SLATE (System for Learning and Assessment through Tangible Exploration) a low-cost, interactive, tangible display for children to learn about engineering and physics by building and exploring complex machines.

SLATE combines tangible toolkits with an interactive display to engage children in hands-on learning. By arranging magnetic pieces in different configurations on the vertical screen, children solve challenges and create solutions that subsequent children can view and learn from. Designs are automatically documented using a rear-mounted image detection system, which enables post-hoc assessment and reflection. With our latest toolkit, Mechanix, children build Rube-Goldberg designs composed of simple machine components. We are in the process of developing new toolkits for other subject areas.

The Mechanix toolkit and interactive display was first conceived as a museum exhibit for children to design and test shared Rube Goldberg designs. Unlike existing tangible toolkits, the Mechanix system was designed to automatically document tangible design work so that children could easily reconstruct and test designs created by others. After sketching out an initial design, Tiffany recruited Coram to co-develop a prototype of the system as a class project in Paulo Blikstein's "Beyond Bits and Atoms" course at Stanford University. Since then, SLATE has emerged as a framework for toolkits beyond Mechanix. SLATE continues to be developed at and with support from Stanford's Transformative Learning Technologies Lab, where we engage in the design of new toolkits and research on integrating example-based learning with collaborative design work.

Watch this video to see the Mechanix toolkit in action.


Paulo Blikstein is an assistant professor at Stanford University’s School of Education and (by courtesy) Computer Science Department, and the Director of the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab. His research interests include technologies for learning, computational cognitive modeling, and complexity science. He serves as the research advisor for the SLATE project.

Tiffany Tseng is a mechanical engineering graduate student at Stanford University. She received her B.S. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009 and is interested in educational technologies, particularly to engage children in engineering design activities.

Coram Bryant is a recent graduate of the Learning, Design, & Technology Master’s program in the Stanford University School of Education. He earned a double bachelors degree in Cognitive Science and Computer science at the University of California, San Diego in 2004, and has since worked as a software engineer and educator with a passion for learning and designing opportunities for others to learn.