Last week, Nicole and I traveled to MIT for the biannual scratch conference and spent a few extra days sharing ideas and prototyping with our friends at the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Media Lab. During the conference we ran a scratchpaper workshop, highlighting a new idea we've been developing to help learners get started with scratchx by programming paper circuit cards.
The workshop took place in the LLK room at the Media Lab, an inspiring place where we felt right at home. The twenty-four participants worked in pairs to explore the lights, switches, sensors, and vibrating motor monsters. We were a little nervous since this type of workshop required people using their own computers, downloading the right software and getting the example sketches transferred. Things went pretty smoothly, but as we move more into explorations of computational tinkering, these workshop logistics give us something to think about.
Near the entrance of the room we created a 'corner of curiousity' to show off some possible extensions to the activity. We included examples of paper circuits that use the attiny chip, some more artistic paper circuit examples and nicole's analog copper crown that uses light sensors and RGB LEDs in an interesting physical arrangement.
Nicole also made an example modeled after the work of Tinkering Studio AIR Shih Chieh Huang that incorporated the scratch stage into the project. As the black circle moved on the screen the RGB light changed color.
Although most of the participants had used scratch before, it was a first chance for many to explore the arduino extension on scratchx. We felt it was important to start with just a single light and a example sketch showing how to hook things up before moving to more complicated projects.
We wanted to support a collaborative and playful attitude for the activity since we were experimenting technical and possibly intimidating parts like sensors, resistors, and circuit baords. We felt that the social scaffolding of people working together and the mix of familiar and unfamiliar materials went a long way towards helping us create an inviting environment.
Scratchpaper Frog Crossing from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo. Participants made all types of projects using the physical objects, showing off the wide walls of the activity. Some of the groups incorporated music, others turned into simple games, and some participants spent the time investigating all of the different components. One interesting project was a "street crossing frog" that moved when the light turned green and yellow but stopped when the light turned red.
We spent about forty-five minutes exploring the scratchpaper construction kit, shared our projects and then reflected on the aspects of facilitation, materials, and environment that supported the playful and collaborative approach to learning. It was great to try this fairly new activity with a thoughtful and fun group of collaborators and we got a lot of ideas about how to keep developing the workshop. As well, we're looking forward to see how other educators remix the idea and make it work for their own setting.
The entire conference was really inspiring as well. It started off with Mitchel Resnick, the leader of the LLK group, giving a emotional tribute to his friend and mentor Seymour Papert, who developed the idea of constructionism and whose teachings and writings greatly influenced the tinkering/making movement. I would recommend watching Mitchel's summary of Papert's ideas as well as the other thought-provoking keynotes that were thankfully recorded and posted on the Scratch conference website.
During the three days of the conference, Nicole and I participated in workshops, roamed the poster sessions and listened to panel discussions. Some of the things that we're excited to try and learn more about include using the new microworlds feature of scratch to create more manageable starting points, the next iteration of beetleblocks, experimenting with WeDo to create playful motions and mechanisms, and using turtle stitch to export scratch designs to an embroiderly machines. And we even had time to take a tinkering t-shirt challenge photo with the famous LEGO scratch cat! We'll continue to share our thoughts and experiments around scratchpaper as well as these other expressions of computational tinkering using scratch.
The Tinkering Studio team is excited to announce a hands-on workshop at the Exploratorium! The workshop is designed to investigate together how tinkering and making experiences support fundamental STEM thinking and learning, and is aimed at educators from all backgrounds, settings, and experience levels. During three days together we will explore tinkering and making activities that we feel have the potential to blend science and art explorations, exemplify best practices for critical thinking, and incorporate creative ways of becoming active participants in the process of tinkering and making.
The workshop is articulated around core tinkering activities designed to build upon each other over the course of three days. We will alternate between delving into making and tinkering with a learner’s mindset, and then carefully reflecting and deconstructing those experiences through an educational lens. At the end of our work together you will be equipped to formulate a practical action plan to take the logical next step to implement tinkering in your practice, whether you are just starting out, or are interested in expanding an existing plan. You will also meet other educators from all kinds of backgrounds interested in the same work, and will make lasting connections to support each other!
“How do I apply?”
Send a letter of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org! We ask that you commit to the full three days of the workshop, and we strongly encourage you to come with a colleague or thinking partner. There is a fee for this workshop, which will cover:
“Having an understanding and confidence to move back and forth between directing and allowing space is foundational to making tinkering really work for learning.” – workshop participant
The Art of Tinkering workshop will be led by Tinkering Studio educators who have worked with over 100,000 learners of all ages, in settings as diverse kindergarten classrooms, graduate school courses, community centers, public schools, Tibetan monasteries, science museums, and cultural festivals around the world.
The fine print: Workshop participation is limited, and applications will be processed on a first come, first serve basis. The workshop fee does not cover costs associated with travel, hotel, or meals and incidental personal expenses.
People often ask how we design new activities. It's often tough to give a straightforward answer, because for us the development process takes place on a long time scale, involves iterating on prototypes and revisiting old ideas. We collaborate with outside artists and get inspiration from unusual materials.
Last week, Nicole and I tried out a workshop we've been developing that we're dubbing "scratchpaper" for the first time as part of the Scratch conference at MIT. After the conference we were reflecting on the many paths we took to come up with the activity and spent a few minutes brainstorming a partial list of all the past experiments that influenced the development process and contributed to our thinking around the topic.
As an exercise, I took the rough notes that we scribbled on an oversize post-it and tried to sort the ideas into categories related to the areas of exploration that make up the content of the activity. I grouped things related to paper circuits, scratch explorations, seeed studio grove kit, circuit blocks, programmed peepshows and sensor experiments. As well, I added relevant links to blog posts, videos, activity guides and sources for materials to the mindmap. This represents a first attempt to try to capture the messy, non-linear, and collaborative process of activity design for us in the Tinkering Studio.
Click on the image to get to the version with links added. I'd like to try something similar for other activities and it would be interesting to think about different ways to organize the inspirations on a timeline to emphasize how these explorations often take time to develop into fully fledged activities and how ideas complexity and combine with one another. We hope that the process will continue as scratchpaper becomes one more element in our growing ecosystem of playful inventions and delightful ideas.
Last Thursday’s Afterdark followed the theme Hair, Feather, Scale, and Nail. To fit the night’s motif, we facilitated a new activity in the Tinkering Studio called Creepy Beasties.
For quite some time, we’ve been doing Sewn Circuits, where we use conductive thread, batteries, LEDs, and various fabrics to construct wearable circuits or electronic plushes (right). Creepy Beasties was the love child of Sewn Circuits and a box of stuffed animals, or to be precise, stuffed animal skins.
Visitors were encouraged to use the materials on hand to make their own stuffed toys, the creepier the better. One approach to this task was to stitch together multiple skins in odd, often unsettling combinations. We supplied visitors with needles of various sizes, threads of various colors, fabric scraps, and sheets of felt. All of these could be used to perform surgery on your stuffed animal husk. If that wasn’t enough, we also had conductive thread, LEDs of several sizes and colors, and button batteries that could be used for the circuitry. The LEDs can make eerie glowing eyes or noses, or can be used in a variety of other ways to enhance the beasties.
Guests also had the option of stuffing their beasties. Unfortunately, we ran out of stuffing two thirds of the way through the night. Our visitors–resourceful as they are–were able to salvage stuffing that we missed when eviscerating the toys. Some even stuffed their creations with other skins and fabric scraps, to nice effect.
Also on the table was chalk for marking fabric, string for embroidery (which nobody touched), needle threaders because the conductive thread frays like crazy, googly eyes and fabric glue, scissors, seam rippers, pins, sharpies for marking the positive lead of LEDs, round nosed pliers for curling the leads of the LEDs. and a multimeter (for testsing LEDs and the continuity of your circuit). I forgot to put out thimbles, but they didn’t seem to be missed.
In the future, I’ll probably do without the embroidery string and the googly eyes. The fabric adhesive is difficult to use, and splotches of glue are hard to avoid. If googly eyes are a must, I’m inclined to suggest hot glue. I would also consider putting out ribbons and different types of fabric.
To help our builders along, we have examples of sewn circuity that we spread around the table. These examples show how to make parallel circuits, how to construct switches out of snaps or flaps of fabric, and how to attach LEDs. As per usual, we try not to limit the creativity of our guests, so we actually had a few people come and build their own version of the examples instead of creepy beasts.
The activity can be daunting to people who haven’t sewn before. We tried to dispel any fears by pointing out that messy, ugly stitches really enhance the aesthetic we’re aiming for. This was ample encouragement for most people, and the few who didn’t know how to sew coming in picked it up quickly. This left me with more time to focus on the circuitry elements of the activity.
The tricky thing about our LEDs is that they will only operate at specific voltages; this means no series circuits (unless you plan to chain multiple batteries together). Another obstacle is that not all of the LEDs play nicely with each other. If you’re planning on sticking to one color, this doesn’t matter, but if you want to mix and match, the process requires a lot of testing. (An interesting side-note is that like-color LEDs were generally okay when grouped; orange worked with yellow and white, and green could be combined with blue.) To tests whether LEDs work together, we have a couple examples that are just squares of felt with two parallel lines of conductive thread. You attach the battery to one end, and lay all the LED’s across the gap. These little helpers are a must-have, and before we do the activity again I want to make a few more.
As most of you probably know, our workshop seats eight comfortably. Over the three hours we were open, we were full the whole time and probably saw about twenty-five guests. Tending to the 8 guests were myself (an intern), two project explainers, and Mario (a former intern now fully fledged Tinkering team member). Normally we have three people facilitating; the extra manpower was a real advantage.
Outside of the space we had a table with several examples on it. Visitors were encouraged to interact with them - pick them up, turn them on or off, squeeze them. Most of the time, one of us facilitators was stationed with the examples, talking to the guests about the activity and manning the gate.
To help introduce the project to visitors, we also have a vertical monitor that we use to display information about the activity and photos of our guests’ work. Before the night started, we decided that we really wanted to use the monitor to display photos of what was going on. Doing this live is tricky, as to our knowledge, there isn’t really a [free] service built for posting and displaying photos in real time. We tried DropBox (ugly) and Google Drive (uglier), before something clicked in my mind and I remembered my days of tumblr, which can be customized heavily and has a relatively unobtrusive interface. I set up a blog for the activity, and found a free theme that fit our needs really well. I could have also edited the theme’s HTML to make it really perfect, but I was pressed for time and there wasn’t much need. With the help of an app from the Chrome Store, I was able to snap photos from my phone and post them to the periodically refreshing page with ease (below).
All in all, I think the night was a success. The visitors really seemed to enjoy themselves, and it showed in their creations. The staff had a good time too; some of them built their own beasties, but just watching people go through the process was a treat. The fact that the activity fit the After Dark’s theme was the cherry on top. Sadly though, this is a pretty intensive project, both regarding materials used and from the standpoint of facilitation; we probably won’t be doing it again for a while. If you really want to build your own creepy beastie, give it a shot yourself! There’s also a chance we’ll bring back this workshop for Halloween, so stay tuned!
Nicole and I will be leading a tinkering workshop at this year's Scratch Conference at the MIT Media Lab. We've been experimenting with different ways of incorporating scratch programming and computational thinking into some of our tinkering workshops. As we've been preparing for the workshop, we've focused on paper circuitry as a interesting way to investigate some of these topics.
So last week, we tried out the activity with our colleagues in the learning studio for the first time as a way to help us continue to iterate on the ideas. The participants worked in pairs and used the arduino extension for scratchx to program small paper circuit cards with LEDs, switches, and sensors. In the workshop with the team, we didn't get to constructing our own paper circuits since the explorations were so rich with the pre-made examples. As always it was really helpful to test out our ideas with the larger group and get there feedback. I wanted to share a few of the workshop elements we been developing beforehand to encourage tinkering as well as some of the insights gleaned from the rest of the team.
Nicole and I mounted arduinos on wooden blocks with the pins of the boards connected to copper nails, the same as our circuit board set for electricity explorations. The copper nails connected to a few of the pins limits the problem space, but to us still feels like an authentic way to present arduino boards without relying on extra shields or unusual parts. We also thought that by using the real components in a transparent way, we could imply a progression from the initial scratch exploration to more complex programming projects.
Often we've seen programming and arduino workshops that look complicated and not so inviting to novice participants. For this workshop, we built playful, fun, and colorful example cards with single gumdrop LEDs, premade switches and sensors, and RGB lights to communicate this attitude. We've found that this addition of artistic elements as well as a combination of high and low tech materials can give a more open invitation to join in the exploration of the same topics.
As we set up the environment for the workshop, we wanted to not focus primarily on the computers, but have them as just another tool alongside shared materials and inspiring examples. Our dogbone shaped table usually lends itself to more collaboration and sharing of ideas, which is even more of a challenge in screen based activities where it's not so easy to see others' work.
For the workshop with the team here we asked them to work in pairs which I think really helped propel the explorations forward. Having people contributing to a shared investigation allowed them to communicate about what they felt more comfortable with and learn from each other. The combination of objects in the physical world with the scratch programming give more space for thinking with one's hands and allows partners to share the problem space.
We also developed is a starting point sketch preloaded on #scratchX that both gives an example script and a photo of the components in the stage. In the past we had a paper handout with some example code and photos, but I'm excited about the possibilities for giving the necessary information right where you are already looking. Much like how we've started circuit block explorations with just batteries and bulbs, starting with single LEDs and a simple code gives a low threshold that may naturally lead to personalized investigations.
We always share results and ideas at the end of a workshop, and it was really cool to see how each of the groups worked on unique investigations involving buttons, sounds, and sensors. Although we only had the simple examples to mess around with, narratives and storytelling started to emerge. As with any tinkering activity, we are looking for varied outcomes that reflect the process of each group.
Interactive Light Painting: Pu Gong Ying Tu (Dandelion Painting) from Jie Qi on Vimeo. And we also think it's important to have a connection to the high ceilings possible with programming electronic artworks. By using the same basic materials of arduino, LEDs and copper tape, we can provide a quick introduction to the ideas using the same components that artists like Jie Qi use in their beautiful interactive installations.
We've started some experimentation with attinys that can be programmed with the arduino IDE and soldered directly to projects, and although that's too much to cover in a quick intro workshop we want to keep thinking of how this initial tinkering experience can be scaffolded so that learner's interests and skills can continue to develop with appropriate tools and materials.
We're really excited to share these experiments with a group of dedicated educators interested in scratch next week at the conference at the Media Lab. I'm sure we'll learn a lot from the experience of others there as we continue to prototype, refine, and test these playful ways to tinker with programming, computational thinking, storytelling, and personal expression.