Tag Archives: circuits

Elementary Electronics – Sewn LED bracelet

As part of our homeschool elementary electronics class, the kids wanted to finish up the class by making soft circuits, especially a sewn LED bracelet.

And I do mean kids because I specifically asked them – after the sewn flashlight difficulties if they were up to another round of sewing. They said yes. In fact, one fifth grader (who struggled a little with the sewing) said, “Well – I don’t know how to do it and that’s the point of learning, right? To try stuff you aren’t good at?” Oh, you could have melted my growth mindset heart!

A picture of three electronic bracelets.

Our family’s collection of hand-sewn LED bracelets.

After the success of the Chibitronics paper LED project, I knew this sewing design had to be more concrete and guided. A couple of hours (and one failed prototype) later), I had a structured lesson to present to the kids the next day.

Sewn LED Bracelet – Paper Prototype

I started by making a paper prototype. This way they could cut it out and see how their bracelet would fit together. The components would have to be placed a certain way so the bracelet could close and you could still see the LED. I also wanted to make it so that when they snapped it closed, the circuit closed and the LED lit up.

Hand-drawn paper prototype to give the kids a guide.

It was definitely helpful to have a paper guide for the students. So many of them wanted to jump ahead and try and figure it out – and that was okay. It was okay when we had to pull out their conductive thread because the circuit wouldn’t make any sense. Hopefully, those were learning moments for them. Mistakes always force us to look at the structure a little more carefully.

Hot glue guns help to move the project along.

Sewn LED bracelet – Process

My younger son and I had made his LED bracelet the night before class – for two reasons. First, I knew that I would need to help the other students and since he’s seven, he would need a lot of help. Second, I wanted to have a simple, finished product so the students could see how the circuits connected.

After everyone chose their LED and figured out how their battery pack worked, I brought them over – one-by-one-  to the hot gluing station. I glued their battery holder and snaps to the felt. This made it much easier for these elementary students to focus on sewing – without having to worry about pins keeping those components in place.

The hardest part was understanding how the battery would be connected to the LED. Since LEDs have be positioned a certain way (positive to positive), I went around to each student and made sure they would line up their LED correctly. They eventually figured it out and even though this class took an hour and a half – every single bracelet connected correctly. And they were so proud (and relieved?) that it lit up after all of their hard work.

Here’s the PDF Sewn LED bracelet (PDF) handout that I created for my students. If you are teacher, please feel free to use it, but do not reproduce or sell it without gaining permission. Thanks!

 

 

Elementary Electronics – Toy Take Apart

I’ve been facilitating an elementary electronics class with our local homeschool co-op and this week we took apart an electronic toy. The toy take apart was messy, chaotic and hopefully, a lot of fun.

The idea of a toy take apart came from the Tinkering Studio; it was one of the suggested activities in their course that I took two years ago. We’ve taken apart a lot of things at our house, but this was the first time I had the kids draw out their thoughts ahead of time. Since we’ve been studying circuits and playing with batteries and bulbs, I felt they would have a better understanding of how their electronic toy might work.

C, age 7, takes apart an old kid-friendly walkie-talkie.

Making Thinking Visible – Toy Take Apart

I was really hoping for a detailed drawing of how they thought the circuits would be connected to the sensors, however, I didn’t plan for the pure excitement (and impatience) of a group of 8-11 year-olds. They were itching to take their old toys apart. Their hands were filled with screwdrivers and hammers (eek!) and exacto knives (for those with plush toys). Since we are a small group, each kid had his own toy to take apart.

R has been wanting to take this doll apart since we found her at Goodwill last year.

Initially, I was going to do a toy take apart as the first class. I thought it would be a fun activity that would get the kids excited about electronics. The timing didn’t work out and I had to postpone it, but I’m glad I did. The Tinkering Studio had it right – the kids had a better understanding of what they were looking at since they had done some experimenting beforehand.

There were still a lot of things that they didn’t recognize (and I didn’t either), but I think it gave them the same sense of power that I get every time I discover the mystery behind a product:  this isn’t nearly as complicated as it looks and there’s no reason to be frightened of it.

Lessons Learned – Toy Take Apart

Since we are a homeschool co-op, most of the parents are around, if needed. For the younger kids, they definitely needed a parent. I was busy helping another child when my youngest son, age 7, cut himself with a screwdriver. He was trying to pry open a piece of plastic and had watched some older kids use a screwdriver with much success. Sadly, the piece he was trying to crack open was still screwed shut. He didn’t look around to see if there was anything he could undo first. He ended up being fine – it just sliced the surface of his hand – but it gave me something to think about. I think it would have been helpful to pair the kids up – an older kid with a younger one, and add a parent to watch over the group.

That would be tough to do in a large classroom – unless you had parent volunteers. You could probably get around that problem if everyone had the same thing to take apart, such as a simple push flashlight. That’s how I solved the problem in my Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids class, but I was hoping for a little more creative license for this one. Oh well – lessons learned. Safety first.

Elementary Electronics – Chibitronics LED Stickers

It’s my turn to teach (again) with our small homeschool co-op, and this semester I offered to teach elementary electronics. Everyone (parents and students) seemed interested and I finally had a chance to use my electronic art skills. My circuit knowledge has been growing a little rusty since last year’s Space Camp.

R’s modified Chibitronics robot.

Upper Elementary Electronics Class

Since I designed the curriculum, I chose to focus on circuits and how to use them (as much as possible) with art. Don’t worry – we still called the class “elementary electronics.” Each session was roughly an hour. The following is a general schedule of the course:

  • Week 1: Electricity vs. electronics
    • Intro video from Popular Mechanics for Kids (about 15 minutes worth).
    • Homework sheet to fill out using these two web sites (NAS and Explain That Stuff).
    • I wanted them to know that electricity = energy = secondary source
  • Week 2:B is for Battery” video from AdaFruit.
  • Week 3: Electricity is lazy.
    • Insulators vs. conductors experiment using circuit blocks to demonstrate;
    • The kids stripped some wire – just for fun
  • Week 4:D is for Diode” video from AdaFruit.
  • Week 5: Parallel vs. series circuits, video
  • Week 6: LED Chibitronics sticker art (see pictures below).
  • Week 7: Reviewed parallel vs. series circuits.
    • I asked the kids to build a series and a parallel circuit from the circuit blocks.
    • They also took apart an old toy.
  • Week 8: Sewn Circuits: LED bracelet
  • Week 9: Field trip to ThemeWorks, Inc., a local business

Circuit Sticker Art

Throughout the course, the kids were willing to try new things and they only complained a little bit about the sewing (and not all of them, just a few). They played around with the circuit blocks, made some cool things and hopefully, learned the difference between an open and closed circuit.

When it came time to actually put together some circuits, I found they needed some simple, guided activities before moving on to freely creative exploits. Since we were using the Chibitronics circuit stickers to create parallel circuits, I wanted a little more direct instruction. (Those stickers aren’t cheap)! I printed out this Chibitronics template, and my oldest son and I both made a sample. He modified his a little – he traced the robot, but designed it himself – and I made a starry sky (see the photos above). We both used the provided guidelines for the parallel circuits (photo below).

The robot on the left used copper tape to connect the circuit stickers to the battery while the night sky used conductive ink.

Conductive Ink vs. Copper Tape

If you had asked me last year, I would have said copper tape was too difficult for elementary students. I would have argued that conductive ink pens are far superior for solder-free projects. Sadly, my son and I found that our ink pen wasn’t nearly as effective as the copper tape with adhesive glue. I wonder if Circuit Scribe changed their formula in the past six months? (We bought ours from Amazon). I’ve had great luck with them in the past, but my eleven-year-old could not get his Chibitronics stickers to light up. We ended up covering the ink with copper tape (and covering the stickers as well) – and voila! It worked! This is the tape we used.

Students used the lines provided in the template to lay out their copper tape.

Age Group Suggestions

Since we had guided lesson plans, this project was pretty easy for all of the members of our group. My younger son (age 7) needed some help from me, but was able to do most of the copper tape by himself. In addition to marking the positive and negative current flow, I also flattened the corners for him, however, he got a great kick out of decorating his robot and placing the circuit stickers.

a picture of a 2D robot that has a light up heart

C’s light-up robot

This project was a perfect capstone project for the upper age limits of our group (ten-and- eleven-year-olds). They could do it on their own and a couple of them modified their outer designs. If I were to do this class again, I would still do this project first. However, for the next class, I would challenge them to create paper prototypes using these stickers. They could apply their knowledge of parallel circuits in a whole new way.

After the students had made their projects and were proud of their own accomplishments, I showed them Jie Qi’s electrified Dandelion Painting. The kids (and adults) were appropriately impressed with her copper tape skills. Plus, they actually understood how it worked – and asked some very interesting questions.

 

 

LED Embroidered Art

LED embroidered art

Lit up with LED Chibitronic stickers, conductive ink and some conductive thread.

Not surprisingly, I love art.

I love to make art. I love to draw, to paint, to sew, to embroider and to knit. I like to attend musicals and theater performances, and I loved tap dancing in college. But, like most people, my art is done on the side and usually done at home. It has changed mediums over the years – from drawing to sewing to knitting, but it’s always there. The creative side of my INFJ personality needs some sort of artistic outlet.

Thankfully, as I have delved more deeply into the study of robotics, programming and electronics, I see more ways to mesh art with simple technology. In fact, there was a whole field of study at MIT with a focus on high-tech and low-tech. How much fun do you think those grad students had?!

chibitronic and conductive ink

Using the Circuit Scribe conductive ink pen, I added a Chibitronic SMD LED sticker and a coin cell battery. Instant flow of electrons!

If you are in the Gainesville area, you may be interested in how UF students are combining art and science. A friend tuned me into this limited exhibit and I can’t wait to check it out.

LED Embroidered Art

As I was brainstorming samples for the upcoming Making in Action camp, I was messing around with a conductive ink pen and some leftover Chibitronic LED stickers. Voila! What if I hand-embroidered a picture and found a way to light it up?

First, I brainstormed something to embroider on card stock. I was inspired by fireworks, so I drew out the pattern and made sure to poke holes in the card stock (with my needle) before I tried to embroider. I also determined where I would put the LED lights. I knew I wanted them in the middle of my embroidered fireworks.

hand embroidered art

I used a Crewel size 12 needle and only 3 strands of embroidery floss.

Lately, embroidering has become a zen-like activity for me. I like the ease of use, and the accomplishment that I get from quickly finishing a piece.

B&W Hand-embroidered fireworks

I like how you can see the contrast of the colors in this black and white photo.

After I finished the embroidery, I started work on the LED lights. I knew I needed parallel circuits  to power the three LEDs, so I sketched out my circuit path onto another piece of cardstock. I made sure to mark where the LEDs would line up.

Then, after a little bit of testing and rummaging through my electronics stash, I came up with a Lilypad battery holder (with embedded on/off switch) and some conductive thread. After a failed attempt at soldering the thread to the conductive ink, I settled for a piece of Scotch tape.

IMG_2291IMG_2292

IMG_2293 IMG_2294

Place the LED card behind the embroidered card and enclose in a frame, making sure to allow the battery to be connected to the backside of the frame. That’s the purpose of the conductive thread. Hot glue the battery holder onto the back of the frame and your light-up LED embroidered art project is ready to display. Feel free to “wow” friends, in-laws, and hopefully, the parents of the kids you teach.

LED Embroidered Art - small

Lit up with LED Chibitronic stickers, conductive ink and some conductive thread.

Book Review :: Making Makers

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

picture of cover of making makers

Published by Make and written by AnnMarie Thomas, Making Makers is a good read.

Making Makers

Audience: Parents and Teacher
Thomas, AnnMarie. Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation. Foreward by Dale Dougherty. Maker Media: Sebastopol, CA, 2014

AnnMarie Thomas is an engineering professor (and parent) whose research focuses on technological literacy in K-12 environments. She is a leader in promoting play and learning, especially with regards to hands-on science materials for young children. Her five-minute TED talk on squishy circuits is fabulous, and I’m including it here:

Making Makers – the book

‘Make’ publishes some great books, and Thomas’ Making Makers is no exception. Many are written in narrative form and provide tons of examples and anecdotal stories. It would be nice if the grainy black and white pictures were better, but I think that keeps the price down.  I would much rather read about the inspirational projects featured in each book.

A picture of a grainy black and white picture from the book, Making Makers

While interviewing a number of professional “makers,” Thomas discovered a few traits that many makers seem to have. They don’t have every trait, but they might have a few, or they might have many. It seems to depend on what type of medium they are working with (robots, electronics, fabrics). Obviously, since she is an engineer, there is a heavy emphasis on electronic and engineering projects, but she is quick to note that sewing is definitely part of the maker movement. Who knew that all of those years ago when I taught myself how to sew, I really wanted to be a maker?

This book is sprinkled with interviews and stories about “makers” around the country. Most of them are well-respected in their fields and it’s fascinating to find out how they “fell” into their professions. Some had a love for it as children, while others were just creative, make-do kind of people and could switch mediums as they discovered a new interest.

picture of the table of contents from book, making makers

Becoming an Engineer

As a parent, I was interested in finding out how I could assist the “making” process that is already going on in my home. In her book, I found a lot of similarities between the skills I learned during my Montessori training, and those that I picked up from reading current educational research. Some of the best practices seem centered on encouraging your children’s “tinkering” interests, facilitating their learning (or finding someone who can) and making a point to continue learning yourself – all while trying to maintain a growth mindset.

Traditionally, many of our strong engineering students came from farming backgrounds. They would arrive at the university with hands-on experience maintaining and building equipment….while the mechanical savvy that many “farm kids” possess is often discussed, I see that as just one attribute shared among this group. Farm families depend on all members to do their part in getting the work done, and thus most farm kids grow up with a strong sense of responsibility.                       AnnMarie Thomas, Raising Makers.

My oldest son has been saying, since before the age of six, that he wants to be a robot engineer. Will he become one as adult? Who knows? My husband and I don’t care either way, but I do want to prepare him for the eventuality. As the grandson of two mechanically-inclined grandfathers, if there is an engineering gene – he has it. One grandfather was a “farm kid” who has a degree in engineering and the other can build anything out of wood. But, our sons aren’t being raised on a farm, and while we do have some  backyard chickens, I don’t think they count toward “farm life.”

So how is a Montessori tech librarian supposed to change her behavior to accommodate all of these future engineers?  Thankfully, it seems that all of the sewing and reading that we do also contributes to an engineering mindset.

Significance of Being a Reader

There was one point Thomas made that has stayed with me. She mentioned that most of these makers were avid readers as children. They weren’t all “good” students in school. Some struggled, some didn’t do the work, and some did well, but still had to work for their knowledge. However, they all knew how to find out more information – through books.

Although the web has made it “easier” to find certain things, the fact remains that books are still a great resource to begin your research. Certainly, I’m not discounting the wonderful information online, but I have found that we still need a good combination of both tools. Books and web research, combined with a good mentor, seems to be the path to successful learning. Of course, the interest has to be there first.

picture of green LED

You can’t see the 2 AA batteries that are powering the green LED, but the multimeter is measuring their voltage.

 

LED Constellation Art Project

A picture of a light-up LED constellation - cancer the crab

Made by R, age 10.

When I was initially asked if I wanted to be a part of Space Camp, I was hesitant to say yes. I think space and stars are pretty amazing, but I do not feel confident teaching others about them. I have a lot of varied interests, but space is not one of them.

Then, the director asked me if I was interested in the art and craft class. Oh my – yes!!!

While they were completely open to new ideas, they had already thought about some sort of LED constellation art project. I thought that was perfect and right up my alley. I’ve been playing a lot with LEDs and I’ve always been interested in art. This was in November and I quickly began prototyping. I was hoping that we could hard wire the LEDs, but I expected that it might be too difficult for inexperienced students.

Research

Although my family and I like to look at the stars, I don’t have a strong background in space. I needed to read more about constellations and how to identify them. After choosing some books from the library, I realized that I needed something with accurate, but simple illustrations of the constellations. Thankfully, I stumbled upon these two activity books:

A picture of two constellation activity books

Activity books on constellations, written for kids

Wiring the LEDs

I probably should have started with getting the paint ‘just right,’ but instead I grabbed some black and glitter paint and did the quickest job I could…so that I could figure out how to light up the stars.

My first attempt was with copper tape and SMD LEDs. Fail.

My second attempt was with copper tape and Chibitronic LED stickers. Not bad, but I thought it might be too much of a dexterity issue to get them onto canvas. Fail.

My third attempt had me stripping copper wire and twisting LEDs. Success!!! But…way too difficult for young kids. Not to mention all of those exposed wires.

A picture of wires at the back of an art canvas

I’ve since found better wires to use, but this was your standard copper wire from Lowe’s, wired to a salvaged battery holder from an old toy.

Finally, I stumbled across these micro LED lights and knew that this would make it easy for the kids to light up their constellations. After another quick ‘night’ paint job, I made the prototype from which I based my lessons.

A picture of the big dipper in LED lights

The big dipper, which I’ve since learned is not a stand alone constellation, but rather part of a larger one, Ursa Major.

For my class, I was lucky enough to have two sessions that lasted an hour and a half. This left plenty of time for discussion and work time. On the first day, we talked about a variety of constellations, but I asked them over and over again, “what do you notice?” I wanted them to see that the night sky was made up of many different colors. There were heavy concentrations of stars in certain areas, but depending on the time, or location that the picture was taken, the stars might have been a light sprinkling.  I wasn’t teaching about the constellations (thank goodness), merely reinforcing the other lessons they were getting from the head of the Planetarium (the guy with the PhD in Astronomy). Thankfully, I found the series, ‘Crash Course for Kids,’ and showed my students the videos on groups of stars and the one on how to locate constellations.  Since we were painting and doing other art activities on the first day of camp, I wanted to draw their attention to the colors and patterns. To truly observe.

The students finished their canvases that first day and by our second session, they were dry and ready to light up. On that second day, I turned my focus to discussing circuits, LEDs and coin cell batteries. I even brought my homemade circuit blocks.

picture of batteries and siren

The output device only works when it’s a closed circuit. This is a rather annoying, but effective, buzzer.

LED Constellation Art Project – Materials Needed

  • 8 x 10 art canvas (from Hobby Lobby)
  • Paintbrushes & Palette
  • Toothbrush for flicking on glitter
  • Paint (see picture below)
  • Newspapers or butcher paper to cover table
  • LED light string
  • Hot glue gun and glue
  • Exacto knife
  • Pencil for tracing constellation
  • Tracing Paper
  • Carbon paper
  • Paper to test carbon paper
  • Micro LED string of lights

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Hand out small bits of carbon paper and let the kids figure out how it works.
  2. Choose a constellation from one of the activity books or draw your own.
  3. Trace or draw your constellation onto the tracing paper. Set aside.
    1. Note – If drawing, be sure your constellation fits in the middle of the canvas. BE MINDFUL of the wooden frame. The lights have to poke through from the back.
Picture of traced constellation

Tracing paper helped the students to make accurate constellations.

4. Place the carbon paper (dark side down) in the middle of the canvas. Set your traced constellation on top and retrace the constellation with your pencil. Remove the carbon paper and see that your constellation is on your canvas.

carbon paper transfer of constellation
5. Circle the stars so that students know to paint around them. Have students write their name on the back of the canvas. Include the name of the constellation, direction and months that you can find it in the sky. Example: Cygnus, December – February, facing North
6. Play around with the paints – mix orange and blue and see how you can get darker blue. Add gray to black, what happens? You can mix glitter paint into the black to get very subtle sparkles.

pain palette
7. Paint your canvas. Paint the sides first so they can dry.

pciture of black painted canvas

Circle the stars so your student knows to paint around them.

8. Take your canvas outside and bring along the toothbrush, the glitter paint and some red paint. Love the red stars.
9. The stiff bristles on an old toothbrush are used to make a nice splatter effect of stars.
10. Set aside and let dry for 24 hours.

LED constellation art project

Flick the glitter paint on at the end so it really pops!

Adding the LEDs to our LED Constellation Art Project

Since I really wanted to make this an art & tech project, I built the second day’s lessons around circuits and batteries. We started with a discussion on what they knew about LEDs and coin cell batteries, passed out some single LEDs and watched these two videos from Adafruit’s Circuit Playground: B is for Battery and D is for Diode.

A picture of a green LED wrapped around a coin cell battery

I handed out one coin cell battery and one LED and asked the students to figure out how to light it up.

Then, we unwrapped the micro LED set of lights and everyone put in the batteries to make sure the lights worked. Surprisingly, they all did.

The coordinators felt that it was safer if the adults used the exacto knives to cut into the canvases, so the kids each had their stars marked by a little “x.” Then, off they went to the pre-heated hot glue guns to secure the lights to their canvas.

A pciture of a canvas with an axacto knife

Make a small x with the knife so that the LED can poke through form the back.

Voila!

An instant project that will help students remember the layout of their favorite constellation. Coin cell batteries do not have a long shelf life (8 hours, I think), but thankfully, these lights come with an on/off switch.

A picture of the back of an art canvas

Tuck in the extra, leftover lights…or, hot glue them to the back so they stay in place.

 

SFC Space Camp

A picture of a canvas with LED lights that make the constellation cygnet

My first attempt at an LED constellation…now being used as a teaching tool.

SFC Space Camp

This week, I’m excited to be teaching and facilitating for Santa Fe College’s ‘Space Camp.’ I’m leading the art and craft component and we will be doing art and tech while being immersed in constellations and circuits. Here’s what we’re making:

A picture of a light-up LED constellation - cancer the crab

That’s the constellation Cancer the Crab. Made by R, age 10.

Detailed instructions to follow…

Book Review – Mindstorms

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

A picture of the book, Mindstorms, by Seymour Papert

As relevant today as it was 35 years ago…

Target Audience: Adults (especially teachers, parents)
Papert, Seymour. Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. 2nd ed. Perseus Books: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1993.

Mindstorms

It’s taken me awhile to write this review, partly because I have so much to say and yet, I’m not sure how to organize everything I’ve read. Quite frankly, I really need to read the book again, but I had to return it since I borrowed it via interlibrary loan. It was as if I found myself at an amusement park, but only had an hour left before it closed. What would I do and what was the most important thing that I wanted to see? Sometimes, you just need to sit and think about it. That being said, I am going to attempt to provide an overview, but wanted to throw it out there that I could have used a little more time to digest the information.

A picture of the Table of Contents from the book, Mindstorms, by Seymour Papert

I do think I understood the overall point of his book, namely that students should be learning with more real-life experiences, thus constructing their own knowledge, and computers can be used to help them reflect their learning. However, he seems to differ in his educational thinking from the Montessori method because he acknowledges that interest plays a big role in how well a student learns. For example, in a primary Montessori classroom, students are encouraged to explore their own interests, but there is a limited prepared environment from which they can explore. Papert seems to advocate for an open-ended, real-life curriculum where a student can explore their own interests in daily life, but still be guided by a facilitator.  I thought it sounded a lot like project-based learning with a little bit of homeschooling thrown in.

But ‘teaching without curriculum’ does not mean spontaneous, free-form classrooms or simply ‘leaving the child alone.’ It means supporting children as they build their own intellectual structures with materials drawn from the surrounding culture.
– p. 32

Throughout the book, he uses his own interests – gears and mathematics – to make the case for creative computer use in schools and learning. In chapter one, he discusses the culture of computers and the hopes (and fears) teachers and educators have for their use in school. He mentions that there is indeed a potential for students to only consume computer programs, to use them to idly fill up their time, but that others will use them to make further explorations. It might allow children to tackle complex subjects at an earlier age because physical barriers, such as handwriting and spelling, will be eliminated by the use of computers.

Though the book was originally published in 1980, this second edition was published in 1993. So, how can a book on ‘computers in schools’ still be relevant more than 20 years later?

A picture of the opening screen of a Scratch project.

A mini-project on the country of Greece. Programmed completely by R, age 9.5.

Sadly, it’s incredibly relevant because computers are still primarily being used to transmit information. It’s top-down learning where a teacher dictates what a student will learn rather than using the computer to help a child to express the concepts that they learned and make their own changes. Papert advocates for using computers to help students see what they are learning, for them to construct their own knowledge based on the programs they are running. While the topic they tested included geometry concepts, he acknowledges that computers could and should be used in other ways.

A picture from the book, Mindstorms. It shows simple line drawings that could be made withthe robot turtle.

A sampling of projects that students could make, and while doing so would learn key math concepts.

He and his colleagues created the LOGO computer language and used it to teach geometry. Since Papert’s background, training and interests are in mathematics, he uses math as a backdrop to explain his theories and his desire to see our thinking made visible. This is especially relevant to me as I am always on the look out for more reality-based ways of using math with my own children. I will admit that he sometimes lost me during his mathspeak (it has been 25 years since I took geometry), but it really isn’t about learning geometry, it’s about learning how to make learning visible so that the students can recognize their mistakes, fix their “bugs” and learn how to learn. He was definitely an advocate of a growth mindset before it became a ubiquitous term.

Our children grow up in a culture permeated with the idea that there are ‘smart people’ and ‘dumb people’…as a result, children perceive failure as relegating them either to the group of ‘dumb people’ or, more often, to a group of people ‘dumb at x.
– p.43

Teaching fifth graders how to program with the simplified text-based language of LOGO was not meant to teach them to be programmers, but rather to help them express their ideas of geometry. Papert wasn’t talking about specific programs (or apps), rather he was discussing learning in general, thinking about thinking, and using computers to express that learning. In fact, he meant for the LOGO turtle to show them where they made mistakes so that they could learn to fix them – in context. No teacher required, thus making the learning more valuable and sticky.

A sample project of how a student fixed their own "bug," by noticing that the line drawing was not going out (to form a triangular roof), but was going in instead.

A sample project of how a student fixed their own “bug,” by noticing that the line drawing was not going out (to form a triangular roof), but was going in instead.

This book has made it very clear that the creators of the icon-based programming language, Scratch, were following in his work and wanted to honor his vision of constructionist learning.  Having read some of their papers on Scratch and taken the course on Tinkering from the Exploratorium Museum, I was able to understand much more about how and why these tools were developed.

A picture of 3 AAA batteries, alligator clips and a tiny lightbulb.

I made these circuit blocks while taking the Tinkering with STEM course. A great way to help students learn about direct current.

As might be expected from a book on education from a computer scientist, his theories and main ideas are sometimes muddled and he seems to jump from one abstract topic to the next. His work with LOGO was partially based on his work with Jean Piaget in the 1960s and partially from his own work at MIT where he worked on artificial intelligence. His theories are sometimes unclear, I think, because he doesn’t want to have a prescribed curriculum. Also, there’s the question of cognitive, age-based abilities. Was he advocating for preschoolers to use a computer to reflect their learning? I don’t know.

That being said, I really enjoyed being challenged by this book. It made me rethink some of my own teachings and I am now ready to tackle the Making Thinking Visible book that has been sitting on my shelf since last fall.

A picture of the book, Making Thinking Visible.

From the Harvard-based project that tried to help students see (and change) their own learning.

 

 

 

 

 

Circuit Blocks, Circuit Cards

Circuit Blocks

In anticipation of teaching next week, I have been creating more hands-on activities to go along with my lesson on circuits and batteries. Circuit blocks, circuit cards, sewn circuit components…

A picture of 3 AAA batteries, alligator clips and a small, un-lit lightbulb

This circuit is open and the light bulb is not lit.

A picture of 3 AAA batteries, alligator clips and a tiny lightbulb.

These circuit blocks are a great way to help students learn about direct current.

Last summer, I made these wooden blocks during the free, online course from The Exploratorium Museum. The course, ‘Tinkering Fundamentals‘, showcased circuits and how to use these blocks as part of a constructionist approach to learning. For me, they were somewhat frustrating to make, so the thought of making more was not that appealing. Thankfully, I recently stumbled across these paper-based circuit cards.

 

A picture of paper circuits wth copper tape and connected with binder clips to keep the electricity connected.

The copper tape conducts the electricity that flows from the battery. When the switch is pushed, the LED will light up.

A picture of homemade cardboard circuit cards to teach about direct current

I used a switch from the Lectrify set, but had to solder it to the copper tape.

Circuit Cards

I had everything on hand – copper tape, binder clips, extra battery holders and some Chibitronic LED stickers (which made the whole process a heck of a lot easier). Add in an old cereal box and I was able to quickly make these cards, all while waiting for the soldering iron to heat up.

It was really nice to make something with copper tape, especially something that works consistently. For the last few days, I have been messing around with copper tape and Lectrify components, but nothing was working. I even tried conductive paint, but that didn’t work either. I’ve come to realize that soldering the components might be the key.

Unfortunately, that’s disappointing for a teacher who isn’t allowed to have soldering irons in a classroom. And, perhaps, isn’t quite ready for her young students to have access to such tools.

WizzBangz owner Gwen Thompson turned me on to these kid-friendly circuit components.

WizzBangz owner Gwen Thompson turned me on to these kid-friendly circuit components. The parts break off the board when you are ready to use them elsewhere.

The Chibitronic stickers eliminate the need for soldering tiny SMD LEDs, but at a $1 per sticker, they aren’t exactly affordable for a multi-student classroom, whereas the Lectrify components are reusable and nicely priced at $5 per set.

But, this is just the beginning of my research with the Lectrify components. I’m excited to continue researching new ways to use them. They were designed to work with Legos and my boys are already thinking of ways to test them. Up next for me? I want to try hard-wiring the components. Or, try using them in sewn circuit blocks.

A picture of yellow alligator clips connected to a coinc ell battery and a green LED

Taking an idea from The Exploratorium, I’m making multiple iterations of circuit blocks to help my students become more familiar with circuits.

But, in the meantime, I’m going to make a few more circuit cards. I need more battery holders and my ten-year-old suggested making cards of single strips of copper tape. He thinks it might be easier to create circuits. I think he might have a point.