NexGen Inquiry Web App

Van Andel Education Institute

NexGen Inquiry empowers teachers to engage students in thinking and acting like scientists by bringing student-centered, inquiry-based science methods into the classroom.

Industry:  
Education

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MESSA and its design logo are marks owned by Michigan Education Special Services Association, registered in the U.S.
The NexGen Inquiry web app gives teachers practical tools to improve their science curriculum, with investigation templates and an online journal for each student.

Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI) is revolutionizing science education by training teachers in inquiry-based science. The NexGen Inquiry Teaching and Learning platform brings inquiry-based science into the classroom with a personal online journal for each student.

NexGen Inquiry guides students through scientific investigations using the QPOE2 investigation organizer. It helps them collect and analyze data, create graphs using this data, and share results with other students and their teachers. Teachers can create science investigation templates, assign them to students, and respond to student work.

NexGen Inquiry is very intuitive; after just an hour of working with teachers, they have it down. It’s exceeded my expectations, and the teachers using it are really impressed.

Jim Nicolette, Associate Director

Coordinating Stakeholders

In addition to team members Grand Rapids and Atomic Object, this project brought together lots of different groups. Having this many cooks in the kitchen required a lot of coordination and a complex project schedule that balanced several timelines and sets of constraints.
Recycling data from the GR Public Services Department
Dozens of vendors with rewards of various sizes, types, and durations — recruited and coordinated by Local First
The myGRcitypoints information website, created by The Image Shoppe

Technical Specs

Atomic designed the system architecture and wrote software and firmware for:

Custom Protocol
Reduces required bandwidth and handle collisions, allowing reliable transfer of a high volume of information through RF and cellular communications back to the data collection service.
Gateway Devices
Each is a Technologic TS 7800 single-board computer with a custom RF receiver. They run a combination of C and Ruby on an embedded Linux system.
Web App
A JRuby on Rails application using an Oracle database that deploys to IBM Websphere.
NexGen Inquiry is very intuitive; after just an hour of working with teachers, they have it down. It’s exceeded my expectations, and the teachers using it are really impressed.

Jim Nicolette, Associate Director

Phase 2: Developing a Full-feature Workshop Experience

With the Learning Map developed into a digital product, Root wanted to further help users dive into their organization’s strategy, financials, or processes with a second release. Among other features, they sought to create a kind of a virtual whiteboard, where everyone’s voice could be heard in a fun, engaging, and meaningful way.

Atomic’s Software Design Practice Lead in Ann Arbor, Bryan Elkus, led design work on the project. He saw the user experience of going through the Learning Map activities as a type of collaborative online challenge.

Under the guidance of Atomic's Software Consultant & Designer Bryan Elkus, the project emphasized collaborative user experiences, akin to an online group challenge, focusing on:

  • Consultants facilitating onboarding, ice-breakers, and exercises.
  • Client company employees engaging in organizational change.

Atomic Object Software Consultant & Developer Matt Soto his development work focused on delivering Root’s vision of polish, complex features, and emphasizing a business model around the digital product.

Root's VP, Nate Butki says Atomic’s consultative approach helped the project team uncover and address underlying needs rather than merely executing requests.

“Atomic didn’t want to just figure out what we wanted and give it to us—but rather figured out the need and helped us with it,” he said. “If they had listened to us and spit out exactly what we asked for, they would have only gotten 80 percent of it. Atomic’s team asked the questions and pushed us further.”

Technical Specs

Atomic designed the system architecture and wrote software and firmware for:

Custom Protocol
Reduces required bandwidth and handle collisions, allowing reliable transfer of a high volume of information through RF and cellular communications back to the data collection service.
Gateway Devices
Each is a Technologic TS 7800 single-board computer with a custom RF receiver. They run a combination of C and Ruby on an embedded Linux system.
Web App
A JRuby on Rails application using an Oracle database that deploys to IBM Websphere.
NexGen Inquiry is very intuitive; after just an hour of working with teachers, they have it down. It’s exceeded my expectations, and the teachers using it are really impressed.

Jim Nicolette, Associate Director

Phase 2: Developing a Full-feature Workshop Experience

With the Learning Map developed into a digital product, Root wanted to further help users dive into their organization’s strategy, financials, or processes with a second release. Among other features, they sought to create a kind of a virtual whiteboard, where everyone’s voice could be heard in a fun, engaging, and meaningful way.

Atomic’s Software Design Practice Lead in Ann Arbor, Bryan Elkus, led design work on the project. He saw the user experience of going through the Learning Map activities as a type of collaborative online challenge.
Under the guidance of Atomic's Software Consultant & Designer Bryan Elkus, the project emphasized collaborative user experiences, akin to an online group challenge, focusing on:

• Consultants facilitating onboarding, ice-breakers, and exercises.

• Client company employees engaging in organizational change.

Atomic Object Software Consultant & Developer Matt Soto his development work focused on delivering Root’s vision of polish, complex features, and emphasizing a business model around the digital product. Root's VP, Nate Butki says Atomic’s consultative approach helped the project team uncover and address underlying needs rather than merely executing requests.

“Atomic didn’t want to just figure out what we wanted and give it to us—but rather figured out the need and helped us with it,” he said. “If they had listened to us and spit out exactly what we asked for, they would have only gotten 80 percent of it. Atomic’s team asked the questions and pushed us further.”

“Atomic didn’t want to just figure out what we wanted and give it to us—but rather figured out the need and helped us with it.”

Nate Butki, Root VP

Taste-testing the Product in the Field

Delivering A Great Product and An Empowered Team

By getting to share their decades’ experience with agile practices, Atomic’s team got to watch the counterparts at Root develop new skills over the course of the second engagement.

Soto says he loved watching Root’s inherently collaborative culture adopt the agible practices they were learning.

“After a few months, they loved how easy and smooth it was to make last-minute changes, to pivot in another direction, and use feedback to spend their time where it was most impactful,” he said.

Root’s Jared Page says the agile approach to product design, development, and management he saw during the engagement had a profound impact.

“One of my favorite things about this project is that everyone got better—better at our jobs and better with communication; it just feels cool,” he said. “Sometimes you work for a year and don’t know if you’ve improved but everyone could look back on this project and say they’ve improved. This project changed the way I will work forever.”

Tools to Get More Done

The science journal has a custom-built spreadsheet tool for creating tables, charts, and graphs. It was designed to be accessible to kids as young as kindergarten, with built-in formulas and an easy-to-use interface.

NexGen Inquiry includes a rapidly-growing online teacher community, where teachers can connect to share tips and advice. It also includes a resource library with professional development materials and support documentation in the form of quick-start videos and classroom materials.

Results

  • At the start of the 2016-2017 school year, the system was being used by more than 500 school districts.
  • More than 2,500 teacher accounts and 15,000 student accounts have been created.
  • Teachers have created over 7,000 experiment templates.
The Atomic team took a genuine interest in what VAEI is doing. They took our teacher training, and developed a solid understanding of our instructional model and the vision of what we’re trying to accomplish. They cared about the project, and that came through in their zeal.
Jim Nicolette, Associate Director

Coordinating Stakeholders

In addition to team members Grand Rapids and Atomic Object, this project brought together lots of different groups. Having this many cooks in the kitchen required a lot of coordination and a complex project schedule that balanced several timelines and sets of constraints.
Recycling data from the GR Public Services Department
Dozens of vendors with rewards of various sizes, types, and durations — recruited and coordinated by Local First
The myGRcitypoints information website, created by The Image Shoppe

A Partnership with a Storybook Ending

The team’s careful project management, client communication, cutting-edge architecture, and cohesive design strategy helped the team ship the product on time and on budget.

Reflecting back on the multi-year, high-profile project, Robinson said Atomic helped his company arrive at a special moment in time.

“We'd never done anything this big. Ever,” he said. “We’re live across all the major pillars Atomic said they would deliver on. It was delivered on time, on budget, to expectation, live. Not three or four milestones late with people leaving and the platform half-baked and full of bugs.”

StoryLoom began open-beta in December 2022. A global launch is scheduled for the spring of 2023.

“We’ve been given a rare opportunity," said Robinson, "to find success by chasing opportunities Starship Enterprise-style: going where people aren’t—pushing boundaries.”

NexGen Inquiry is very intuitive; after just an hour of working with teachers, they have it down. It’s exceeded my expectations, and the teachers using it are really impressed.

Jim Nicolette, Associate Director

Atomic provided web application development and visual design for NexGen Inquiry, a tablet-friendly web app with a rich front end built in Ember.js with a PostGRES database. Atomic also created the NexGen Inquiry marketing website in Craft CMS.

The Atomic Team

Here are some of our current Atoms who worked on this project. Click their photo to read their bios!

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Project domain(s)

web

web

mobile

mobile

desktop

desktop

embedded

embedded

Industry

Services provided

Software Product Design
User Research
System Architecture
Information Architecture
Interaction Design
Visual Design
Software Development
User Testing
Exploratory Testing
Deployment

Tools used

EmberJS
Zurb Foundation
PostgreSQL
Ruby on Rails