4th Grade Circuit Stations and Interactive Switches

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A few years ago, I saw an interactive paper circuit mural on Twitter and was enamored with the idea of a large oversized collaborative paper circuit. I had a bit of trouble tracking down the original, but finally found it (thanks to Ryan Jenkins and Aaron Vanderwerff), and this collaborative lesson design from Creativity Lab at the Lighthouse Community Charter school. (Make your own oversized paper circuit thanks to Creativity Lab!)

Aaron V. also suggested using two different types of tape to differentiate between the positive and negative routing. (A GREAT TIP for students new to paper circuits!)

I loved the idea of the collaborative circuit, but was worried with my short time in the library and not having enough facilitators, that my students would get frustrated too easily.

Plus, I wanted students to create simple circuits in a different station and at this station, I wanted them to focus on completing the circuit by creating inventive switches (and playing with what is conductive and what is an insulator.)

By building an oversized paper circuit with multiple breaks where switches would need to be created, I hoped to create a playful atmosphere. One of the happy accidents of this prototype, was that students would not only have to complete each circuit to have all LEDS light up in parallel, but they would also have to work collaboratively to make sure all the lights stayed on!

I tried it out on my own 8 YO to make sure it was “tinkerable.”

Only 4-5 students could be at the collaborative paper circuit at once, and my other stations needed a little more guidance.  After the Scratch poetry unit, many of my 4th graders were enamored with Makey Makey, so one station was to test items for conductivity with Makey Makey (and their teachers manned this station.) I basically just set up a lot of weird stuff, and set out Makey Makeys with computers directed to the Makey Makey piano. They tracked their learning on a clipboard, and the students just loved finding out that water, plants, and fruit is conductive.

With the help of my QUEST teachers, I had a station where students created simple paper circuits using the Chibitronics template/ and squishy circuits.

The last station was the inventive switch station. Since I wanted this spot to be the most self-guided and playful, I set up the Tinkering Studio video about homemade switches, and told the group their goal was to light up all the LEDS…. then I let them play!

We had fun playing and seeing what materials would work on the oversized circuit. It was cool to see students engaged with curiosity and tinkering to learn!


Programmable Paper Circuits Workshop at ISTE with Chibitronics

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ISTE Workshop

I spoke with Jie Qi today to talk about her plans for the Chibitronics Love to Code workshop I’m helping her with at ISTE this summer.


Because if you attend, you’re going to be one of the first #edtech teachers to have access to her and Bunnie’s awesome new Arduino board that you can program with your PHONE or a Chromebook! (No software downloads for the Arduino IDE! HOORAY!)

In this 3 hour workshop, you’ll learn to craft paper circuits, learn about Arduino coding, and make something pretty rad you can show off to all of your friends.

So why haven’t you signed up yet?

Why Paper Circuits?

Okay, so you might be thinking, why paper circuits? I still remember my first adventure with Arduino at the Denton Public Library. I was so baffled at wiring things to a breadboard and then writing my first code. It was a lot to take in: reading circuitry diagrams AND learning to write code. (Read another post about getting started with Arduino here.) When I tried using Arduino with students at Lamar, I usually only had my students tinker with code or attempt to wire up a project, I felt like introducing both at once would be too confusing.

Then something magical happened. I started a club for my middle schoolers with the Chibitronics Circuit Sticker Notebooks. I learned all about simple and parallel circuits alongside my Circuit Girls. Then I started sewing circuits and programming Lilypad Arduino projects. And suddenly, all of that wiring on breadboards MADE SENSE to me! The tangible nature of laying out a circuit just made it all click for someone visual (and hands on) like me.

So for teaching students new to to these concepts, I like to start with paper circuits before moving to sewing circuits. (And if they are interested, THEN we get to move into programming. However, if you just want special effects and aren’t ready to program, the Chibitronics Effect Stickers are another alternative for adding new ideas to your projects!)

Why Program Paper Circuits?

You still might be asking, why program paper circuits? I can already program with a regular Arduino. What makes programming paper circuits special? Well, I think there are a couple of things about programming paper circuits that are amazing.

  1. Some students follow and create Arduino projects, but never really grasp how to get a project off of a breadboard and into the real world. Programming paper circuits could get your students thinking about real world applications. Plus, it’s like creating your own PCB out of paper and copper tape! How cool is that?
  2. Being able to clip an Arduino board onto a paper circuit makes computational tinkering much more accessible than hard wiring/breadboarding/soldering a project!

I’m excited for this board to come out and buy a class set for my library. Plus, I’m stoked to see what other teachers’ students do once they get hands on experience with coding and wiring components with the Chibitronics Love to Code board.

This new Arduino board from Chibitronics is going to make it even easier for students to understand how a microcontroller works and how they can “wire ” it themselves. 
If you want to learn more about programming your own paper circuits, sign up for this awesome workshop in San Antonio at ISTE this summer. You won’t regret it!

Link to ISTE Workshop!

(See my previous post about using this board for light-up poetry.)

Here’s a run down of all the sessions I’m involved in at ISTE:

June 24- 28: ISTE , San Antonio, Texas