Paper Circuits

published: 2013-12-03

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Working with Paul Oh, David Cole, Jennifer Dick, and Jie Qi in the “Hack Your Notebook” seminar during the National Writing Project conference in Boston was a blast. To get a sense of the activity, check out Jie Qi’s amazing work at: technolojie.com. I had to try to reproduce the fun we had with my boys.

While in Boston, Jie was tremendously kind and gave me several of her prototype LED lights. She is crowd-funding production of these “circuit stickers” and I have supported her vision. I had already gathered plenty of the leftover copper tape (with conductive adhesive) from the scraps left over at the end of the presentation and brought them home from Boston.

Central to the “Hack Your Notebook” seminar was a booklet of templates produced through collaboration between the National Writing Project, Jie Qi, and David and Jennifer’s educational consulting group CV2. I photocopied the most relevant pages from the booklet. These templates lead the user through the creation of a basic circuit by “drawing in the lines” with the conductive tape. The “brilliance” of these templates is that upon completion of the coin-battery powered circuit, turning the page reveals that you had been building a narrative at the same time. There is a literal and figurative “lightbulb moment.” Jie made it very clear that the artwork and storytelling aspects of this project are as important to her as the science of circuitry.

I demonstrated my project to the boys and then let them follow the template. They were each successful completing the basic circuit. When the boys turned their pages, I got to relive the sense of joy and excitement that I felt while working through the book.

I was then blown away by their artwork. Noah started brainstorming how he would create his circuit by drawing out a plan. He allowed the constraint of having only one light lead his design decisions. He decided to create a character who was winking. Owen was set on drawing a tiger. He naturally decided to illuminate his sun.

A great thing about this project is that the boys did not require my help to find success. Both the six and the ten-year-old were perfectly capable of design, implementation, and troubleshooting. Noah patiently worked on a bug for 15 minutes until he discovered that by turning the battery over, he could get his circuit to work. This led to a conversation about what he learned regarding polarity and the flow of electricity.

I am excited because the success that we had in Boston is replicable. This is a fun activity that I was happy to share with my children and I am excited to run in my classroom. I have already ordered more conductive tape and batteries. I have just enough LEDs for my “Digital Literacy” course and I’ll look forward to production of Jie’s magical “circuit stickers” in the spring.

I hope to convince Paul Oh from the National Writing Project to produce more of the wonderful templates that make this project so accessible.

Jie, Paul, David and Jennifer, the collaborators on the wonderful templates that make this project so accessible, have given permission to share a pdf of the booklet. It includes all of the information anyone would need to get started with paper circuitry: the science behind circuitry, how to put together the necessary materials, the templates, a unit plan for further exploration, and a description of the standards addressed by the project.

Download Paper Circuitry and make paper circuits today!

Video of the Boys and Their Success