On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week I was stuck in the Arts Centre with about 20 kids, some nice people called Sophie & Rain, a load of Lilypad Arduinos and a bunch of electronics components. The plan? 3 days of fun with soft circuits, for schoolkids, for Technocamps.
Rain and Sophie put the program together, and it was brilliant – we went from basic circuits through programming, to serial vs parallel, to switches, right up to sensors using light dependent resistors to do things with LEDS. For the whole three days I can honestly say that all of the kids were entirely engaged all day. (I’ve run quite a few schools workshops and that’s not normal – even with the most keen students and a bunch of robots you end up losing their attention at some point.) It’s hard stuff, too: you’re putting together components and you’re programming in C and you’ve got to get both parts working at the same time. But they all managed it.
For the first two days we were using breadboards (an electronics platform that helps you put together circuits more easily) and crocodile clips, but on day 3 we took it off the board and onto cloth, making soft circuits and truly wearable computing. You do this with conductive thread and you can either get special Lilypad sewable LEDs, or you can use normal LEDs and resistors after mutilating them a bit…
Those who know me will be super-impressed that on day three I successfully threaded 16 needles for various kids. Sewing was not my forté at school, but I guess I must have learned something. Here’s an example of the kinds of things the kids ended up making:
We had about 80% girls in this group, which was brilliant, and proves that young women can handle serious tech (and can get into it – we had difficulty getting some of the lassies to go for lunch on the last day, they were so keen). In all a hugely fun three days. We’ll be revising the workshop materials and will be releasing them under creative commons – kit list, slides, teacher notes, handouts and cheat sheet – so others can do the same thing.