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



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I’m excited to be starting the second version of the Invention Literacy Research project this year with a second English Language Arts teacher! If you are new to the blog, here are some links to last year’s PBL:

Invention Literacy 2016

2nd Iteration

Making Something

To intro the project this year, we had sophomores follow the instructions from The Big Book of Makerspace Projects and make kazoos. Mrs. Melvin and I thought about having them make the LED bookmarks, but we really wanted them to make something simple. We were surprised to find that these teenagers REALLY ENJOYED making and playing kazoos!

Making kazoos with sophomores ! Surprisingly engaging for #teens! #rhs

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Exploring Something

After our kazoo making bonanza, we shared some videos on Invention Literacy and talked with students about how they could make anything they wanted and their only constraints are the materials we have available in the library and time! (We told them we didn’t want anyone going out to buy anything for this project, because we want them to re-use materials that are normally thought of as trash.) However, before deciding on what they wanted to invent, I wanted to try a different material exploration than last year.

Planning with a new teacher means that we are modifying this project to meet the needs of these new learners. While Mrs. Melvin and I were thinking through ideas for her students, we agreed to let students explore materials before deciding on an invention. (This idea sprang from my exploration of cardboard at a SXSWedu session led by Erin Riley, Christa Flores, Sean Justice, and Patrick Benfield.) Last year, Mrs. Feranda and I had students create Makey Makey poetry, work through littleBits challenges, and think aloud on Jay’s Invention Literacy Medium post as an entry point to the project.  So this year, instead of guiding their explorations, Mrs. Melvin and I wanted to attempt letting students choose a material to explore via this Googledoc. This worked great for some classes, but not so well for others. Some of our students really needed to decide on an invention before exploring materials.  (If only there were some way our schools could better support exploration before inventing as well as exploring materials during inventing!)

Exploring materials for #inventionliteracy project! #rhs #libraries #bestdayever Cardboard resource from Erin Riley!

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Researching Something

For the classes that really struggled with material exploration, Mrs. Melvin created an awesome checklist and had them start researching both invention ideas and the history of the invention they wanted to re-create.

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Her students were already familiar with color-coded Cornell notes for researching, so these bright colorful research notes in the Googledoc were easy to use for research!

One thing we both agreed on about our students ability to research is that they sometimes struggle with finding really good information on crowd-sourced sites like Youtube and Instructables. Our teens tend to gravitate toward the highest views rather than the best content. So we gave them a list of questions to ask as they were researching. These questions range from checking on the crowd-sourcer: “How can I tell who this person is? What qualifications do they have?” to self-assessment questions like: “Can I replicate this? Do I have the skills to accomplish this project? Do I need to gain new skills? Or find another way to do this?” ( These questions are based on information from the  Challenge Based Learning  book I co-wrote with Aaron Graves and Diana Rendina.)

Some of our students also seemed to want more help on garnering ideas and finding ideas to hack. So I made this quick list of great crowdsourced sites that students could search through by material or by invention idea.

Crowdsourced sites for sparking ideas and inventions

Learning Something

During student’s first round of prototyping, I had to share a lot of examples of some ideas to frontload ideas for some students. I had so many kids wanting to sew circuits and make paper circuits, but they all wanted to be able to turn their creations off and on. So I showed some students the concept behind making a switch with alligator clips and tin foil.

Other students were self guided in their research on how to make things. Some students really got into the LEGO books by Isogawa, lots of kids used the #bigmakerbook,  and other kids found inspiration in the Chibitronics Circuit Sticker notebook (and of course they scoured Youtube.) But a lot of kids just built and tested to see if they could get working prototypes.

So many kids wanted inventive switches, that I realized I needed to make a tangible example. I saw a similar switch in the Tinkering Studio Sewing Circuit guide, but the picture wasn’t enough, my students needed an example they could examine. This has been quite a handy example to have around, it even helped some boys figure out how to make a switch for their recycled bottle car!

One of the best things to happen during prototyping is that Mrs. Melvin told students, “If you can’t find something, figure out what else you can use to make the same idea.” The kids are now getting really inventive and into tinkering to figure things out.

I can’t wait to share their prototype progress in the next post!