Feb 1, 2012

Prototype: Connector Switch

This is a switch made of copper tape and a 10k resistor plugged into an Arduino. Eventually the 10k will be replaced by graphite. Continue reading »

Jan 31, 2012

Scrapyard Challenge JR Curriculum

Over winter break I collaborated with Katherine Moriwaki, Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Louisa Campbell, Joe Saavedra, and Liz Taylor to develop a day long workshop for elementary school students and their parents called Scrapyard Challenge JR. Katherine and Jonah are the co-creators of the Scrapyard Challenge, a workshop that allows participants with no previous knowledge of electronics to design interfaces by integrating conductive materials into found or discarded objects. Participants create wearable objects or instruments from these materials then plug them into a MIDI controller that generates sound when an electrical connection is made. The focus and concept behind these workshops is to broaden access to a design toolkit (physical computing) that is largely unavailable (due to interest, exposure, or funding) to most people. Katherine and Jonah have run this workshop in over 20 countries over the past seven years, but their most current venture has been to adapt the activities and hardware for a younger audience under the banner of informal science learning.


Unlike many informal science learning settings and workshops, Katherine and Jonah approach this domain through an art and design lens. Recently, they have become very vocal supporters of STEAM learning, an alternative approach to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) by including an “A” for art. This approach is not only more interdisciplinary, but also appeals to a much wider population of students who have no interest in science or who do not identify as science learners. Scrapyard Challenge was therefore elegantly poised for translation to the kiddies (classified by age or age at heart).

We planned to have four stations at the workshop: Bottle Violins, Drawbot, Aluminum Foil Bands, and Squishy Circuits (see below – right now the PDFs are HUGE so they are jpgs for now).


My role in the group was as a curriculum designer. My goal was to develop a Frankensteinian guide, part self-guided instructable, part support for classroom integration. While I am not sure if this counts as one of my own prototypes for thesis, the insight I gained into the structure, format, level of clarity, and desired outcomes for my own thesis was immense. I can classify this into two categories: (1) the technical design of the document, including hierarchy, necessary elements, documentation process, etc. and (2) the conceptual turn back to informal spaces.


Layout and Information Hierarchy
Most curricula or lesson plans are horribly designed – not in terms of the actual activity, but the way in which the information is conveyed. An ill-designed lesson can subvert the learning goals if teachers themselves cannot connect the objectives or meaningful questions back to the actual activity process. This can prevent invaluable “teachable moments” (that split second where a student translates passive learning to a deeper understanding through application or questioning) and even worse can leave learners more confused or disengaged than before. This is not to say you can always reach every student – which is why these moments are so important – it is internalized in the learner, becoming more intuitive and accessible later.

Documentation Process
If teaching is the highest form of understanding (thanks Aristotle), then everyone should be required to make an instructable. Documenting the process of making these projects with a much younger audience in mind forces you to negotiate obscure or expert language and to decompose a larger challenge into procedural bits (such an process is a exercise in computational thinking in fact!). Creating these lessons challenged me to properly explain these concepts to an audience for whom resistance had more meaning as a social or historical term.

Language aside, it also forced all of us to deeply consider the activities 5 – 7 year olds could physically engage in based on their motor skills, etc. For example, could they strip wires? (Sometimes) Could they peel a piece of tape off a backing (Not really) Could they mold playdough into a sandwich? (Absolutely) Safety was another big concern that we took pains to account for, not so much for the risk of an electric shock but for a sharp wire.


I found that in designing these lessons, I felt constantly torn between my need to adhere to the guidelines of rigid classroom lesson formats and more exploratory program curriculum I have written and analyzed in the past. For as weird as this may sound, it became somewhat of a volatile internal battlefield: teachers are more likely to adopt if it is within the confines they know and must teach (which they generally have major issues with as well), yet the learning potential of the student diminishes if s/he is not allowed to explore and follow their own interests. If the goal is for the learner to take active agency over their learning, informal spaces are it, ESPECIALLY IN THE SCIENCES.

Over the break (and largely in preparing for this project), I did a large amount of research into assessing informal science learning spaces. Combining this with past experience, I believe the crux of broadening science learning really lies in assessment. Formal is imposition and informal is fusion.

This, however, is not a reactionary discourse against formal learning spaces – they are necessary as well. It is to say that the design challenges inherent across informal learning are much more personally fulfilling and exciting to moderate. Since this post is already long enough, I will discuss this further in another post.

Dec 27, 2011


Here sits a vast compendium of resources and information regarding my thesis. Most of them have links to the original document, but if anyone is reading this and would like a copy of one, please contact me and I will pass it along!
Continue reading »

Dec 25, 2011

SoundBOXES: Final

The goal of this project was to construct a musical interface. Instead of creating a series of different switches for input that are connected to various actuators, I sought to design an interface in which the input was the actuator. My initial concept was to create a tower (actually towers) of sound. After a few experiments with paper speakers, I was interested in pushing the boundaries of the form and physics. Continue reading »

Dec 24, 2011

Thermochromic Interaction

Here is an update to a prototype I posted a couple months ago. While the relevance to my thesis was much more tangible in earlier stages of the thesis concept development, it is still very focus on materials and the potential for new interactions through new and alternative applications.

Continue reading »

Dec 22, 2011

IRB (Very Rough) Draft

Here is my initial version of the IRB, albeit without any of the participant forms, questionnaires, etc. All to come over winter break!

Dec 20, 2011

Short Circuit Workshop 2: Hack a Greeting Card, Make a Boombox

I had the opportunity to run a second session with the same Short Circuit afterschool group the following Thursday after the first workshop. This was the second of a two part activity in which the student worked in groups of two (1) to hack a greeting card circuit and (2) to design an enclosure that would become their own boombox. The lead mentor decided to implement this activity as a new approach to teaching electrical concepts of resistance after the unsuccessful oscillator sound circuit workshop the week before. The added layer of design was key in the success of this workshop and added a contextual element to the activity that was missing the week before.
Continue reading »

Dec 20, 2011

Writing + Research Design Journal

Click here to download my design journal. (And check back frequently for updates!)

Dec 19, 2011

Thesis Proposal: Fall 2011

Click here to download the full proposal.