29
Jul/16

Developing Scratchpaper Workshop

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.

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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. IMG_6394

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.

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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. IMG_6286

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.

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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. Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 1.36.59 PM

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.

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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. IMG_6444

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.

29
Jul/16

Creating Programming Curriculum

For the past two weeks we've been lucky to have two teachers from Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland in residence with us. Over the next week we'll be sharing posts on their reflections, experiments, and ideas they want to take back to school with them.

From Sarah:

Another area of focus during this residency has been to explore options for creative computer programming curriculum for 8th graders. With the big push in education around coding and Computer Science, there are an overwhelming amount of options for softwares/languages/kits for young people. Last year we went with using the Hummingbird Microcontrollers with Scratch, and we did an adaptation of the Robot Petting Zoo, This was an incredibly awesome and successful long term project as the physical programming was really engaging and allowed opportunities to manipulate tactile materials/tools (cardboard, wood, hot glue, paint, drills, saws etc) within the context of a programming class.

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Using the hummingbirds with scratch to design and build amazing cardboard robots provided students with a foundation of understanding of inputs: a variety of sensors, and outputs: servo and 360 motors, LED’s, sound and the concept of a “user experience”.
To build on a second year curriculum, I had been considering using the ATTiny’s with the Scratch Tiny AVR Programmer and doing some 21st C notebooking work. I love Jeannie Huffman’s work and her astute philosophy on using non-proprietary materials. However, seeing as the 7th graders had just dipped into using Scratch last year, it seemed wise to stay with Scratch to allow them to complexify their Computational thinking in that same format.
Lo and behold! The incredible folks (Nicole and Ryan) in the Tinkering Studio have been tinkering with using an Arduino Uno, Scratch X with paper circuits!

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It was so exciting (almost magical) to be able to observe and engage with them during the development of this idea. And since it worked so well...I feel this is the perfect next step for the 8th grade students to explore! Some of our students are already familiar with arduinos and it would be a great next step to programming out of the “kit”. What I am now working on is developing an experimental 12 week/4 hours a week/8th grade curriculum where students will take toys apart, harvest and identify components from the toy, and then attempt to create original artworks that are visual and/or audio based using both the up-cycled and new components that will be programmed using ScratchX and the Arduino Uno. That would be the in between step before stepping into using the Spark Fun tiny programmer with Ardunio language to solder an ATTiny85 into their work to be able to be more affordable, sellable and free of the large expensive board!

Overdeck Family Foundation

This collaboration is funded by the Overdeck Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

28
Jul/16

Toy Take Apart and Programming Paper Circuits with Arduino Uno & Scratch

For the past two weeks we've been lucky to have two teachers from Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland in residence with us. Over the next week we'll be sharing posts on their reflections, experiments, and ideas they want to take back to school with them.

From Sarah:

Circuit Bending & Harvesting Components from 2nd Hand Toys As a creative computer programming and after-school teacher, I was excited to explore the toy-take apart activity to see what I could glean for ideas. The toys I had to tinker with were all battery operated and ranged from a super simple (peng jia keyboard), to extremely complex (A robot dragon named Skylee, manufactured by Bossa Nova Robotics, that talks/senses/walks/and even is capable of having a dragon baby). The toys ranged in original retail price from $5-$60 but all were thrifted by the museum for around $1-3. I carefully deconstructed the toys using scissors, screwdrivers, wire snips and pliers.

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Every now and again I would come across a very stubborn screw, or a tough plastic piece that had to be muscled off, but for the most part, with some patience and perseverance, the toys were fairly easy to take apart. Once the inner-workings were revealed, one could easily identify the components (switches, motors, LED’s, speakers and circuit boards).

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After, I extracted the components and the circuit board, with wires intact, I embarked on a circuit bending exploration. This was fun because there is no real “right way” to circuit bend. The feeling of finding a new noise or effect after poking around with alligator clips is quite satisfying! Once I found a connection that changed the pitch or amount of light, I connected various dials (potentiometers) with alligator clips to adjust the amount of change in the sound. Not all potentiometers worked to make this happen, which led me to the question about what ranges of potentiometers exist? and how do they work? This led to the contemplation of resistance in an electrical circuit and how controlling resistance can lead to some neat sound and light effects. Using the parts of the disembodied Peng Jia keyboard, I added a dial, a push switch, an LED and mounted the parts to a round piece of plywood to create a new funky instrument that was more fun and weird than the original broken toy.

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I plan to use this activity with students in conversation around the systems that support the production and consumption of these types of products using the Agency by Design thinking routines of Parts/Purposes/Complexities and Parts/People/Interactions. As a 12-14 year old, I can only imagine it would be a fun learning experience to be encouraged to take apart some kids toys to see what is inside. As a learner, my curiosity led me to research/construct some understanding on how dials/potentiometers and resistance work in circuits. I also am interested in the psychological impact/effects at the middle school level of taking apart “kids toys”, something they have just “outgrown” as well as the significance of learning the art of careful deconstruction of a designed object to build understanding vs. just destroying things or throwing them away.

 

Overdeck Family Foundation

This collaboration is funded by the Overdeck Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

25
Jul/16

Mini Shadow Boxes!

For the past two weeks we've been lucky to have two teachers from Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland in residence with us. Over the next week we'll be sharing posts on their reflections, experiments, and ideas they want to take back to school with them.

From Joette:
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After completing my first set of residency goals I wanted to become more familiar with paper circuits. It's and activity that I have tried before and ran into some road blocks. After creating a few basic paper circuits, I began experimenting with different ways to craft with LED lights and stumbled onto this idea. The frame is made from a cut foam piece and a piece of cardstock glued to the back.

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I made a third box and wanted to go larger than the first set. I needed to add more LEDs because the size of the box. I ran into a couple of challenges with this box. I had trouble getting the lights bright enough. I also learned you cannot solder to aluminum conductive tape after 3 attempts :)

Overdeck Family Foundation

This collaboration is funded by the Overdeck Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

22
Jul/16

Setting Up My New Space!

For the past two weeks we've been lucky to have two teachers from Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland in residence with us. Over the next week we'll be sharing posts on their reflections, experiments, and ideas they want to take back to school with them.

From Joette:
I recently acquired additional storage space in the classroom where I teach my after school program enrichments. In the past, my supplies were stored in a mobile cart that would collapse under the weight and volume of my art supplies, a cabinet where I would store larger items and bringing up any additional supplies when needed from storage.

“What am I going to with all this new space?” was the first question that came to mind because I did not want to have a repeat of my last set-up . I wanted to have a space where my students could easily access materials, have more visibility of all their material options, and have a space that would be trouble free to organize and reorganize as the year progressed. During my residency at the Exploratorium I picked up many strategies and tips. Here are some:

  • Stackable storage containers that are uniform in size and make are easy to access, look neater and it makes removing them from a cabinet much easier
  • Open containers makes it hassle free for students to return materials to their correct place rather than opening multiple containers. Open containers also aids the teacher in monitoring the material supply level.
  • Pictures on the labels helps younger students comprehend what material goes in which container. If you have doors on your storage cabinet, placing pictures on the doors will also help students quickly identify what is inside.
  • Paper towel racks are great for keeping items on spindles organized and out of the way.

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Overdeck Family Foundation

This collaboration is funded by the Overdeck Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

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