Tag Archives: circuitry

Lighting Up Writing and Art: a Design Challenge

My students love a project!  Project communicates to them that they will be doing some making, some designing, some problem solving, and probably a good bit of collaborating.  They also know that projects are about sustained time to create something they will value…and likely, others will too.

The project they did last week comes from 21st Century Notebooking: work I have done in collaboration with Paul Oh of the National Writing Project, Jennifer Dick of Nexmap, and David Cole of CV2.   I’ve had a few opportunities to explore the possibilities of “lighting up” my writing and art–and knew right away that my students would both love the opportunity and learn a lot from working with circuits and writing and art.  I feel fortunate to have the chance to pilot the use of LED stickers with my students and explore the ways a project like this works with young students (grades 1, 2, and 3).

On Monday we started with a pre-assessment to document what my students already knew about circuits and electricity (not much) and then to read a picture book to give them a bit of background knowledge about how electricity and circuits work.  We read Switch On, Switch Off by Melvin Berger to give students an overview of electricity and circuits.  And while the book is a bit dated, it did pique students’ interest and generated lots and lots of questions.  “Breaks” in circuits in conjunction with switches created lots of confusion!

On Tuesday we began talking about how light might impact a piece of writing and art.  I showed students examples that I had created and then they began to brainstorm other possibilities…focusing on topics and things they cared about.  They were invited to come up with at least four possibilities and began sketching them in their writer’s notebooks.

Just this small selection shows the variety of ideas…and students were eagerly discussing not only what they would draw, but also what they would write.  And in typical fashion they were already questioning whether they had to write in the format I had written (I had written a Haiku as my example) or if they could write in some other way.  For me, this was a demonstration of the ownership they were already feeling as the creative juices flowed.

On Wednesday, students were asked to commit to a design and draw it on their folded booklet. Then I showed them how to draw a circuit diagram on the inside of their booklet that would allow them to put the light(s) where they wanted them to shine through.

circuit diagram

series diagram

Thursday was the day that the kids got their hands on the copper tape and LED light stickers. Before they tackled creating their own circuits, I showed them how to work with the materials, how to make turns with the tape, how to use the stickers to measure how far to run their tape…and then they set off to work.

working with led stickers

guiding copper tape

The room hummed with the 43 six through nine-year-olds all focused on getting their circuits constructed with the tape and lights.  Many worked with a basic one-light circuit and a few brave students tackled a parallel circuit that included two lights.  When the first circuit worked, the entire room lit up with the students’ excited energy.

circuit success

But as you might imagine, every student was not successful on their first attempt.  We suspected we might have to deal with a few tears of frustration during the course of the project…but, although there was frustration, everyone kept at it, and the spirit of collaboration and encouragement could be felt across the room.  Some students became expert debuggers–and helped their classmates figure out why their circuit wasn’t working.  And my teaching partner and I also became experts, giving recommendations and helping those little hands that had trouble keeping their copper tape smooth and getting their battery lined up and clipped on.  Even before everyone finished, it was time to clean up…and we reassured them that we would return to the project the next day.

On Friday we were fortunate to have our school’s science teacher design a lab to complement our project.  She had students work in groups of four to attach components to make a circuit with an AA battery and battery holder, a light holder and a small incandescent light.  Because of their experience with the circuits in their project, this was a fun review for them…and they loved that they were able to get their circuits to work!

science lab with circuits

light

light with Joe

As part of the lab, they also explored conductors and insulators and noticed which materials allowed the light to light up and which interfered.  All of this was useful information as they returned to their circuit/notebooking project to problem solve circuit issues and continue with their art and writing.  By the end of the work period on Friday every student had successfully gotten their circuit constructed and their light(s) to work.  And we learned some important lessons along the way.  The stickers are pretty easy to work with, but grubby little hands can cause interference with the conductivity of the adhesive.  We had a few instances where we needed to pull the adhesive off and use tape to secure the sticker.  And sometimes our best approach was to peel the copper off and begin again.

Here are few examples of student projects:

circuit project-CJ

circuit project sophie

circuit project-elke

circuit project_Eva

We still have some final details to complete…including some writing about the science learning that took place during the project. And students are anxious to get a closer look at everyone else’s projects too!  So this week we will take some time to concentrate on the finishing details and already have a gallery walk planned for students to get a close look at all the projects.  The kids can’t wait to take these projects home…but they will have to wait until after Open House later this month.  We just have to have them on display on that night to allow families to experience the “wow” factor in the classroom.

With all the work we have done with the power of iteration this year, I am wishing for some more LED stickers to allow my students a second chance to use these materials.  I am wondering what they can do and would do now that they understand the possibilities.  Maybe I can talk Jen and David into scrounging up a few more just to see what my students would come up with…

Making and Learning

Instead of thinking about teaching on Tuesday, I spent my day thinking about learning.  On the plane Tuesday morning I sat next to a young family who had vacationed in San Diego to go to Legoland with their two young boys…and got stuck Monday night because of the domino effect of the weather in the midwest and east coast.  For being pretty tired, the boys were great.  The littlest guy (maybe 3 or 4) was playing a game on his DS system.  Whenever he got “stuck,” he would hand the game system up to his older brother (who was maybe 5) in the seat in front of him and ask for help.  Brother would play the troublesome spot and then hand the game back and little guy would go on with his play.  After his brother tired of helping, mom would help…and coach as she did so.

At the same time I was reading Invent to Learn, a book about the maker movement and the value of engaging learners in meaningful activity to maximize learning.  It begins with the theory behind making as learning…including information about Piaget, Montessori, Dewey, Vygotsky, the Reggio Emilia system, and folks at MIT, including Seymore Papert.  The book emphasizes what they call the constructionist (rather than the constructivist) theory of learning.  Their argument is that through the concrete construction of meaningful projects, learners gain rich, layered skills that serve them in school and beyond.  They also emphasize the value of play.

I landed in Oakland and made it on time for my 9:00 meeting at the National Writing Project offices in Berkeley with a small group of like-minded educators interested in the maker movement, interested in the intersections of literacy and science and STEM-related learning, interested in meaningful learning, both in and out of schools, for young people in their community. We gathered to consider ways schools and writing projects might collaborate with other organizations to further these goals.

I wrote about my experience in Boston with paper circuitry here, and today we met with Jen Dick and David Cook to continue to build our relationship and thinking about the ways writing and circuitry enhance each other and might support student learning in and out of schools.  We began by talking about our own experiences with paper circuitry and the benefits and barriers to bringing it to our own contexts.  Lou had managed to secure some LED stickers from Jie in Boston and returned to his high school class in Northern California where he introduced his students to the paper circuitry project.  He described the success and excitement his students experienced and what he learned from both his students and his own children who also tried out the process.

We took our circuitry learning a step further and programmed mini controllers to make our LED lights blink on and off at intervals we selected.

photo-44

photo-43

We also learned about some other exciting new developments on the horizon for merging the science of circuits, technology with programming, and writing.  I still find myself thinking mostly about what students learn when they make a plan and then need to troubleshoot and iterate to get it to work the way they intend.  Systems thinking is a powerful tool that we employ throughout our lives across subject matter and circumstances.

Jie, the designer of the LED stickers, also Skyped with us after we worked with the circuits and we all thought together about how these stickers impact the experience of working with the circuits..and with the the experience of the creating of writing and imagery with the lights.  I appreciate Jie’s attention to the aesthetic experience of composing writing and art and how it is enhanced or impeded by the circuits rather than putting the circuits themselves at the front of the project.  By considering the work as a whole…light and drawing and writing…she reminds us that it is the integration of these elements that create the meaningful result.

The morning ended with the group thinking about how we might put these LED stickers to use back in our classrooms and at our writing project sites.  There was much more to the day…but that will have to be another post.

And I am left thinking about learning.  Those little boys on the plane, the book I was reading, my experience programming to create a blinking light all remind me that the best of learning is meaningful, active and interactive, and collaborative.  Even though I understand the basics of circuitry, sitting next to Peter and examining his working circuit informed my thinking…and since I ran out of time before completing my mini project, I will finish it on my own, at home. I’m confident that I know how to make it work and if I do run into a problem, Peter and my others colleagues are just a tweet or email away.  If you want to see Peter’s finished mini project, see his Vine here.

I can’t wait to share my experiences with my students and with my colleagues.  I look forward to exploring all the ways that writing can enhance and expand this circuitry work along with how the circuitry and lights can add another dimension to the writing.

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!

photo_1

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.

photo-2

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!

photo

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!