Robbie Berg's Research Interests

Research Interests

Learning Through Designing. I am studying how people learn through design activities. Since 1995, I have collaborated with Mitchel Resnick and other members of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. The Lifelong Kindergarten group aims to re-invent learning and education in a digital society. We develop new technologies that, in the spirit of the blocks and fingerpaint of kindergarten, expand the range of what people design and create -- and what they learn in the process. Our ultimate goal is a world of playfully creative people, who are constantly inventing new possibilities for themselves and their communities.  Some projects I have worked  are:

I helped design  a new generation of "programmable bricks" called Crickets. The LEGO Mindstorms product, which was released in the Fall of 1998 by the LEGO company, was inspired by our group's work on programmable bricks. Recently, I helped develop a commercial version of the Cricket, called the PicoCricket that is being through   The Playful Invention Company (or "PICO", for short). The PicoCrickets became commercially available in the Spring of 2006. You can also read about the PicoCrickets in these news articles.

I have worked on the development of the PicoBoard, which works with Scratch, a new programming language enables kids to create interactive stories, games, music, and art - and share their creations on the web. The PicoBoard allows users to integrate inputs from real-world sensors into their Scratch projects.

I am particularly interested in developing new computational tools for use in science education. With Mitchel Resnick (MIT) and Mike Eisenberg (Colorado), I helped develop an NSF-funded project called Beyond Black Boxes, in which children use Crickets to design their own instruments for scientific investigations.

I have been working with Brian Silverman (MIT) and Bakhtiar Mikhak (MIT) to develop the a new kind of electronic construction kit which will help reintroduce  a vigorously creative and playful dimension into the design of electronic inventions. The basic building block that we have developed for this kit is an easily programmable and inexpensive embedded microcontroller called the LogoChip. Users can develop programs using a special version of the Logo programming language on a desktop or laptop computer and then download these programs to the LogoChip. LogoChip Logo combines all the power and elegance of the Logo programming language with the ability to directly configure and control the individual pins on the LogoChip. We are hard at work on a new version of the LogoChip that features a programming environment based on the popular PicoBlocks graphical programming language.

I am also helping out with the Playful Invention and Exploration (PIE) Network, an NSF-funded project in which the Media Lab and museums around the world are finding ways to encourage more creative uses of digital media by blending art, science and technology.  I helped with the organization of Mindfest , a "Gathering of Playful Inventors" that was first held at the Media Lab in October, 1999. More recently, I've been serving as an advisor to the NSF-funded PIE Institute that is being organized by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. During a visit a to the Exloratorium in January, 2006 Karen, Mike, Walter Kitundu and I used a LogoChip, the flash unit from a disposable camera and some simple sensors to take some interesting strobe photographs (in the form of a 75 MB quicktime movie) that capture a variety of short-lived events.

With Franklyn Turbak of the Wellesley's computer science department, I teach a course called Robotic Design Studio, where students use programmable bricks to design, build, and exhibit their robotic creations. 

I have served as a mentor at the Computer Clubhouse, an after-school learning center where youth from under-served communities work together on computer-related projects. The goal is for youth to become fluent with new computational media, becoming creators (not just consumers) of computer-based projects.

Laser Cooling. Currently I am working with a number of students and other Wellesley faculty (Glenn Stark, and Tom Bauer)  in a project that uses narrow band-width diode lasers to trap and cool rubidium atoms. There are many good opportunities for Wellesley students to be involved with this project.

Optical Measurements of Chloroplast Movement. I am working with Martina Koniger, and Gary Harris of Wellesley's Department  of Biological Sciences, along with Sue Kohler and a number of Wellesley students  to develop an optical technique for monitoring light-induced chloroplast  movements in leaves. To make these measurements we have developed a new, easy to build instrument based on the LogoChip.


Recent Papers

New Pathways into Robotics: Strategies for Broadening Participation. Rusk, N., Resnick, M., Berg, R., and Pezalla-Granlund, M. Submitted to Journal of Science Education and Technology.

A simple low-cost microcontroller-based photometric instrument for monitoring chloroplast movement. Robert Berg, Martina Koniger, Brit Scheide, George Dikmak, Susan Kohler, and Gary C Harris  Photosynthesis Research 87(3) pp. 303-311, March. 2006.

Rethinking Robotics: Engaging Girls in Creative Engineering. Rusk, N., Berg, R. and Resnick, M. Proposal to the National Science Foundation. December, 2005.

Rethinking Robotics: Approaches and Ideas. Pezalla-Granlund, M., Rusk, N., Resnick, M., Berg, R. Association of Science-Technology Centers conference workshop. October, 2005.

Robotic Design Studio: Exploring the Big Ideas of Engineering in a Liberal Arts Environment. Franklyn Turbak and  Robbie Berg, Journal of Science Education and Technology 11(3): 237--253, Sep. 2002.

Beyond Black Boxes: Bringing Transparency and Aesthetics Back to Scientific Investigation. Mitchel Resnick, Robbie Berg, and Michael Eisenberg, The Journal of the Learning Sciences, Volume 9, No. 1, 2000.

Digital Manipulatives: New Toys to Think With. Mitchel Resnick,. Fred Martin, Robbie Berg, Rick Borovoy, Vanessa Colella, Kwin Kramer, & Brian Silverman,. Proceedings of CHI (Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems) 98  (Los Angeles, April 1998), ACM Press.

To Mindstorms and Beyond: Evolution of a Construction Kit for Magical Machines. Bakhtiar Mikhak, Robbie Berg, Fred Martin, Mitchel Resnick, & Brian Silverman. This is a chapter that will appear in the book Robots for Kids: Exploring New Technologies for Learning Experiences. (Edited by Allison Druin, published by Morgan Kaufman / Academic Press, San Francisco, March, 2000.)

The Childrens Machines: Handheld and Wearable Computers Too. Bakhtiar Mikhak, Fred Martin, Robbie Berg, Mitchel Resnick, & Brian Silverman, International Symposium on Handheld and Ubiquitous Computing, Karlsruhe, Germany, 1999.

Science in the Palms of Their Hands. Soloway, E., Grant, W., Tinker, R., Roschelle, J., Mills, M., Resnick, M., Berg, R., and Eisenberg, M. (1999). Communications of the ACM, vol. 42, no. 8, pp. 21-26. August 1999.

Robbie Berg / June , 2007
 faculty profile