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Tinkering 101, day 2: circuits explorations

Tinkering 101, day 2: circuits explorations

texas_d2-7Day 2 of our Tinkering 101 workshop began with some explorations of circuits, electricity, and switches. We split the group in two, with half the participants diving right into an activity we like to call Toy Take-Apart: you get a toy that has some moving electrical parts, and have to dissect it as much as possible while still leaving the mechanical parts functional.

We find that people quickly lose their inhibitions about what they might know or not know about circuits when they are busy skinning a giggling Elmo...

Removal of the head is often a slightly gruesome first step...

Skinless chicken is still alive and kicking!

A fully de-skinned Elmo: interestingly, it's still recognizably red.

The variety and ingenuity of mechanisms inside of common toys is quite staggering. Ideas start to percolate...

texas_d2-23Meanwhile, the second half of the group approached circuits from a slightly different perspective, through what we consider more along the lines of a "classroom activity": Circuit Boards.

Here, the initial goal is simply to connect basic components to a power source to make them go, but as participants progress and their questions become more sophisticated, more refined tools are added into the mix.

Often, the first "snag" to contend with is the switch: a seemingly simple device, that nonetheless challenges people to really conceptualize how a circuit works, in order to use one effectively.

A potentiometer, like the ones that you might find in a dimmer switch at home, can reverse the direction of resistance depending on how it's hooked up to the circuit.

Aiona and Matt decided to see how many batteries they could hook up in a row, and how bright they could make a light bulb glow. Needless to say, this photo was snapped moments before they blew it out!

Hands-on activities force participants to revisit their "textbook" knowledge and reconcile it with the way the real world works. Here, a participant compares a schematic of a parallel circuit with the way it actually worked when you had to hook real wires onto real lightbulbs.

Others get more philosophical in their thinking, and wonder how electricity works at a very deep conceptual level.

Delightful surprises are always around the corner. For example: what happens if you hook up a hand-cranked generator to a power source?

As our last activity of the day, all participants tried to make their own home-made switch. We had many examples that we collected or made over the years for inspiration and problem-solving. Here, Dara is examining a pressure-sensitive foot switch.

This weird-looking switch was salvaged from a washing machine, and is responsive to air or water pressure.

Trying to use magnets and a metal chain to make a tension-sensitive switch.

Betty and Kay figured out how to make a switch that would continuously ring a bell when a staff member at their school, who is in a wheelchair, pulls up to the door, until someone opens the door for him. It was loud!