Earlier this month, I hosted a workshop at the FabLearn conference at Teachers College, Columbia University. FabLearn is a maker education conference where researchers, practitioners, and young makers alike share their tools, ideas, and pedagogies for constructionist learning. The intellectual roots of FabLearn extend back to Seymour Papert and the MIT Media Lab, similar to the foundational base for the Tinkering Studio. Our R&D efforts in the development of STEM-rich activities that invite learners to "think with their hands" is right at home at Fablearn.
The workshop was co-created and facilitated by Carmelo Presicce, PhD student in the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, and Saskia Leggett, former Scratch team member, and Kreg Hanning, Media Lab MAS gradate and father of the ScratchBit (he wrote his thesis on it!).
The original excitement for the workshop originated around ScratchBit, a new physical interface that can be programmed in Scratch. Its button, light sensor, and motion detection are easy to code and create a project that spans both the physical and digital world. The Scratch team has been hard at work creating and testing ScratchBit, and we were excited to learn that ten newly manufactured ScratchBits would be available in time for FabLearn to test and explore with workshop participants.
In the Tinkering Studio, we've been exploring activities that combine hands-on making with technology as part of a project around computational tinkering. Ryoko and I hosted a workshop at Scratch Conference last summer on making and programming interactive toys using a micro:bit. In the workshop, we saw many participants trying out all the different blocks of ScratchBit. They tested each of the blocks and how they were triggered with the ScratchBit.
New Blocks for ScratchBit
To interact with ScratchBit, we use specially designed Scratch blocks. Some blocks are similar to those found with micro:bit (when moved, when button pressed, when tilted). The programmable button on the ScratchBit is the orange circle in the center and there's an additional side green button to trigger the green flag (very useful when signalling the start of your program).
A light sensor on the ScratchBit opens up narrative possibilities around light. Shine a flashlight at the ScratchBit or hide it away inside a dark box and watch your animation react to these environmental changes. Micro:bit also has a light sensor that can be programmed in MakeCode but not in Scratch.
Spin is a block unique to ScratchBit that nicely complements its compantion motion blocks. The variety of types of motion triggers encourages learners to get up and move their body!
Environment and Activity Design
For a workshop designed around ScratchBit, we created an environment filled with materials to tinker with and enouraged participants to design a Scratch animation that had a connection to the physical world.
Materials selection was an important aspect of the activity design. The Scratch team likes to use familiar objects found at a dollar store to attach ScratchBit onto. They choose objects that encourage movement, like playing with a ball or putting ketchup on a hotdog, and support storytelling by building a related animation in Scratch. At the Tinkering Studio, we've emphasized the importance of constructing a tangible object alongside creating the digital code that controls an object's behavior. I brought a wide array of craft materials to support workshop participants' crazy ideas.
Workshop participants came from a variety of backgrounds, including graduate students, teachers, researchers, and young makers, and their outcomes from messing around with ScratchBit were equally diverse. Participants engaged in a variety of explorations, some focusing on the coding possibilities in a deep way and others bringing a physical object to life with code. Groups worked in pairs and trios to create what they wanted and bring their ScratchBit to life.
After what felt like not enough time (we always want more time when making amazing programmable objects), groups shared out about what they made and their experience with ScratchBit. With the breadth of motion blocks available for ScratchBit, it's no surprise that participants created amazing motion-activated toys. Here's one participant demonstrating how to activate his tossing game that gave remarks like "Nice catch!" and other encouraging commands.
Another group made a different type of tossing object that randomly selected prompts to ask the person who caught it. We saw some great dance moves and heard answers to a variety of questions - a great game to play with students in all different types of learning environments.
This work was supported by a grant from Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation