Lighting a Spark

In my last blog post (here) I touched on that idea of work and play and the way that they are often interconnected in the way I experience my life and work.  And as I am thinking through some of my conference experiences, I see the blurriness…and maybe even more than that, the overlap of work and play.

When one of my colleagues asked me about what sessions I intended to attend at the conference, I told her that I was planning to make my selections based on what sounded interesting and fun rather than what I “should” do for the good of my writing project site or someone else’s expectations.  I was already pre-registered on Friday for a session about Scratch, the platform designed for teaching computer programming to kids, and a session on e-textiles involving puppet making and circuitry.

When I arrived at the welcome event for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting on Wednesday, I was drawn to a table near the door loaded with little notebooks…that upon closer examination had copper foil, watch batteries and LED lights.  Chatting with David, I learned about Jie’s graduate work and interest in the intersections between art, writing, and engineering.  Right away I knew that Jie’s session was one that I would prioritize!

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After two other sessions where I presented, a stimulating and thought-provoking plenary panel (more on that later), and a networking lunch, I headed off to the session with Jen, David, and Jie called Hacking the Notebook.

You could feel the energy surging in the room as we were handed notebooks, copper tape, a battery, and LED lights.  We listened to Jie share some of her work and thinking behind the idea of “lighting up” notebooks and stories and doodles…of combining science, technology, engineering and math with literacy and art (that STEM to STEAM connection).  She showed us an amazing work of art she created of dandelions that you could blow on to light up the puffs of white fluff.  (I encourage you to take the time to view this vimeo)

And then she walked us through the template she had created to teach about circuitry in these little notebooks that are a combination of background theory, documentation of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, instructional diagrams, sandbox for experimentation, engineering notebook…and more!

Our first task was to follow specific instructions and a diagram to lay down the copper tape, attach the LEDs, and then attach the battery to make the lights light up.  We followed a very specific diagram while learning (or being reminded) about the basics of circuitry.  That part was pretty easy…we just had to make sure that the pluses and minuses were facing in the right direction, that foil touched the electronics and didn’t touch places that would make a short.  And when we were successful, turning the page resulting in the light shining through the page and illuminating a lightbulb that we were then invited to draw and write around.

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And that’s when the task took us to the next level of thinking.  Taking what we had just learned about circuitry, we turned the page and were to create our own light up design with copper and bulbs.  We had a number of lights…so were encouraged to move beyond our simple experimentation of the previous page.  Jie encouraged us to notice how the copper tape could curve and how pieces could combine to create whatever we could imagine.  And…we had to remember how to make the lights go on.  I tried to get a bit tricky, adding two lights in a series…carefully lining up the poles to ensure it would work.  And it didn’t!  What was wrong?  Was it a connection (or lack of connection), an overlap that redirected the current, too much demand by the lights to allow a single battery to power them?

Problem solving and iteration became essential as I traced and retraced my circuits.  I consulted with my tablemates and observed their works-in-progress.  And I enlisted the help of Eunice, a graduate student helping out in the session.  With Eunice’s help I figured out that the serial circuit was likely requiring more power that my battery had to offer (my first light in the series would light, but the second stubbornly refused to light, even after making adaptations).  She suggested I try a parallel circuit design instead, explaining how if the lights were side by side they would require less energy to light.

And after more iteration and problem solving, I got both lights to light up!

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But what I wasn’t able to accomplish in that short, 90-minute session was both the science and a creative story-driven project.  I knew that for me, I wanted to focus on figuring out how to make my lights work and consider the possibilities before working on the story.  I struggle with the “creativity on demand” mode…but do have some more copper tape and lights…and my battery, so I plan to go home and do some more exploration on the creative, art and language-based, side of my project to combine with my knowledge of circuitry.

But my experience was not everyone’s experience.  Some people knew exactly where their stories and drawings would begin…and followed them as they experimented with their copper and lights.  And some people were so flummoxed by the science that progress was slow and frustrating.

In talking with Jie later that evening at the social event she said that she had learned a lot by working with us.  Writing project teacher leaders do a lot of meta-narrative thinking and talking, examining their own processes and experiences in service of the work they do with students and teachers.

And I did ask her how that dandelion art works since I couldn’t figure out how blowing would make lights go on!  She said the lights were connected to sound sensors and the blowing caused the sensors to hear the breath, like wind, and cause the lights to illuminate!

I can’t wait to get home and lay out my supplies and think and work through a piece of writing and art that will light up.  And I can’t wait to share this work with others as I consider how I might do this with students…my own and/or others that we might work with through the writing project.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

If you’re interested, here is page that lists the supplies and where you can get them.  I’d love to know what you create and discover when you play with circuits and lights in your notebook!

3 thoughts on “Lighting a Spark

  1. steve fulton

    This is awesome! Thanks for taking the time to write this post. I saw a couple things that paul oh shared about paper circuitry and wanted to know more. So, thank you!

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Systems Thinking | Thinking Through My Lens

  3. Pingback: Making and Learning | Thinking Through My Lens

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