Last month for After Dark: Delightful Devices, we decided to pursue exploring all things projector-related. In the main workshop area we hosted a direct animation workshop. The process of direct animation works by either animating onto blank "leader" film with sharpies or stamps or manipulating existing film stock by scratching away the emulsion with an assortment of sharp tools (dental picks work especially well). This technique has been used in the past for creating experimental films and for adding analog effects to movies.
There was a 16mm projector set up where participants could see the films they made projected. Sam, from our Cinema Arts team, showed us that a strip of film about 3 feet long could be spliced end-to-end to create a continuous looping animation. Most folks chose to screen their animation right after completing it. We also had the option to leave your animation behind to be spliced together into a final collaborative masterpiece. There are some examples of the animations below! [Caution: recording caused some of them have a strobe-like flicker. Watch with caution if you are sensitive to strobe lights.]
We had an additional table set up for doing a projector take apart activity as another way of exploring the machines. We love take aparts as a way to learn more about how all the individual components of a device work together. In this case, both were non-functioning 16mm projectors. Inside we discovered an array of gears, levers, bulbs, switches, and other components we weren't quite sure about.
After Dark events are always a fun time for us to explore tentative ideas and discover new ways of tinkering with familiar objects!
Last December, the Tinkering Studio hosted designer, educator, inventor, and entrepreneur Jie Qi as an Artist-in-Residence. Jie is no stranger to the Tinkering Studio - in 2012, she visited the Tinkering Studio at the PFA and hosted a workshop for the Tinkering Studio team and for museum visitors. During this residency, Jie shared her work with Chibitronics, an open hardware company that combines paper craft electronics and programming, through through workshops with our team and with High School Explainers. She also worked on her own piece that highlights next-level components from Chibitronics.
R&D with Chibitronics
On the first day of her residency, Jie led a workshop on programming a Chibi Chip and Clip. The Chibi Chip is a microcontroller that can illuminate LEDs and code unique patters in the MakeCode programming environment. A unique feature of this microcontroller is that it transmits the code through sound through a 3.5 mm headphone plug. This makes programming across devices (computer, tablet, smartphone) possible.
During this time, we all took the opportunity to follow a personal interest of ours related to paper circuits. I partnered up with Sebastian and created an interactive paper circuit. We drew children holding hands around a beating heart. The heart illuminated and started beating once a circuit was completed. This can be achieved by joining the circle and holding hands with the children, or even holding hands with another person.
Mario and I hosted Jie over the weekend for a special Explainer training. High School Explainers facilitate paper circuits for visitors on Saturdays and Sundays, and this training was a unique opportunity for them to explore programming with paper circuits.
Explainers paired up to create paper circuit projects that were meaningful to them. Since it was December, many holiday-themed cards were created during the workshop. Here are three projects: a Santa hat, Santa on his sleigh, and a menorah.
A personal project
In her spare time, Jie created a playful paper circuit in which she illuminated a paper candle and blew out the "flame" using three different physical switches. Check out her explanation of her project:
When we host artists and tinkerers in our space, we gain insight into their practices as creators and collaborate on how to share their unique perspective with learners. With Jie, we played with code and thought more deeply about how to bring programming and paper circuit activities to Tinkering Studio visitors. We will continue exploring this intersection and how we can bring this computational tinkering experience to visitors in our space.
Whenever we facilitate activities for our visitors, we thrive to support the kind of learning we describe in our Tinkering Learning dimensions framework. We often reflect on the drop-in workshops we do day to day in the tinkering studio with a specific aspect of the LDs in mind. One of the qualities I value a great deal in tinkering activities is that learners are encouraged to work without a blueprint whenever possible. I think that this process of "inventing" instead of copying fosters a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.
Making automata always has been a challenging activity in that regard. Different movements are achieved with different mechanisms and as we show examples to introduce the activity, participants often pick a certain mechanism - "up and down" for example - and then start to copy the parts involved in the mechanism, carefully looking at the shape and material of each part, but not necessarily their purposes.
We recently were inspired by automata maker Keith Newstead, a visiting artist at the Tinkering Studio, to change our facilitation approach to our "cranky contraptions" activity while using the same material set. In the new version of the activity, we encourage visitors to adopt a process similar to the artist's: start by making a simple crank slider mechanism, create a character or puppet that has moving parts to it and attach it to the stick (slider) of the crank-slider mechanism. From that point, learners develop strategies specific to their contraption in order to make the limbs of the character move; this process is supported by facilitators and facilitated by playing with a number of sample mechanisms available on the table.
A selection of automata visitors made starting with a crank slider mechanism
What participants created when we took this different approach may look similar to the results of the previous approach at first blush, but the quality of the process felt different to me.
In one of our recent debrief sessions, the team came up with lists of strengths and challenges for different automata activities we have tried. These are some of the points that came up as we discussed the new version:
Artist’s process connection
sum immediately greater than parts
Allows for deeper understanding, linkages exploring length, distances.
Quantitative comparison mathematical thinking
Looks more theatrical -Aesthetically more compelling, more complex
Clear designation for animated sculpture
Can be complex / takes a while to understand the system (deep end)
More challenging to facilitate
Only a few kids do the linkages
Working with wire is hard
Scale tends to be small (& makes it harder)
Examples and starting points need development
My take on our reflections is that this version of the activity — while more challenging for educators to facilitate — has real potential to have learners develop a deeper understanding of linkages and mechanisms.
This really shows that she is grappling with a newly learned concept, something she was able to figure out with her hands but hasn't learned the words to describe yet.
Effie has some difficulty finding the right words when she talks about the wing and how it is moving differently from the body because it is constrained by the secondary wire. To me this really shows that she is grappling with a newly learned concept, something she was able to figure out with her hands but hasn't learned the words to describe yet.
Facilitating automata-making in this new way — starting with a simple crank slider mechanism and then encouraging learners to work with linkages and constraints — has resulted in many interesting explorations, and I have enjoyed accompanying visitors in their process of figuring it out as they go along. My take-away for all activities involving explorations of mechanics is to carefully consider at what point in time knowledge about mechanisms is being introduced. It seems that getting engaged in making and immersed in one’s own project *before* examples of specific mechanisms are introduced sets the mind on a trajectory of inventing rather than copying.