Designing interactive learning activities for the UPMC Children's Hospital in collaboration with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
"The Anthropocene is a newly proposed epoch, or geological time period, defined by humans’ effect on the environment…
We are not separate from nature, we are nature, and our decisions affect all life on earth." - We are Nature exhibition, CMNH
Our original task was to design a learning experience outside of a traditional classroom to support youth (8-12) in gaining a deep understanding of their relationships to the environment. Our clients, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, wanted this program to have a relationship with their Anthropocene exhibit and to bring awareness to how human actions are effecting the ecosystem around us.
We chose the UPMC Children's Hospital because we felt that there was a lack of education that the human actions influence the world around us, impacting animals and produce which in turn effect us when we consume them. In an environment where health is the priority, there isn't much of a discussion about the natural environment and how kids can have an active hand in the quality of the food they eat. How might we design a learning experience for children in the hospital to help them draw a tangible connection between environmental and physical, human health? Our goal is to empower kids to feel comfortable growing their own produce and contributing towards making healthy food choices at the children's hospital.
UNDERSTANDING THE PROBLEM SPACE
We started our design research by interviewing people to investigate how they perceived the connection between human and environmental health. Soon we realized the connection they made was rather limited—most of them mentioned air pollution but not much beyond that. On the other hand, UPMC Children’s hospital has an initiative to bring environmental conscience to the hospital to help improve health outcomes. Seeing it as a great opportunity, we visited the hospital and talked to their staff members.
After interviewing the staff from UPMC, we learned that the hospital was working on an edible garden initiative, but had not thought about involving the children/patients. We thought this was a great opportunity to contextualize the learning experience and to provide tangible engagement. Knowing the opportunity, we started to investigate ways that could help our audience draw connections between food and health.
Our audience are kids aged 8-12. Based on the information we gathered from the experts while talking to the Phipps Conservatory about their growing programs, they are at the prime age for exploration. It is a time when kids build their independence and make connections between themselves and the world around them through personal interactions. We synthesized what we learnt so far and came up with the following overarching learning goals and the design principles to guide our project.
Taking into consideration the insights and principles, we translated our thinking into two conceptual models, which took references from learning theories. Functioning as an experience journey, the model illustrates the sequence, hierarchy, depend, and relationships among all facets.
GENERATING AND DEVELOPING CONCEPTS
We explored a variety of ideas at the beginning. As we speed dated our ideas, we got vital feedback that allowed us to assess the merits of each idea and use our findings to guide the makings of prototypes.
LET'S GROW SYSTEM OVERVIEW
Let’s Grow contains a series of learning activities placed in the cafeteria hallway at UPMC Children hospital and their edible garden. The design artifacts help children draw a concrete connection between what they learn through the hallway activities, the food they eat in the cafeteria and the growing plants in the edible garden.
Placed along the hallway,
the set of activities gives the audience contextual information about the edible garden, educates them about organic gardening and the health benefits, and empowers them to use the knowledge they have learned to contribute to healthy food selection at the hospital.
Part 1. Poster
The poster serves to introduce the garden to our audience and the reason why the hospital has decided to start an edible garden. It also introduces the phases of harvest, so that our audience can anticipate ways to engage with the garden throughout the year.
Part 2. Interactive Game
Children in the hospital don't have the option to get directly involved in the gardening because of the health and sanitation, but our digital growing game allows them to get involved and learn about the growing process of the selected plants through a different kind of first hand experience. All the digital produce is connected to what will be grown at the children's hospital garden. Kids playing this game choose vegetables to grow and are guided through the growing process with feedback, hints, and facts that increase their knowledge of how to care for plants into maturity.
Part 3. Voting Wall
The voting poster empowers the audience to contribute to the future of the hospital, specifically to the health of the people in it. Visitors and patients alike will engage by exploring the fun facts about the plants that will be planted in the garden. They will also learn about options for a fifth, undecided plant and can vote for a plant they want to see be included in the edible garden.
Part 4. Take a Seed
The hallway activities end with a fun challenge to grow one’s own plant. It represents the beginning of a new learning experience, where children can personally care for the growth of a seed. The experience also has the potential to generate rich conversations with family as they help their child use the knowledge they've gained to raise their plant.
Part 5. Outdoor Garden Signs
The garden signs are located directly in the garden beds. They help the audience draw connections between human health and nature by learning about topics related to health and produce such as how organic foods create positive impacts.
Previous Design Iterations