations, the students thanked their instructors and the College of Engineering for organizing 2014 Math Academy. “I came into this program not knowing what I wanted from it or even what I was interested in studying, and after going to instructor Davidson’s focus group my eyes were opened to computer engineering, and I love it,” one student said.

Two students who participated in the 2013 Math Academy were recently accepted as Direct Freshman Admits to HCDE’s Bachelor of Science program. If you are interested in supporting Math Academy so the program can remain free for students interested in studying engineering, please consider making a donation here.