We're currently working on prototyping chain reaction as the main workshop activity in the Tinkering Studio. We are developing a set of physical materials and tools for building eleborate rube goldberg contraptions based on what's worked for past events or inspiration from videos like pythagoras switch. But one area that I'm personally interested in exploring more is incorporating the digital world and programming into the visitor-built machines
This idea is inspired by some of the work of Ricarose, Eric, Amos and others at the MIT media lab who have run workshops that integrate projects built the Scratch programming language with real world chain reactions.
When Ricarose was visiting as a tinkerer-in-residence, she lead a prototyping session with our group in the learning studio where we starting messing around with sensors, switches, WeDo motors, and scratch.
One question for us was should we bring out some of the digital elements as one section of a larger chain reaction (with other tables that just use physical materials) or would "scratch chain reaction" be better suited as it's own stand alone activity?
A few times so far we've brought out a computer station to work on Scratch as part of the larger chain reaction. Since Ricarose's visit, we discovered the "scannable" app as a way to quickly import photos to scratch to make sprites out of real life objects. I thought it might be interesting to mess around with some of the things that we like to use for our chain reaction either to make a purely digital version or something that used the real objects to interact with the computer.
Last week, on a slow afternoon, I decided to bring out my laptop and a few materials to see how it felt to build my own chain reaction with Scratch in the middle of the workshop. I built a quick section where a fly swatter connects a foil switch through makey makey, triggering the bug to walk across the screen, which turns on the WeDo motor to know the 3-ball into the blocks. I added some musical accompaniment to the entire scene as well.
After I got it mostly set up, one kid came up and asked about Scratch. He was visiting from Argentina, but back home had used the site quite a bit. He showed me his homepage and some the the projects that he had worked on previously. I told him that he could modify what I had made for the chain reaction and he started tweaking the program. He had a really complicated plan for multiple makey makey switches that we didn't have time to work out completely, but I was happy that for him, it seemed natural to be using Scratch in this setting.
Here's the full chain reaction with the Scratch table integrated. I thought that it was nice that it wasn't the center of attention, but just another way of thinking about cause and effect, using the computer as a tool to do some of the work. My next step will be to try this out as a stand-alone activity with one or two tables using the physical objects or possibly just animating chain reactions on the screen. We'll also have to think about ways of introducing the activity for people inexperienced in scratch, maybe through sample code blocks or a limited palette of materials. Either way it's fun to be making some progress on this idea.