Nicole and I will be leading a tinkering workshop at this year's Scratch Conference at the MIT Media Lab. We've been experimenting with different ways of incorporating scratch programming and computational thinking into some of our tinkering workshops. As we've been preparing for the workshop, we've focused on paper circuitry as a interesting way to investigate some of these topics.
So last week, we tried out the activity with our colleagues in the learning studio for the first time as a way to help us continue to iterate on the ideas. The participants worked in pairs and used the arduino extension for scratchx to program small paper circuit cards with LEDs, switches, and sensors. In the workshop with the team, we didn't get to constructing our own paper circuits since the explorations were so rich with the pre-made examples. As always it was really helpful to test out our ideas with the larger group and get there feedback. I wanted to share a few of the workshop elements we been developing beforehand to encourage tinkering as well as some of the insights gleaned from the rest of the team. Nicole and I mounted arduinos on wooden blocks with the pins of the boards connected to copper nails, the same as our circuit board set for electricity explorations. The copper nails connected to a few of the pins limits the problem space, but to us still feels like an authentic way to present arduino boards without relying on extra shields or unusual parts. We also thought that by using the real components in a transparent way, we could imply a progression from the initial scratch exploration to more complex programming projects.
Often we've seen programming and arduino workshops that look complicated and not so inviting to novice participants. For this workshop, we built playful, fun, and colorful example cards with single gumdrop LEDs, premade switches and sensors, and RGB lights to communicate this attitude. We've found that this addition of artistic elements as well as a combination of high and low tech materials can give a more open invitation to join in the exploration of the same topics. As we set up the environment for the workshop, we wanted to not focus primarily on the computers, but have them as just another tool alongside shared materials and inspiring examples. Our dogbone shaped table usually lends itself to more collaboration and sharing of ideas, which is even more of a challenge in screen based activities where it's not so easy to see others' work.
For the workshop with the team here we asked them to work in pairs which I think really helped propel the explorations forward. Having people contributing to a shared investigation allowed them to communicate about what they felt more comfortable with and learn from each other. The combination of objects in the physical world with the scratch programming give more space for thinking with one's hands and allows partners to share the problem space. We also developed is a starting point sketch preloaded on #scratchX that both gives an example script and a photo of the components in the stage. In the past we had a paper handout with some example code and photos, but I'm excited about the possibilities for giving the necessary information right where you are already looking. Much like how we've started circuit block explorations with just batteries and bulbs, starting with single LEDs and a simple code gives a low threshold that may naturally lead to personalized investigations.
We always share results and ideas at the end of a workshop, and it was really cool to see how each of the groups worked on unique investigations involving buttons, sounds, and sensors. Although we only had the simple examples to mess around with, narratives and storytelling started to emerge. As with any tinkering activity, we are looking for varied outcomes that reflect the process of each group.Interactive Light Painting: Pu Gong Ying Tu (Dandelion Painting) from Jie Qi on Vimeo. And we also think it's important to have a connection to the high ceilings possible with programming electronic artworks. By using the same basic materials of arduino, LEDs and copper tape, we can provide a quick introduction to the ideas using the same components that artists like Jie Qi use in their beautiful interactive installations. We've started some experimentation with attinys that can be programmed with the arduino IDE and soldered directly to projects, and although that's too much to cover in a quick intro workshop we want to keep thinking of how this initial tinkering experience can be scaffolded so that learner's interests and skills can continue to develop with appropriate tools and materials.
We're really excited to share these experiments with a group of dedicated educators interested in scratch next week at the conference at the Media Lab. I'm sure we'll learn a lot from the experience of others there as we continue to prototype, refine, and test these playful ways to tinker with programming, computational thinking, storytelling, and personal expression.