Last week we hosted a Tinkering Social Club event with engineer and designer Star Simpson who created physical PCB versions of the delightful sketches of Forrest Mims III from his 'getting started with electronics' guides. For the event, we thought that we could provide several different experiences for adults to feel more comfortable with elements of electronics and engineering. These topics can sometimes feel intimidating and we think that elements like the Circuit Classics can make them feel a little more friendly.
In the space we set up a small table with a different version of our circuit board activity focused on components like LEDs, resistors, and light sensors. We thought that this station could be a place for initial explorations and low stakes testing out of ideas.
We also scattered a couple of artistic interpretations of Forrest Mims' circuits that Nicole has built over the past couple of years around the studio environment. One is a rain sensing umbrella that turns on blue LEDs when water connects the copper tape leads and another is a tounge-in-cheek fire alarm that goes off when a candle positioned inside a clothespin melts from the flames.
And in the center of the tinkering studio, we set up three soldering stations for visitors to try to collaboratively assemble the Circuit Classic boards. We had all three examples (stepped tone generator, dual LED flasher and bargraph voltage indicator) which each had a different selection of resistors, capacitors, switches and LEDs to attach to the board.
For many participants in the workshop it was a first chance to use a soldering iron, so it was fun to see them gain confidence in their abilities as they added more elements to the boards. There were also a lot of great conversations and friends sharing knowledge with each other as they assembled the parts and quite a few people commented that this was something that they didn't think that they could do based on their previous experiences.
As well, it was great to have Star on hand to share her expertise about the boards and the design. After they were built, we were able to start experimenting with the circuits and being playful in our investigations of adding colored lights to the boards or testing resistance by holding hands. In the past, we've shied away from introducing circuits or soldering through breadboarding as we're afraid that it may seem too technical or people may perceive it to be just for engineers. While I think we're still very much interested in alternative and unexpected teaching tools like copper tape or conductive thread, something about this event made me reconsider the possibility of re-framing more traditional tools.
Having these friendly looking blue boards and inviting a maker in to help people begin to understand these concepts proved to be a great first start. Additionally, the social environment of the tinkering social club allowed for a more collaborative introduction to these topics which hopefully can start to make people feel that they are capable of learning more. We're looking forward to new experiments for future workshops and events.