Monday, May 5, 2014

To Tinker or Not to Tinker?

Recently the Children's Room hosted a Tinkering Tuesday that focused on electronic Mother's Day cards using conductive tape, a 3V battery, and a LED. The goal was to make something extra special for mom while learning about simple circuits. Science = Fun!

I had practiced on a few cards beforehand experimenting with conductive paint and tape but only 1 LED. I had no problems except when using the paint (which I made myself). It takes a while to dry and it won't light up until it is.  Honestly I'd recommend the already made paint from BARE instead because the graphite I used to mix my own was expensive and unreliable. Due to drying times,  I concluded that the tape would be the easiest option available for our 1 hour program.

I had gone into this feeling rather confident that we could tinker around and I would not limit the kids to certain design principles when making the circuit. I was quite surprised by the amount of difficulty and frustration the kids had felt. They did not want to tinker and many left with "failed" cards that did not work. I hated seeing sad faces leaving the room. My whole goal was to make science fun and to see the practical uses in their lives! They left a half an hour later than expected with supplies and emailed instructions to "Go forth and keep testing at home!"

So what happened?

1. Labeling: I could not stress enough the importance of labeling their positive and negative side of the LED and penciling in the pathway before putting down the tape. It's hard troubleshooting an already taped unlabeled pathway.

2. Design: Many of the kids opted to use more than 1 LED. I told the kids that since the LED pack I received were of all shapes and sizes, I was unsure how many one 3V could power but to try it anyway and see what happens. The circuit pathway went from looking like a cone shaped, to a crazy zig zag depending on where the lights were placed. None of these worked.  Everyone ended up starting over with just 1 LED. The more the tape was played with or bent, the harder it was to light.

3. Taping the pathways: When I designed my card, I cut one straight long strip for the plus side, one for the negative side. As I was walking around the room, I noticed some of the kids had taped large chunks on top of other chunks of tape in an uneven mess or sometimes the tape under the negative side of battery touched the positive side.

4. Pressing down HARD:  Pressing down hard on the tape connecting to the LEDS was key. It needs to be a secure connection.

Thoughts for next time around (Father's Day perhaps?):

*In the beginning, talking about how to troubleshoot projects and reiterating the role of tinkering. Consult someone with more science knowhow than I have about the possible issues. Was the tape too messy? pathway too long?
*1 small LED limit with a set design example.
*Emphasize the importance of nicely cutting and placing the tape.
*Getting better battery holders or higher voltage batteries.

Why were they sad? They wanted a finished successful product as soon as they walked out the door. This left me thinking about the expectations of crafting programs especially mixed with the motto of tinkering. Food for thought.

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