Kookaberry Design Brief
The Kookaberry has been designed to emulate and improve upon current digital technology tools by:
- eliminating the need for programming before the commencement of each learning activity
- drastically reducing the set-up time required for each activity
- adding on-board data storage
- being compatible with arduino and micro:bit interfaces and peripherals
- eliminating the need for internet or WiFi
- making the technology visible
- being an open source design
It also had to be:
- based upon the Australian designed MicroPython programming language
- able to work straight out of the box
- simple to use
- robust enough to function perfectly in the harsh environment of remote Australia
- easy to maintain
- designed for teachers as a teaching and learning activity rather than just an activity for their students
- programmable using both text and block based editors
- exciting and engaging for students
- able to function seamlessly as part of an ecosystem of associated peripherals and accessories; learning plans;
- and easily accessible support
- designed and made in Australia.
The Kookaberry Story
The Kookaberry was designed and developed in Australia by Australian engineers as a low cost open source technology platform suitable for Primary school teachers and their students to use in conjunction with their normal lesson plans. It has the benefit of being influenced by many competent and successful examples such as Arduino and MicroBit.
How it started
In late 2016, just after the release of the micro:bit in the UK by the BBC in March of the same year, Julian Dinsdale, an Australian consultant engineer with offices in both Australia and the UK, was asked by teacher colleagues in the UK whether he had been involved in its design.
This was not a silly question, as one of Julian's previous companies was responsible for collecting the data used for managing Australian dams and power grids; and he has a life-long interest in primary school learning and the importance of STEM literacy.
Julian quickly recognised the elegance of the micro:bit design, and the beauty and impact of a business model that delivered one free into the hands of every Year 7 student in the UK.
He also recognised that, whilst the micro:bit was ideally suited for its purpose of supporting the new UK Year 7 computing science curriculum, the requirement to code it before it could do anything useful could be problematical for primary school teachers with no prior coding experience.
Julian gathered together some Australian engineering colleagues to design and develop a learning platform based upon the micro:bit that could raise the STEM literacy of primary school students before they went onto secondary school.
It helped enormously that the developer of the MicroPython language used for the micro:bit is an Australian academic, Damien George, who threw his support behind the Kookaberry project.
Design and development
A fundamental design philosophy of the Kookaberry is that it needs to come out of its box and be used in a lesson plan, then packed away all in under an hour. No software coding... just run engaging STEM applications that make students think and enquire about what is being achieved – and have fun at the same time.
Early prototypes benefited from collaboration with Associate Professor James Curran's team at Sydney University' Australian Computing Academy, and John Phillips joined the team to assist with its introduction into Australian classrooms.
The team was later expanded to include Tony Strasser who has written all the apps; Rob McTaggart who has designed this website and is developing our professional learning programme; and Evan Bonser who is evaluating our apps and creating video tutorials.
The first Kookaberries were assembled in a sheltered workshop in Hornsby and distributed to schools around NSW for evaluation. The next 200 boards were made by GPC Electronics in Penrith, with 50 pre-ordered by the Catholic Education Office of the Diocese of Wollongong. The remainder are either being trialled in schools or being used for training and evaluation.
The next production run of 500 Kookaberries is also being made at GPC's Penrith facility to support trials commencing in Term 1, 2021.