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Let's Play! Dynamic Physical Therapy Games using Scratch and Makey Makey. Plus: Turning Code into Calder!

‚ÄčThis STEAM unit is a multifaceted simulation of engineering research combined with an art project!

This unit was taught to a 7th grade Science Enrichment elective course; however, it can easily be adapted to a variety of subjects and grade levels. Since there are not currently computer science standards for middle grades, the high school Introduction to Digital Technology standards were used. Additional standards include 7th Grade Life Science, 7th grade Visual Arts, and 7th grade CTAE Engineering and Technology.

There is an abundance of materials, so feel free to pick and chose what works for you! 

The inspiration for this project comes from the HumAnS (Human-Automation Systems) Lab at Georgia Tech. Under the guidance of Dr. Ayanna Howard, PhD researcher Brittney English is developing a way to help stroke patients complete physical therapy exercises using video games. Brittney’s motivation for the research stems from the desire to use robotics to help people. She realized that stroke patients often need physical therapy to help them regain bodily functions. Often these patients need to rehabilitate the movement of their wrists and hands. Having proper wrist/hand motion is important in maintaining quality of life and independence. Think about all of the functions you use your hands and wrists for each day! People who have lost functionality of those parts cannot easily provide personal care for themselves and might need assistance with daily events like bathing or going to the restroom. As a result, the patients lose privacy when they need assistance with personal care. Brittney’s research is aimed at helping stroke patients increase their engagement with physical therapy exercises so they can regain independence.

Brittney points out that often times, patients do not enjoy participating in physical therapy and it can result in low morale and slower recovery time. She wants to find out if using video games can help patients get better faster by improving morale and motivation to complete the therapy.  One key aspect of her research is to make the video games adaptive, or dynamic, which means the games adapt the challenge level based on the player performance. For example, the game will get more challenging for players who are excelling and the game will get easier for players who are struggling. This helps customize the game to maintain motivation. A game that is too easy might become boring while a game that is too hard might become frustrating. In either situation, the player might give up, which does not help the patient make progress in recovery. Brittney hypothesizes that using dynamic game play will improve many aspects of therapy and improve patient outcome. Additionally, the adaptability allows the game to have a longer life since it can grow with the player and be used multiple times.

In this unit, students will emulate Brittney’s collegiate level research on a middle school scale. They will experience what it is like to be a computer scientist, game designer, industrial engineer, graphic designer, among other careers. The students will research a nervous system impairment that would require physical therapy exercise. They will then use Scratch to code and design an interactive dynamic game that would aid in the exercise while also incorporating the Makey Makey as a game controller. Once a prototype controller is developed, the students will refine the design to make it aesthetically pleasing. They will then demonstrate the effectiveness of their game and device and how it aids in physical therapy.
Additionally, the students will create a mobile sculpture that is inspired by the coding they created for the game. Making the game dynamic requires the use of conditional statements (If/Then/Else) and planning the code for the game requires planning the steps out using a decision tree or map. The steps used in the code can then be represented visually in an artistic mobile design that represents in code in a new way.