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Toy Take Apart and Programming Paper Circuits with Arduino Uno & Scratch

Toy Take Apart and Programming Paper Circuits with Arduino Uno & Scratch

For the past two weeks we've been lucky to have two teachers from Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland in residence with us. Over the next week we'll be sharing posts on their reflections, experiments, and ideas they want to take back to school with them.

From Sarah:

Circuit Bending & Harvesting Components from 2nd Hand Toys As a creative computer programming and after-school teacher, I was excited to explore the toy-take apart activity to see what I could glean for ideas. The toys I had to tinker with were all battery operated and ranged from a super simple (peng jia keyboard), to extremely complex (A robot dragon named Skylee, manufactured by Bossa Nova Robotics, that talks/senses/walks/and even is capable of having a dragon baby). The toys ranged in original retail price from $5-$60 but all were thrifted by the museum for around $1-3. I carefully deconstructed the toys using scissors, screwdrivers, wire snips and pliers.

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Every now and again I would come across a very stubborn screw, or a tough plastic piece that had to be muscled off, but for the most part, with some patience and perseverance, the toys were fairly easy to take apart. Once the inner-workings were revealed, one could easily identify the components (switches, motors, LED’s, speakers and circuit boards).

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After, I extracted the components and the circuit board, with wires intact, I embarked on a circuit bending exploration. This was fun because there is no real “right way” to circuit bend. The feeling of finding a new noise or effect after poking around with alligator clips is quite satisfying! Once I found a connection that changed the pitch or amount of light, I connected various dials (potentiometers) with alligator clips to adjust the amount of change in the sound. Not all potentiometers worked to make this happen, which led me to the question about what ranges of potentiometers exist? and how do they work? This led to the contemplation of resistance in an electrical circuit and how controlling resistance can lead to some neat sound and light effects. Using the parts of the disembodied Peng Jia keyboard, I added a dial, a push switch, an LED and mounted the parts to a round piece of plywood to create a new funky instrument that was more fun and weird than the original broken toy.


I plan to use this activity with students in conversation around the systems that support the production and consumption of these types of products using the Agency by Design thinking routines of Parts/Purposes/Complexities and Parts/People/Interactions. As a 12-14 year old, I can only imagine it would be a fun learning experience to be encouraged to take apart some kids toys to see what is inside. As a learner, my curiosity led me to research/construct some understanding on how dials/potentiometers and resistance work in circuits. I also am interested in the psychological impact/effects at the middle school level of taking apart “kids toys”, something they have just “outgrown” as well as the significance of learning the art of careful deconstruction of a designed object to build understanding vs. just destroying things or throwing them away.


Overdeck Family Foundation

This collaboration is funded by the Overdeck Foundation and the National Science Foundation.