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Innovation Design Engineering (MA/MSC)

Natalie Bar David Frenkel

Natalie Bar David Frenkel is a multidisciplinary designer, innovator, and entrepreneur based in London. She started her career as an award-winning Art Director, at McCann World Group, right after graduating, from The Visual Communication department, at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design Jerusalem.

Natalie discovered her true passion was Interaction design once she joined the Startup company Sync.me, in 2012, as the lead UX/UI designer of the company. A few years later, she relocated to The Netherlands and launched KōtoPīnat, her own brand, where she started expanding her knowledge as a product designer and an entrepreneur.

Natalie's main goal with the MO project is bridging the gap between the virtual and the physical worlds, mainly for the Future of Education. She wishes to support the next generations in exploring their world with confidence while becoming global citizens. 


"Childhood is designed to be a period of exploration and innovation" Alison Gopnik

In January 2021, side by side with the second Covid 19 lockdown, I started developing the MO project. My study explores 'young brains' and digital interactions, particularly, within this year of global crisis, for the future of education. As I see it, the education system that entered immediately into the virtual space, where the magic usually happens, forgot to take their magic wand. And as a consequence, many children missed the fun part of the learning. The motivation for this journey was my daughters, Mel (5) and Lille (3), who were at home, for almost a year, during the remote-learning period. Observing their quick digital adjustments, on one hand, and the lack of engagement in school, on the other, brought me wondering how will their future work, look like? in this fast-evolving digital world. Are today’s schools really capable of preparing them for 2036? And “How Might We Enhance Childrens’ Cognition In the Digital Classroom?" 

As an outcome, I developed MO. An AI-hand-controller, that empowers children's cognitive development, through movement and collaboration, in a virtual space.

Image by olia danilevich from Pexels 00308
Image by Jessica West from Pexels 3273851

REMOTE LEARNING PAIN POINTS

Even long before the Pandemic, it was scientifically proven that long hours of screen time, for playing and learning, affect human cognition and flatten emotional intelligence. But suddenly, these young brains, who were mostly used to in-person play-learning, are using digital-communication platforms exclusively, and this is the "new normal". So I focused my research on primary school children's cognitive abilities. This age group, of Early-Years children, is vitally important, as they are just starting to develop their learning habits and social behaviors.

For more than six months, I was in contact with many children, parents, educators, and tech experts, from Israel, the UK, and the US. All in order to understand the pain points of “behind the zoom-scene” and help the "passive-learner" to be more engaged within the remote learning experience.

E-LEARNING OBJECTIVES & HYPOTHESIS — Through research, I found much evidence that connects doing and learning. Especially in Early-Years when children explore the world through all their senses. Through motion, children develop a range of complex skills that are called gross and fine motor skills. And from a social point of view, a study by McKinsey says that supporting social and emotional skills development can increase cognitive abilities by 11%.
INSPIRATION — So I didn’t know where to start but I knew what I wanted to achieve. A Digital Co-dynamic educational experience, Inspired by - “Portuguese man of war”. It looks like a single jellyfish, but in fact, it is made out of many small units, that together allow the colony to operate as a single individual. Like an ecosystem.



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RainMO
Mo says Hello

WRITING IN THE AIR

 Through a reflection on the remote classroom - I remembered that my daughter's teacher - Mr. Webb, asked the children to write LETTERS IN AIR. It turns out that it's a research-based method for beginner learners, as well as how the Japanese have been learning their complex typography since the beginning. And this is what Mr. Webb shared with me :

"Air writing helps children to remember letter formation, which is a motion-oriented memory and different from the visual one. Also, for less confident pupils, it's a chance to look around and see how the letter is being modeled before they write." 

EXPERIMENTS

As validation I visualized the Air-Writing, and conducted numerous experiments with three to eight-year-old children, using a Python virtual paint code and Google AI hand tracking library. Those experiments were a successful way of learning about children's engagement, gross and fine motor skills development, and their virtual perception.

INSIGHTS

The main insights were that the majority of the children felt they needed to control the UI independently. Moreover, most children searched for a pencil or tried to physically touch the screen, as if it was a tablet or a tangible activity.  

Moving on to the development phase- I was aiming to facilitate children-computer interactions while designing a playful, tangible, and educational tool for them. 


MO, An AI-hand controller
MOTUS, An AI-Dock And A Software
User Scenario
Design and Development

USER SCENARIO

MO at Home - The children will use the MO controller, with the Motus software. Which aligned with the school curriculum, and has many collaborative features. 

MOTUS Dock In the classroom - An AI Vision Dock with a smart camera that allows teachers and students to interact with each other, using MO.

DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT

In order to design a tangible controller for children, I looked at children's pencil-grasp development and built MO according to that.

The finger placements are marked in different colors so that children will know quickly where to place each finger. The middle finger, that supports the tool from beneath, has a tiny bump texture to help with the grip.

MO shape is ambiguous and leaves room for children's imagination. Some say it's a bear while others see a squirrel. What do you see? 

Medium:

Silicon BPA-free

Size:

4cm x 2cm
Natalie Bar David Frenkel

Recap

I would like to say that we live in a fluid and complex world. The pandemic, which deeply affected children's lives, caused many governments to increase the curriculum, so schools can meet the needs of a fast-changing world. However, expecting 'young brains' to reach older children's goals should come with practice. 4 years olds are still building their muscles, hence teachers should train them while supporting their learning through play. 

In conclusion, through my research, I found not only a gap between the educational system and digitalization but also a gap between human capabilities and world expectations. Thus, my novel idea suggests bridging those gaps, through a playful physical movement, in a virtual space. This way, children can gain a cognitive thrive and enjoy exploring their world with confidence while they becoming global citizens.



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I would like to thank the people, from all over the globe, who supported my research, during this year of crisis. It was a pleasure learning from each and every one of them. 

And mostly, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Webb, a brilliant educator who contributed to my project, all along the way, with useful insights and inspiration, from the educational field.

I am also thankful to Adam Stark from MIMU Gloves, the innovative wearable musical instrument, who supported the first phase of the experiments. A huge thanks to Gilad Landau and Anat Varon-Monteta who contributed so thoroughly with coding, and for the talented Adam Kusha, for the perfect product design. Without you guys, it wouldn't be as powerful as it is. A big thank you to the amazing parents, and the children: Mila, Mary, Charlotte, Amy, Jack, Hadar, Omeri, Daniel, and Noam, who took part in the experiments and taught me a lot about their smart brains. I really appreciate it, without you, the research would not have been possible, especially under the Covid19 restructurings.

A warm thanks to my Israeli family, for supporting us during the second lockdown and beyond. And the biggest thanks ever goes to my one and only love - Amit, and my daughters Mel, and Lille, who supported me days, nights, weekends, and lockdowns with loads of baby tantrums and cuddles ;). And last but not least, The Imperial College and The Royal College of Art tutors and teaching fellows, who helped me flourish, within this challenging year.