Preparing for Leah Buechley: Programming with Paper

Middle, Upper School students combine technology with everyday materials in advance of Visiting Innovator event.

On Wednesday, April 19, Visiting Innovator Leah Buechley will share with our community how blending electrical engineering with traditional craft materials—such as textiles and paper—can make programming technologies more accessible and fun for all.

In preparation for Ms. Buechley’s visit, Steward students are embodying this concept by making their own artistic creations, such as light-up dolls and paper circuits, using various materials.

Upper School students in Robin Ricketts’s, Barbara Coates’s, and Tom Gallo’s ninth-grade seminar Applied Technology classes programmed LilyPad Arduinos (which Ms. Buechley invented) to make LilyPad “ugly dolls” blink their eyes in different colors and sequences, as well as “sing” different songs. Students learned the structure of the Arduino programming language and how to control outputs, such as light and sound.

Ms. Ricketts noticed that having students work with dolls—a familiar, more personalized object–made the technological aspect less intimidating, which reflects one of Ms. Buechley’s main goals.

“They immediately connected with the dolls,” she said. “Each pair of students had one, and the first thing they did was ruffle its hair and give it a name. You heard, ‘Where’s Charlie?’ ‘Where’s Susie?’ It wasn’t, ‘You’re making two LEDs on a hard plastic breadboard function.’ It was, ‘You’re making Charlie’s eyes blink off and on.’ ‘You’re making Susie play this song.’ It created a more personal connection point.”

Ms. Ricketts and Middle and Upper Librarian Melissa Freed worked with Upper School students in one of Rugene Paulette’s art classes to construct LilyPad Arduino shoebox creatures. Students worked in pairs to design and build creatures using LED lights and a piezo (a buzzer that generates sound) that was connected to a LilyPad Arduino. The lesson allowed students to gain a deeper understanding of designing a project that incorporates parameters such as an electrical circuit.

Mrs. Freed and Mr. Gallo worked with Upper School students to create paper circuits, in which students learned basic electric circuit design and added copper tape and LED lighting to art projects such as paintings and Valentine’s Day cards. One student created a paper steamship with light-up “smoke” coming out of its smoke stack. A group of fifth-grade students will be participating in a similar project in preparation for Ms. Buechley’s visit.

In the coming weeks, some Middle School students will work with Mr. Gallo and Bryan Lab Lead Technologist Shane Diller to make temporary tattoos that light up when body heat is applied.

Mr. Gallo said the implementation of the various projects is a way of helping students to better understand and become more invested in the concepts that Ms. Buechley will discuss.

“We don’t want [our Visiting Innovators] to just be one-day events,” he said. “We want to give the students as much pre-knowledge as possible. That’s why we’re working with so many different classes so the students have that moment where they recognize the LilyPad as something they’re familiar with. We want them to be more prepared, and hopefully develop a continued interest in the subject.”

Plan to attend Ms. Buechley’s presentation to see more examples of creative projects and hear more about this unique topic—register here today!





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