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  • Quincy Kuang

Digital Manipulatives and why they need to focus on the experience.

Commentaries on the research paper "Digital Manipulatives: New Toys to Think With"


The research paper "Digital Manipulatives: New Toys to Think With" talks about the benefit of manipulative materials and toys to children and a more advanced version of them called Digital Manipulatives. This new form of manipulatives has to potential to teach children and young teens more advanced materials such as the behaviors of a dynamic system. These new toys take the strengths and familiarity of the old toys and incorporate computation and communication capabilities in their interface. My thoughts around this advancement in the children's play experience is both positive yet cautious. I think that many younger teens (particularly between the age of 12 to 15) would have the complexity to fully take advantage of these kinds of toys. However, I also believe that these kinds of Digital Manipulative toys should be created with a focus on the overall experience rather than whether or not they incorporate enough technology for them to be educational to the teens. My reason to believe so is this: The toys children play with must be engaging for them to have any significant impact on the children. A well designed educational toy will eventually lose its intended purpose if no children are willing to play it outside of a classroom. This means that a successful toy should represent an enjoyable (and even addictive) experience in its core, and maybe the process to reach that place involves learning a few things about the material, design, and technology that is present in the toy. For example, in the case of the Bitball example in the research paper, the author(s) explained that a Bitball can be program via infrared communication and be able to turn on its LEDs based on its motion; children might be program a bit ball to flash its red light whenever it undergoes a sharp acceleration. Now, these are impressive and expandable features, but the description is solely focused on WHAT the children can use Bitball for, but not WHY they would do so in the first place. Why would the children play with the Bitball when they, instead, could go trade Pokemon with their friends Nintendo DS? My point is that if we decided that the only reason children would play with Bitball that it represents an upgrade version of a favorite toy, then we are not really starting from a user center perspective and might very well neglect a category of children. The result might be toys like Bitball would only be played within a classroom or be played by a group of children who are innately more comfortable about technology.

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