Teachers make Wire Automata

On Monday at The Exploratorium Tinkering Studio, we met with about 20 teachers, mostly from the museum’s Teacher Institute network, building on some excitement that kept its mailing list buzzing for a few days after Maker Faire. Among those present, we had everything from pre-K to high school teachers, physics to art to biology. The teachers ostensibly came to discuss bringing the Maker Movement into their schools, but as all these teachers love to work with their hands, we happily kept the talking to a minimum and spent most of our four hours together working on projects while we continued the conversation, just as our maker forebears did at their quilting bees.

Butterfly Automata

Wire Automata

Ryoko, Lianna, and Ryan of The Exploratorium Tinkering Studio taught a room full of teachers the basics of soldering and mechanical movements with the wire automata project. They have tried this activity out on the museum floor for two Open MAKE events, and they continue to refine their approach to teaching people how to construct these beautiful objects. Read Ryoko’s account of developing a wire automata activity to get a better sense of what we did. I snapped some pictures of the useful guides that they put together to help explain some of the concepts and scaffolding for the project.

First, Ryoko’s three sketches of three considerations when designing the mechanical movement.

mechanical movement 1 of 3mechanical movement 2 of 3mechanical movement 3 of 3

Base Frame Crank & ShaftSecond, the pieces of the project that each maker would need to put together—the base, frame, crank, and shaft—were attached to a piece of plywood.

I also enjoyed the simple stands that the Tinkering Studio had created for holding the large set of pliers that were needed for this project. These stands were small triangular tunnels that take advantage of cardboard’s rigidity and strength when scored perpendicularly to the corrugation.

triangular cardboard stands for tools

Ryoko tells me that, “I’d be happy to hear any feedback from anyone who tried this activity. Also, we are planning to practice more automata activities (wire, cardboard, trash, etc.) on the floor in August, so if anything interesting comes up, we will put that on our blog.”

Sara helps 2 teachers with their soft circuits

Soft Circuits

In the meantime, Sara Bolduc of the Intel Computer Clubhouse in San Rafael led another group of teachers in creating their own soft circuit badges and bracelets at a neighboring table. For this project we used activities 2 and 3 from the Soft Circuits workshop guide by Emily Lovell of the high-low tech group at the MIT Media Lab. Sara also started each maker off with a quick review of how to sew by hand with a needle and thread, with special attention to the all-important backstitch (which performs better than other options when using conductive thread), described by the image below.

Backstitch Behold, the backstitch.

Beginning and Ending

Chatting with Aaron during workshopWe began the afternoon by discussing why and how we’re developing the MENTOR Makerspace project, and then focused on Aaron Vanderwerff’s experience working alongside his students in Oakland as they learned to make and then prepared projects for Maker Faire. We’ll be spotlighting his school in a few weeks as we begin our school profiles, including those who will participate in our MENTOR Makerspace pilot year. The conversations we began during the brown bag discussion continued as we worked on our projects over the next several hours. A few resources came up during the discussion, and our participants will, I hope, share those in the comments below.

After the hands-on workshop time, we ended with a stop by The Learning Studio, a working makerspace within the museum, used by the staff of The Tinkering Studio to prototype exhibits and experiences very much in the maker spirit. Our blog will be visiting their space in the near future as part of our series highlighting inspirational workspaces.

See more images from the event on Flickr.

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4 Responses to Teachers Making Wire Automata and Soft Circuits

  1. Pam Rickard says:

    Here is the blog post I was talking about from the teacher doing “Google 20 Percent Time” with his class. http://www.iteachithink.com/2012/07/give-your-students-20-time-to-do.html

  2. Thanks everyone! It was a lot of fun Making with you yesterday!