Whenever we try a new activity on the floor we always consider the physical space in which visitors will be working. This is the second post in our paper circuits series and explores our reflections on and experiments with the environment we set up.
As always, it was important for us to create a space for visitors to work in that felt inviting and comfortable. Since many people spent over an hour creating their circuits, we set the space apart from the rest of the Tinkering Studio with tube wall and installed a new gate designed by Nicole that we could open and close as needed. Having a separate area helped to create a protected space for visitors as they worked and also helped us limit how many participants could enter at once. This let everyone work at his or her own pace and not feel rushed because there were too many people around. We also suggested an age range of 12 to adult because the activity involved soldering irons, x-acto knives, and very tiny LEDs. Limiting the number of participants, coupled with the extended length of average building time and our communal work table, created an interesting dynamic where we often saw visitors facilitating one another as they became more comfortable with the concepts of circuit building. People would freely offer advice on folding tape, attaching LEDs, and even soldering after having just learned themselves.
We also experimented with creating new workspaces and displays for this activity. One item that was crucial for us was the portable soldering station. We adapted two wheeled kitchen carts to serve as standalone areas for soldering. After noticing that it was somewhat dark and hard to see the LEDs, we added lights that included magnifying lenses to help make soldering the LEDs much easier. These carts were taller than the table height and set to the side because we wanted to send the message that “something different happens here”. This allowed us to both introduce soldering as a skill on a one-on-one basis and to help keep visitors safe.
After the first week facilitating, we noticed that our examples were getting lost among materials on the main worktable, so we got a postcard rack to display them in a way that was easy for both facilitators and visitors to access. As another way of keeping the materials accessible but easy to find, we set up a smaller table to the side just for the LEDs. This helped to introduce the idea of LED color compatibility and allowed visitors to take what they needed when they were ready.
We also curated the materials used for building. We chose tools and materials that were helpful for building circuits, had multiple uses, and yet didn’t distract from the goal of the activity. Tools like punches, x-actos, and glue sticks could be used for papercraft techniques and for circuit problem solving. (Although we considered using markers, we didn’t put them out because we wanted the focus to be on constructing rather than drawing.) Many people incorporated collage techniques or beautifully folded copper tape to express their vision so that coloring wasn’t even necessary.
Many people asked us where to find the materials so they could continue experimenting with paper circuits at home. After trying a few drafts that played with the layout and language used, we settled on this handout. These were great for encouraging visitors to continue building outside of the museum. They also provided an invitation to make paper circuits at home for people who didn't have time to try during their visit or for when the space was full.
One of the most important elements in this process was for us to be flexible as facilitators to design a space that met the needs of the activity. We would have quick meetings after our sessions on the floor to check in with each other to discuss what worked, what didn't, and ideas for ways to change the environment. Communication and brainstorming made creating the space an iterative process. There are still elements we can improve, and we constantly observe and learn from how visitors use the space to create an optimal environment for this activity. Next we'll be experimenting with Makey Makeys, and we look forward to revisiting paper circuits again in the future.