sketchpad

Making Digital Sounds for Physical Objects

17
Nov/17

Last Thursday we hosted our last BAME (Bay Area Maker Educators) meet-up of 2017. Our theme for the night was Making Digital Sounds for Physical Objects and we explored the intersection of microcontrollers, software, and different types of interactive sound making materials. This event was timely for our team because we are currently exploring concepts and ideas around computational thinking and sound.

For the event, Sebastian and I set up workstations throughout the Learning Studio. Every station had a microcontroller (a MakeyMakey, Bare Conductive, or Playtronica board) along with physical objects. Aluminum foil collages, Lego motors and Lego technic pieces, markers, small plastic animals, and copper tape were some of the materials available for participants.

We were fortunate to have many returning BAMErs join us this evening. The evening felt like a small family reunion and folks settled right into a comfortable evening of tinkering.

Map of San Jose by Corinne Okada Takara

Artist Corinne Okada Takara came prepared to the event with a prototype to work on. Corinne was inspired by Sebastian’s record disk that she saw on Twitter. She adapted her design and added winding paths of copper tape tracing waterways of San Jose. A laser cut map was the base for her record so that students could have a deeper understanding of the city they live in. She also recorded sounds that corresponded with the waterways and landmarks of the map. She mounted her record on a toy helicopter launcher as a low cost alternative to a motor.

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I really appreciated Corinne sharing her work with us and am interested to have participants bring what they are working on to future events. Another great attribute to her interactive map was the storytelling quality. Storytelling and STEM is an idea we revisit often and we are excited to see how students working with Corinne will use maps like this to tell a story about their hometown.

Paper, Tape, and Foil Collages

We created two stations that had aluminum and copper tape starting points. These tables were playful and allowed participants to contribute using paper cutting and crafting techniques. I designed oversized sensors from aluminum foil and a second emoji-inspired table. Each table was covered with butcher paper so that designs could be glued straight to the paper.

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Dora Medrano, Jonathan Lai, and Dom Diglera from the Lawrence Hall of Science started the evening exploring the large table. They experienced trouble with the Bare Conductive board as they built different sensors, but restarting the board did the trick. Later, Leah Strichartz and Claire Comins designed at the smaller table. These set-ups provided an opportunity to collage and create artwork that linked to different sounds. For some, the sounds inspired the designs, while the object was inspirational to others.

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Another interesting direction for projects involved motorized switches to trigger sounds using Scratch online platform and MakeyMakey controllers.

scales with scratch

A pair of BAMErs Walt Hays and Jenn Beach managed to program one of these rotating switches to play a full set of scales every 7 rotations. They tested and iterated on their Scratch code multiple times to achieve this goal.

Dora, Jonathan, and Saskia Leggett focused on personalizing the rotating switch by adding physical objects. They then matched the perfect sound to their contraption: a rotating switch stroking a fantastical animal.

These switch explorations caused attendants to grapple with the more nuanced aspects of programming, such as conditional loops and operators. We are looking forward to building on these ideas as we are working toward rich programming and computation qualities of tinkering activities. Overall, we were amazed by the variety of explorations, a quality that we strive for in tinkering activities. This BAME was an opportunity for us to share our new work as well as collaboratively develop it further.

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