Personal Science Assistant (PSA)

PIs: Norm Lownds, Carrie Heeter
Graduate Student Thesis Project: Aparna Ramchandran

View the complete written thesis.
Run the PDA simulation of the plant scanner.

The Connected Gardens Project is funded by the Dow Foundation.

In the 4-H Children's Garden kids are discovering unseen information about plants right in the palm of their hand using the Personal Science Assistant! This PDA application reads the plant label (an RFID tag) which brings up information and pictures about each of the parts of that plant: root, stem, leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds.

Kids discover what each plant part looks like and what it does. Just a click on the Cycle button and kids see what this plant looks like in Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. A click on the Uses button shows how this plant is used.

As children (and adults) use the Personal Science Assistant to explore plants in the 4-H Children's Garden they will “see” even more than the plant in front of the m. They will discover new facts, new ways to look at plants and be inspired to explore the plants more closely.

The PDA is used right in the real garden, sparking curiosity and expanding what can be seen beyond the plant in front of you. As kids used the Personal Science Assistant they discovered that pansy plants have fruit. They then examined the pansy plants in front of them more closely and found they had fruit too!

Other kids discovered that marigolds can be used to keep bugs away from other plants. Once they knew this, they smelled the marigold flowers and leaves to learn what kind of smell bugs don't like. They were also able to look at a clumpy marigold root without digging it up, and see what marigold seeds look like.

The Personal Science Assistant can be used by individual children, a small group and as part of a classroom investigation. In all instances children are engaged, read the information carefully, show each other what they have discovered and use the Personal Science Assistant as the beginning of further exploration and discovery.

The Personal Science Assistant was created by Aparna Ramchandran as her MA thesis project in the Digital Media Arts and Technology (DMAT) program in the department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media at Michigan State University . She worked with the Curator of the 4-H Children's Garden (Dr. Norm Lownds ) and the Comm Tech Lab (Dr. Carrie Heeter ).

Personal Science Assistants like this one can be used in many informal science learning venues. It is currently available during field trips to the 4-H Children's Garden. Child reactions so far have been consistent – they want more!

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