The blend of digital tools and tinkering can open up wonderful new explorations into light, color, sound, music, motion, mechanisms, storytelling, and more! Digital technologies can add movement, illumination, sensing, responses, and even communication to the things we make. Explore computational tinkering and blur the line between the physical and the digital—use your body to trigger an animation on the screen, tell a story with light and sound, or use a craft cutter to create a design with code. This is a selection of activities that have developed in collaboration with our partners at LEGO Idea Studio and the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab.
For more project ideas, check us out on Twitter and search #ComputationalTinkering.
Bring your favorite book to life!
Draw and paint your own sprite.
Make your drawings larger than life using projection.
Use code to transform light, color, and moving shadows.
Tinker with variables! Use microcontrollers, motors, linkages and programming to create intricate designs.
Code LEGO WeDo motors and sensors to beat drums and chimes.
Listen to everyday objects and discover their unexpected sounds.
Use a computer and a webcam to create interactive animations! Invite learners to animate their digital and physical world using Scratch and their own movements. In Scratch, their video sensing tool uses motion picked up from the webcam to start digital animations on the screen. The result is something not quite real life but fully immersive and imaginative. How will you #AnimateYourWorld?
For more info, check out the Animate Your World project page.
How can you create something in the physical world and bring it to life with code? You can use craft materials and the Scratch program to bring your art to life on a digital screen. With fabric, cardboard, paper or paint you can create your own “sprite” - a character you program in Scratch - then capture and upload it into a the world you create with digital tools and coding.
For more information on bringing physical characters into Scratch, check out Celeste's quick tutorial on her website.
Bring your crafted sprites to the next level - create a large immersive environment with Scratch and projection, where people can interact with digital sprites and use code to craft an interactive story or interact with someone else's sprite! Craft your own sprite using paper, markers, pencils or paint with others and bring them all into a shared Scratch world.
Digital Lightplay is an expansion of the core tinkering activity Light Play by adding computation. The Digital Light Play hardware and software allow you to experiment with programming lights and motors used during Light Play. In addition to investigating and building with light and shadows in the physical world, participants tinker with a visual coding app on an iPad to create color sequences, timed light effects, and complex motion. These digital tools open up possibilities and new directions for light and shadow play, including narrative and storytelling, puppetry, remote controlled ambient light installations, and perhaps even large scale immersive installations.
For more information on this project, check out our Digital Light Play write-up.
Create artistic designs in your web browser and turn them into drawings, phone backdrops, printed designs, and even stickers. With TurtleArt, you snap puzzle-like code blocks together to give the turtle a sequence of commands and then watch your image take shape. You can create your own designs or build on existing ones, then show off your art on your digital devices, create drawings with your design, or use your designs in craft projects.
Craft digital designs with code and recreate their form in the physical world with a 3D printer, embroidery machine, a craft cutter, a laser cutter, even a watercolor painting machine. Coding provides a powerful means to use digital fabrication tools and technologies, not as an end. Learners can create different designs according to their own aesthetic goals. Fabrication technologies paired with programming creates "an opportunity to be expressive with code as well as the physical manifestation of a digital creation.”
For more information, check out our Digital Drawings with TurtleArt project page.
Art machines are an evolution of a core tinkering activity, Scribbling Machines. These playful contraptions use a single hobby motor, a AA battery, and a hot glue stick to produce an erratic motion. When mounted on a body with a pen attached, they move and giggle to create chaotic and beautiful drawings.
Add a micro:bit or a LEGO WeDo motor and the results are quite different, both in terms of the process that you go though to build them and the types of drawings that they produce. By using a motor or servo, you can program speed, direction, and even the duration of movement. Code affords the opportunity to systematize the testing of variables and iterate on your design, which can result in a range of drawings with different qualities or appearance.
Microcontrollers programmed in MakeCode or Scratch even allow for the possibility of incorporating linkages and sensors into your machine, radically changing the resulting drawing.
Make or hack your own toy, then program it to respond to your touch and movement! Micro:bit is an affordable, compact microcontroller that connects with Scratch. Create your own interactive puppet, game controller, or play object that interfaces with the digital world.
We love finding all sorts of uses for micro:bit. Try attaching one to a stuffed animal, what personality would you give it? What would it say or do when moved?
Transforming a micro:bit into a custom controller for a game is another inventive path to take. How does your game change when you control your character with your wrist? Your head?
For more info on programming your stuffed animals, check out our guide to Toy Tinkering with micro:bit.
Program LEGO WeDo motors and sensors to interact with Scratch by controlling motorized mechanical sound makers made from everyday materials. Create your own sounds by combining materials in the physical world and coding their behavior in the digital realm.
For more info, check out our project overview on Sound Machines.
Curious about how to make small lasercut pegboards? We have an Instructables on that.
Sound Safari is an activity focused on exploring sound from our surroundings and everyday objects through Piezo contact microphones. Mess about with sounds, investigate how they are created and ultimately see sound as a material to tinker with. Piezo microphones allow learners to slow down and pay close attention to common phenomena, like the sound of a slinky, or marbles rolling inside a bowl; this creates curiosity to explore a world of sounds and noises. Becoming immersed in the phenomenon in turn inspires stories and ideas for creating audio-visual narratives involving digital tools and programming.
For more info, check out our write up on Piezo Explorations.