Paper Circuits: Tiny Theaters
Tiny Theaters is a continuation of the tinkering activity Paper Circuits. Tell stories inside cardboard boxes using craft materials and light. Turn on and off LEDs using a homemade switch and a circuit made with copper tape. What story would you like to tell?
Multiple Pathways to Tiny Theaters
Tiny Theaters is one of many Circuits Explorations that combines exploring physical phenomena and different tinkering materials. Consider crafting a circuits exploration arc to support the creation of Tiny Theaters that includes light and shadow explorations like Light Play, storytelling and literacy, cardboard construction, and making circuits through experiences like Paper Circuits, Circuit Boards, and Homemade Switches.
Consider the materials you have on hand in your space and how they can be leveraged into constructing a tiny world inside a box. Many great substitutions exist, so don't shy away from trying things wonderful and wacky!
☐ A cardboard box: A shoebox is a great fit for this activity, but also consider food packaging boxes, delivery boxes, and more.
☐ Light source(s): Paper circuits are a great way to illuminate a scene, but consider other light sources like a flashlight or the sun.
☐ Paper and adhesives: Keep general craft supplies nearby like colorful cardstock, scrap cardboard, markers, masking tape, hot glue guns, and utility knives (with adult supervision).
Brainstorm a Narrative
What story do you want to tell? One strategy is to pick a simple cause and effect, like a traffic light turning green makes the car move. The next step then is to connect that action to lights and movement.
Sketch Your Circuit
Decide where the circuit will live on your box and where you want to place your LED. Consider your battery placement somewhere near the edge of the box so that a binder clip can hold it in place.
Build a Box
With all of your components ready, start assembling your box. Choose whether you'd like to cut an opening in your cardboard box or use an existing opening. If you're looking to add complexity, consider adding another light to your scene.
Gallery of Tiny Theaters
Add More Lights
Why stop at one light when you can add two (or more!). Introducing more than one LED can add complexity to a circuit design and spark conversation around LED compatibility.
Tinkering Tool: Soldering Iron
While this activity is possible to do entirely with copper tape, it's also a great opportunity to authentically engage with a tool. Soldering strengthens conductivity between connection points when overlapping two pieces of tape and makes adding coin cell battery holders possible.
“Tiny Theaters are a great way to expand on Paper Circuits with a stronger focus on creating a narrative because it represents a proper story rather than just a card that you decorate with lights. Some learners really focus almost entirely on the narrative element, spending a lot of time drawing characters and backdrops, and others are more intrigued by the ability to build a circuit on top of the box while the lights and scene are inside of the box. It’s like the top of the box is a “behind the scenes” element, but it’s actually the most accessible part of the box so it’s easy to work on it. A good example of wide walls for the activity!”
- Luigi Anzivino, Activity Designer and Facilitator (Tinkering Studio)
What does facilitating Tiny Theaters look like in an afterschool program for middle school students? Check out this blog post by Lianna: Tiny Theaters at Lighthouse ASP.
For more tips and ideas, check out this PDF guide on Tiny Theaters