Graphic Novel Review- Secret Coders Series

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I love graphic novels, books about gaming, and books that promote problem solving.

Other Gene Luen Yang Graphic Novels

When I was in the English classroom, one of my favorite books to recommend to students was Gene Luen Yang’s Level Up. I loved it and so did my freshmen students. It was one of those books that I could hand to a hesitant reader and they would just gobble it up! American Born Chinese was also a favorite because it was such a quirky bildungsroman story about being an awkward teenager. Even though it is about being a Chinese American, the heart of the book is about being uncomfortable in your own skin. (AND ISN’T THIS WHAT EVERY TEENAGER FEELS?!?!?)  But I digress…

Secret Coders Series

So you can see why I was stoked when First Second offered to send me the first four books of the graphic novel series Secret Coders.  I read them quickly and then passed them on to my 8 YO. As I’m writing this review, she is re-reading them. She just LOVES this series.

I asked her, “What do you love about it?”

She said simply:

  • It’s about coding
  • It’s a mystery

And that is exactly what is so awesome about Secret Coders! In this series, the main character Hopper moves to a new school only to find that she is surrounded by puzzles and mystery. Working with her new friends, she learns the Logo language and has to program a robotic turtle to draw patterns that unlock the clues to her school’s past. Meaning, she has to use logic and math to problem solve, create art, and solve each puzzle. This book is exemplar at gamifying math and programming. Plus, it shows how math is ART. This type of directional coding is good for laying a foundation with conditional statements across platforms and troubleshooting/persevering.

One of my favorite things about this series is that Yang includes puzzles for the reader to solve like this one below:

“Go ahead. Give it a shot. Try to write a program that can do my homework.”

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A Little History Note:

Wait…Logo? YES! This book is based on the Logo language created by Seymour Papert, Wally Feurzeig, and Cynthia Solomon. This language was a learning tool that was later developed to program a robotic turtle that held a drawing pen. Students use math to program the turtle to take simple shapes that create intricate designs. Read more about the  Logo history here.

More Coding Books for Kids

There are lots of great coding books out there to get kids interested. Here are just a few. Please share your favorites in the comments.

Thank you @patrick.benfield ! #papert #logo #papertforthepeople #latergram

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Review of LilyPad Sewable Electronics Kit

 

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This post is a long time coming! To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Lilypad Electronics (THANK YOU, Leah Buechley!!!), I’m reviewing SparkFun’s Lilypad Sewable Electronics Kit. This introductory kit came out last spring and SPOILER ALERT- it is a must-have for beginners interested in sewing circuits. (Educators and hobbyists alike!)

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What’s in it?

So what’s inside the Lilypad Sewable Electronics Kit ?

Picture from SparkFun

Inside the kit, is a full color glorious booklet with detailed drawings and instructions for four beginner projects. Beginners will learn to start sewing a simple circuit with a Glowing Pin, move to a light up mask made with a parallel circuit, then soldier on to sewing pre-programmed microcontrollers with the light-up plushie and night-sensing pennant.

The kit contains:

  • Full color instruction booklet- IT’s BEAUTIFUL!
  • Templates for all projects- compact and easy to follow/understand
  • Lilypad Coin Cell Battery Holder (switched)
  • E-sewing Protosnap- A rad connected, snappable board with LEDS connected to switches and battery holder.
  • LilyMini Protosnap  – The LilyMini microcontroller is connected to a button, a sensor, and two pairs of LEDs. Since it’s pre-wired and connected, users can see what the behavior is like before sewing to a project. (Without having to alligator clip components together.)
  • Sewable Lilypad LEDs
  • 2 glorious spools of Conductive Thread
  • Sewing needles, felt, stuffing, embroidery thread; basically everything you need to make the four projects in the kit!

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What can I make with it?

There are four projects outlined in the kit. My goal was to make each, but of course I cheated a bit. Above is a twinkling stuffie I designed to inspire my high school sewing circuit club. Below is a stuffie sewn with LilyMini when it was in the pre-production phase. (I followed the instructions for the light up pennant, but moved the circuit around a bit and decided to make a stuffie instead of a hanging pennant.) It utilizes the light sensor and glistens in like morning dew in the sunshine.

Two summers ago, I made this blinging badge to wear during my Maker Education panel at the Capitol Hill Maker Faire. It utilizes a pre-programmed LilyMini and was a super fun one hour project.

I dug the illuminated mask that came in the kit, but thought it would be fun to make a cosplay style LEGO mask. This LEGO Robin mask template can even double as a Minion mask!

4.jpgMy next project was to make some fan art in the form of an embroidered/illuminated Schwartz ring in honor of my favorite movie, SpaceBalls. I re-programmed the LilyMini, embroidered a Yogurt fist with ring, but stalled out in the final steps of the project because we were moving. So that project is still in progress, but I’ll share it when it’s finished.

All in all, a lot of learning is packed into this compact kit! One can learn to sew pre-programmed electronics and hopefully have enough experience at the end to start creating and programming their own e-textiles.

One of my favorite things about the kit are the inclusion of the pre-wired protosnaps.

Here’s a video of the pre-wired LilyMini Protosnap, so you can bask in it’s blinky glory:

Bottom Line

At around 100 bucks, it’s too much to buy a ton of these kits to run a class workshop, BUT it is a great kit for educators who want to start sewing circuits and aren’t sure where to start. It takes the guess work out of what materials and components to buy. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. If I could, I’d probably buy a class set of the instruction booklet because it is JUST SO RAD. Then buy components based on what my students wanted to make.

The introductory projects are fun, engaging, and inspiring. Plus, each project is open enough to function as inspiration for more difficult projects that you or your students can design and create if you don’t want to follow the templates.

I love the pre-wired protosnap concept. It allows makers to see the functioning circuit before sewing their own circuit traces. I think it’s helpful in allowing creators to come up with their own design, but it’s also helpful in teaching those to new to electronics the concept of wiring a circuit.

As an aside: For my own sewing circuit club, I bought the e-textiles lab pack. This pack holds enough resources for 10 makers to create LilyTwinkle projects. The only downside to the lab pack is that it doesn’t have a programmable board included.

If you are wanting to try sewing circuits, you can buy yourself most of this Lilypad swag from Sparkfun with their Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale that has almost everything at 20% off.

More Sewing Circuit Resources:

Here’s a running list of my sewing circuit resources.

Awesome Sewing Circuit Resources from others:

Plus, some more rad e-textile resources from my favorite makers.

Want More?

I’ve got a few projects in my head and am considering writing an introductory sewing circuit book, would you be interested in such a resource, dear readers?