UPDATE: The EdBoard team won fourth place at NVC12, coming away with $12,500 after giving one of the most polished presentations of the evening. Also announced during the finals, Dan Caruso, chairman and CEO of ZAYO, will buy an additional $5,000 of EdBoard’s products.
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A business start-up team led by two ATLAS master’s students studying Creative Technologies + Design advanced to the final round of CU Boulder’s 2020 New Venture Challenge, beating 140 other teams and becoming one of six finalists competing for up to $100,000 in prizes. Typically held at the Boulder Theater, the 12th annual NVC will be broadcast live on April 7, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The team’s venture, EdBoard Technologies, includes colorful hardware and curriculum focused on teaching students as young as 6 about electricity and electrical circuits. With fun, tiered groupings of lessons, some of which involve storytelling, children progressively expand their understanding of electrical concepts.
“We have been working so hard for this," said Cody Candler, CEO of EdBoard, which he leads with CTD student, Ruhan Yang, EdBoard’s lead engineer. "Winning the NVC is a personal dream of mine. Of course, my dream didn't involve a global pandemic shutting down the campus, but we will roll with the punches.”
This latest accomplishment comes on the heels of several others, including winning third place and $1,000 for the 2020 CU Boulder’s NVC Women's Entrepreneurship Prize; reaching the NVC hardware finals in the 2019 NVC Championships; and receiving $8,275 from Catalyze CU, a summer accelerator that offers equity-free funding. EdBoard includes a core team of six other students, including Ryan Good (TAM ‘18) and Joia Reeder (TAM ‘20).
EdBoard is inspired by a “breadboard,” a device widely used in electronics for teaching, experimenting and testing circuit design. Made of opaque, monochromatic plastic and covered with hundreds of tiny holes, they require fine motor skills and background knowledge of the embedded wiring in order to use them.
In contrast, EdBoards are made from transparent acrylic with clearly visible iron rods running the length and width of the board. Kits include colorful components equipped with magnetic posts and illustrated circuit diagrams that slide under boards, mapping out circuits and setting up problems. Ingeniously, pairs of magnetic posts on each electronic component serve a double-function, keeping them firmly in place by attaching to the iron rods beneath the acrylic and, since they readily conduct electricity, completing circuits.
“There’s a stage in psychosocial development where children build their self-worth through creating things, and if they don’t feel they are good at making something, they become discouraged,” Candler said. “Our goal is for children to feel encouraged by emboldening them to invent without inhibition.”
Story-based lessons called “circuit stories” teach users about different fundamental concepts of electrical engineering, explains Candler. Users work through progressive sets of hands-on projects, gaining a deeper understanding of electricity and electrical engineering by building, modifying and fixing different kinds of circuits. The projects introduce problem-solving scenarios to encourage kids to “think like an engineer” in a real-world setting, he said.
EdBoard's team worked with teachers and gifted students to develop more engaging curricula and tested prototypes with master’s engineering students and novices. Preliminary studies by Candler indicate that novice students are able to comprehend certain electrical engineering concepts more quickly when using EdBoards than with standard breadboards.
The team received guidance through the ATLAS ACME Lab, which is directed by Professor Ellen Yi-Luen Do. Clement Zheng, an ATLAS PhD student in Do’s lab, shared advice and a design toolkit he built for incorporating magnets into healthcare device prototypes. Under Do’s guidance, Candler and Yang submitted an academic paper to the ACM Interaction Design and Children (IDC) conference 2020.
Future goals for the team include increasing the number of story-based lessons and creating a subscription-based model for parents and teachers. The team is also beginning to explore expanding the product to teach coding and physical computing through Arduino and micro:bit attachments.
“Everyone on the team believes EdBoard has a chance to make a positive social impact,” Candler says. “If it helps children persevere and learn difficult engineering concepts more easily, we will all be very happy.”