Tag Archives: circuits

Illuminated Artist Books: Robots

After laying down seemingly miles of copper tape–practicing complicated bends and turns–the fourth graders at Hannah Gibbons were ready to see if their skills could be applied to complete circuits and illuminate tiny LED lights. They masterfully wired a simple circuit, and celebrated 100% success as a class on their first try, each of them rewarded with the soft glow of a single LED light. Eager to master multiple lights, they dove into their parallel circuits with equal success and much enthusiasm.

Robot creative writing template and parallel circuit planning sheet.

Robot creative writing template and parallel circuit planning sheet.

Next up, we’d really investigate the line as well as our understanding of circuits. [Remember our Essential Questions regarding the line in this semester’s artist book residencies incorporating circuits and LED lights] Students each created a unique drawing of a robot that they invented through a creative writing exercise. With their completed drawings, students identified several areas where lights could enhance their robot illustrations; think eyes, antennas, hearts, and laser hands. The robot drawings were completed on the outside surface of a folded lift-the-flap structure to allow for the creation of parallel circuits beneath the illustrations.

Planning light placement with a student on her robot illustration.

Planning light placement with a student on her robot illustration.

Students plotted out the placement of their lights, and got to work designing and creating their custom parallel circuits. This was a huge challenge, and as a result offered the greatest reward. After weeks of practice, students adapted and translated their understanding of circuits into a line drawing of positive and negative parallel but never touching tracks looping back to the power source to illuminate the lights beneath their illustrations. There was an excitement of challenge, mixed with a little head-scratching, many super tight turns with copper tape, and a few frustrated re-starts.

Student reflects on his completed robot illustration.

Student reflects on his completed robot illustration.

Completed robot fox illustration ready for parallel circuit planning below.

Completed robot fox illustration ready for parallel circuit planning below.

And then, it was absolute magic. Every student mastered a unique parallel circuit for their book spread, and then folded down their robot drawing to lay flat over the lights. “Oooh”s and “Aaah”s sounded out in a cacophony as students celebrated in both amazement and disbelief of how their robots lit up exactly where they had hoped; their smiles as bright as their lights!

See the students in action in their classroom by watching the YouTube video below:

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Illuminated Artist Books: Plugged In

With the 4th graders at Mound Elementary School, we started off our illuminated artist book residency with discussions and experiments focusing on our understanding of the line. We laid down inches and miles of copper tape for our material practice worksheets, then we moved on to create a simple and a parallel circuit. We discussed the importance of continuous lines and loops, and connectivity.

Brainstorming Illustrations

Discussing parallel circuits with students.

We discussed and expounded upon our essential questions that are navigating our Illuminated Artist Book Circuit investigations:

What is a line?

How can we use the line to both draw and illuminate our drawing?

Charged with all of this conversation about line, coupled with a good foundation of craft, as well as increased electrical understanding, we shifted our focus to discussions of technology for this residency. Specifically, to the lines of wires, cords, and plugs. We discussed the shifting ground of technology, and questioned what is now wireless, what still plugs in, and how we still have wires and chargers that plug in to recharge? Investigating the electronics of our every day experiences, each student determined an object that requires electricity to operate at some capacity for their individual contribution to the collaborative book.

Class Discussion

Class discussion of electronics.

We decided to title the book “Plugged In” employing a pun about being in touch and engaged with the current time, while taking all of our electric illustrations a note back in time by plugging them all in with lines that tethered ankle of our illustrations together. We were inspired by the illustrative style of the picture book Follow the Line.

While students brainstormed their individual electronic illustration ideas, we spent an afternoon honing our line drawing approaches and our understanding of connected drawings by creating some fabulously funny exquisite corps drawings. Exquisite Corpse is a drawing technique first employed by the Surrealists; see some examples right here.

We created class lists of our individual electronic items, making sure we had no repeats, and students got to work with their lines creating their plugged in drawings, and making them connect to the page prior and the page following.

Student Illustration

Student with completed illustration.

Next, students determined where they would place lights, and what color they desired for the lights in the various locations. Students made notes, and then transferred down the placement of their lights beneath their illustrations.

Circuit Light Planning

Student with LED light planning stencil.

Copper Tape Circuit

Student laying down copper tape for his parallel circuit.

Mapping out their unique parallel circuits to accommodate their plans was the biggest challenge in this residency, so their success there also reaped the biggest reward in earning their determined sense of accomplishment.

Students Working Together

Students working together on copper tape techniques for their parallel circuits.

For me, however, nothing beats the moment — that flicker of the quickest second in time — when student faces light up with sheer amazement in the success of their unique parallel circuits working!

Moment of Illumination

First excited moment of circuit illumination!

Then, as they fold down their illustration over top, and seemingly magically those brightly colored lights illuminate their illustrations.

Student with illuminated illustration

Student with illuminated illustration 2

Students with illuminated illustrations

Student with illuminated illustration 3

Those smiles? They are absolutely priceless, and positively beaming with the pride of their achievement.

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Illuminated Artist Books: Created Constellations

During my illuminated book residency at Paul L. Dunbar Arts Enrichment Academy, 4th graders were interested in the stories of the sky. Together, we looked at several constellations, the legends behind them, and the various ways in which they are mapped and drawn. Students created their own star stories, and then designed constellations to illustrate their creative writing. After much practice with copper tape techniques, and wiring successful simple and parallel circuits, students were ready to dive into their own illuminated constellations for the collaborative class book.

Playing again with line, we returned to our essential questions that are navigating our Illuminated Artist Book Circuit investigations:

What is a line?

How can we use the line to both draw and illuminate our drawing?

We took our inquiry of line discussions in the direction of connecting-the-dots. We discussed the constellation schematic drawings that chart out our star-filled skies with points and lines. The congruency to connecting our LED lights beneath our constellation illustrations was perfectly paired to these discussions, as our parallel circuits became quite constellation-like themselves.

Circuit Planning

Circuit planning with students.

Though several of the circuits took on a similar path as the overlaid illustrations, many circuits took an entirely different connection route as students worked out the logistics of space and connection for their parallel tracks of copper tape.

Constellation Book

Student showcasing the cover to the collaborative constellation book.

Students drew their constellation illustrations with gold pens on navy blue cardstock. They indicated the major stars of their constellations with punched holes backed with yellow translucent vellum which provided a tiny window for the lights to glow through from beneath.

Constellation Circuits

Students illuminating their parallel circuits under their constellation illustrations.

After the light locations were determined, students designed and wired custom parallel circuits to compliment their constellations and illuminate three or four LED lights, indicating their major stars, beneath their illustrations. With a little trial-and-error, several tricky turns, and and a handful of tight corners with the copper tape, all of the constellations were alit.

constellation pages

Student Constellation Drawings.

Student Constellations Illuminated

Students with their illuminated constellation illustrations.

As students folded their constellation drawings over their illuminated circuits, excitement and amazement dotted the room like stars crowded in the night sky.

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Telling the Story of our Landscape with the Makey Makey and Scratch

Mound_scratch

Mound STEM School 4th grader working on coding his Scratch animation.

The 4th graders at Mound STEM School in Cleveland were already well-versed in landforms when I began my residency this past fall semester. Their teachers had done an excellent job teaching the students all about weathering, erosion, and the formation of landforms. What I found lacking in this class was the ability to visualize these landforms. They could tell me how a valley or a glacier was created, but they could not tell me what said valley or glacier looked like. They could describe the weather associated with these landforms, but not the visuals of them. This is one of those key factors missing from our education system: the ability to let students experience these realities first-hand. Although we cannot take the students to the Grand Canyon or to the valleys of the Rocky Mountains, we can show YouTube videos, paintings and images to give our students a glimpse of these environments.

It took students some time to realize their visions for their Scratch animations they made as part of my residency work. The animations included drawn imagery sourced from discovered images and videos research. Once they had conquered the imagery, the students incorporated facts about their landforms to educate other students and other viewers. We then used conductive materials such as graphite, aluminum foil, and copper tape to create conductive drawings, which worked along with the Makey Makeys to trigger the Scratch projects. The conductive drawings were a result of experiments completed by the students, during which they tested various materials to find what the most conductive materials were to use for their artworks.

Experimenting with conductive materials and the Makey-Makey.

Experimenting with conductive materials and the Makey Makey.

The results of combining these various materials and methods was a (surprisingly) cohesive and exciting project. The students learned the basics of coding, digital painting, physical drawing, and conductivity, along with their landform curriculum. This was a very challenging residency to accomplish, and the results were far from perfect. I would love to do this residency again, with slight adjustments to streamline the process. The students were very proud of their work, and their projects can be viewed here. I enjoyed my time with the 4th graders at Mound STEM, and I look forward to seeing what these enthusiastic learners create next.

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Bringing Lines to Life with Light

There’s something completely captivating about illuminating a small light by completing a simple circuit. Something akin to creating fire. Suddenly, by mastering the positive and negative connections to the battery source and completing the loop of a simple circuit, you have participated in something both so profoundly simple, and yet mysteriously complex. Like magic, it seems simultaneously believable and unbelievable. This simple magic will be the core of a forthcoming book residency with 4th graders from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. We’ll be experimenting with Chibitronics LED stickers, conductive copper foil tape, and cell batteries.

Circuit

Completed simple circuit with copper foil tape, LED sticker, and cell battery.

In merging the science content of circuits and the art content of creating illuminated images for our books, students will engage in an investigation of understanding line. Through the residencies, we’ll ponder what is created by the line. The driving questions of engagement will center on the following inquiry:

What is a line?
How can we use the line to both draw and illuminate our drawing?

The content of each of the book projects within the residencies will vary, contemplating the diverse range of potential of the drawn line. Beneath the drawings created for the book pages, students will draw additional lines on a separate and hidden page beneath the illustrations with the copper foil tape, making correct all the connections to the positive and negative ends of the battery source, therefore creating a smooth path for the electrons to flow, and illuminate tiny LED lights. The lights will illuminate various and specific aspects of their illustrations from below.

Illuminated Constellation

Student drawing of the constellation of Leo, and completed parallel circuit beneath.

My personal investigations have revealed that one of my biggest challenges will be honing the craft and application of the copper tape. Being a very thin foil weight, it is super easily to crinkle and tear — most especially when making bends and corner turns, which will be necessary for the circuits within the book. Considering line, I think this challenge poses a terrific solution to really invest time into exploring line-making with various foil tapes, where we can build craft through experience as well as test out conductivity of a variety of materials and methods.

Eiffel Tower Drawing Illuminated

Parallel circuit teaching example; an illuminated Eiffel Tower.

I think of the art challenge presented much like Harold and the Purple Crayon, where we can bring lines to life — both through drawing and illumination. Through the opportunity to engage with circuits, I hope the investigation of line becomes a memorable experience for the students who will be able to envision themselves as creators of content, with wide open imaginations about the potential of both drawing and bookmaking, electricity, and beyond.

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Experience to Execution

Developing a new project is challenging. It is one thing for an artist to develop their own work, their own process and own methodologies.  It is another type of challenge to apply those processes and methods to arts integration projects. While developing a residency for 5th graders at Michael R. White STEM School, I drew upon a past experience I had while developing my own artistic work. The residency’s activities consisted of the students first drawing parts of a food web, then making transfer drawings, arranging and testing gears, making series and parallel circuits, and eventually creating connections with gears to light up (literally) the different parts of their food web.

Working on Circuit

Constructing a Circuit

Completed Circuit

Completed Circuit

Drawing has been one of my passions since I could physically pick up a pencil, crayon, or marker; I didn’t really have a preference when I was younger. I have spent thousands and thousands of hours drawing in my life. If you ask me to draw something, I can probably whip up a fairly accurate sketch in just a few minutes. Throughout most of my life I have had the mindset that there is one proper way to draw. The “traditional way,” as some might refer to, is drawing from life, rendering objects and forms through a push and pull with materials and the media. Then one day I got frustrated. I couldn’t figure out how to draw something. The form eluded me and through many, many attempts I simply couldn’t get it to look like I wanted. After about an hour of just staring at my paper fighting with myself internally, I walked out of my school studio and down the stairs to the checkout area. I checked out a projector and opened up Photoshop. Hours of frustration melted away, and I got the form I was looking for faster than I could have imagined. Photoshop enabled me to edit pre-existing images as source material to create the new image I had envisioned. I have been tracing, copying, and editing ever since.

This particular experience has shown me that different methods of making can be used to complement each other. Technology and traditional drawing do not have to be independent disciplines. I have also found that the right way to do something is not predetermined, but must be figured out through experience and trial and error.  Making drawing fun and empowering for students can be a challenge. By using my previous experiences as an artist to shape and develop my methods to teach drawing, I  have been pleased to observe that students are able to find a balance between rigorous skill building and achievement.

My concept and final creation for “Constellation,” a wearable I created in 2014.

The technical skills I’ve developed in 3D modeling and rendering, animationphotographic manipulation, and more have enhanced my traditional drawing abilities. More recently, I’ve developed  a skill set in circuitry that has allowed me to take my drawing and sculptural work to a new level much as I did previously with other technical tools. This has allowed me to design and implement learning experiences for students that sit outside of art making in the “traditional” sense, helping students have access to materials and methods they may not have otherwise.

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Exploring Conductive Creativity in the Informal Classroom

Photo Apr 23, 7 39 50 PM

Experimenting with LEDs with a student at the Southeast Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.

Winter can be a cold, harsh season here in Cleveland. To get everyone out of the house and into creativity, my colleagues and I have been teaching Conductive Creativity workshops at the Cuyahoga County Libraries over the past several months. These workshops focus on teaching students how to make an LED circuit and how to create a piece of art in the form of a light box. We provide them with all of the materials, give them a brief introduction to circuits, and let them explore. As a fine artist in the education field, it is incredibly fascinating to observe my students as they explore and create with artistic and scientific media that I am just beginning to understand. The freethinking attitudes present in these workshops contribute to communication, as well as innovation amongst peers, students, and teachers alike.

One student's light box.

One student’s light box.

There is such inspiration to be found in the informal classroom. In our most recent workshop, I gave students a variety of multicolored plastic film, LEDs, and foil, with which to decorate their light boxes. Students gravitated towards the various supplies, creating light boxes that I would never have visualized. They were all unique, despite having the same initial box and circuit structure. For example, two sisters of similar ages participated in the Middleburg Heights Library workshop. One sister gravitated towards the visuals, creating elaborately decorated light boxes with only a few circuits. The other went on to create an elongated series circuit, choosing to focus entirely on the electronics and the LEDs. It was exciting to see two dissimilar and opposite projects come from two very alike individuals.

Lighting up LEDs is always exciting.I try to encourage advanced students to assist their peers during the making process. At one point, I began noticing that when one student struggles with his or her circuit, another student will instinctively offer assistance. This exchange of knowledge and seamless collaboration and experimentation is something that has naturally occurred in the Conductive Creativity workshops, and it is something I wish to perpetuate in all of the programs I facilitate at Progressive Arts Alliance.

 

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A Mound of Clouds

During my first residency with Progressive Arts Alliance during the fall 2014 semester, I had the pleasure to work alongside Miss Ainsley (“Paisley” according to some of the more affectionate 7th graders) Buckner and the Mound STEM School 7th graders to develop, make, and install LED lit “clouds”.

cloud first

The 7th graders formed small teams to accomplish this project. Each team had to construct an acrylic armature that would be covered with gauze and poly-fill (the stuff that is inside of pillows) and build two circuits of LED lights.

To build the clouds accurately, the students looked at and identified different types of cloud formations. They drafted what the armature might have to look like for each type of cloud. An armature is the framework on which a sculpture is molded. Ainsley and I emphasized the importance of planning before making.

cloud2

Each group then began to build their specific clouds, if someone was having trouble, the groups would work together, or combine themselves to make the process smoother. For the most part, Ainsley led the construction of the armatures and showed the students the proper way to use hot glue and a heat gun. The heat gun was used to add curvature to acrylic rods, allowing more natural looking forms to be built.

cloudputthissomewheremayb

While some groups worked on their armatures, I took the rest of the students and showed them how circuits work, and how to effectively build them. Each student had the opportunity to build their own circuit in series, which would later be attached to the interior of the cloud for illumination. Continue reading

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Shining a Light on Social Issues

lightbox3

A student demonstrates their light box projector.

During the fall 2014 semester, I worked with the 7th grade at Orchard STEM School.  This residency project was my first “solo” residency that I completed with Progressive Arts Alliance. It was a learning experience for both the students and myself. When developing this project I thought back to when I was in 7th grade. What were the worries or struggles that I dealt with? I couldn’t think of anything specific, but I knew that when I was twelve I began to express myself in many different ways. I found the music that I liked, I grew my hair out, and I actively made decisions between doing one thing or another. The theme was expression. Students at the end of middle school are beginning to find the things that make them, well, them. Often with this new found expression there are many problems, almost like riding a bike for the first time, or learning to swim. The learning curve is a bit steep and can be dangerous, but once you learn how to do these things effectively, they can literally save your life. The ability to effectively express yourself is no different, and can be used to help more than just one or two people.

I decided that each student would make a lightbox projector. These lightboxes, when illuminated, shine a super bright LED through a plexiglass etching of a collage that each student developed around a social issue of their choosing. Some students made imagery about bullying and ending violence, others questioned why we accept advertising but not graffiti, or why is there even such an idea as gender inequality.

lightbox

Students’ etchings they created around social issues.

 

Each student crafted their own box. This included soldering a series circuit composed of a battery pack, an LED, a resistor, and a switch, which allow the light boxes to be turned on and off. They each assembled the components of the boxes together using wood glue and hot glue, making sure that the LED would project clearly through the etching in front of it. Each student also had the opportunity to manually etch a piece of real glass using acid.

Lightbox2

Students collaborated to construct their boxes. The wood for the boxes was laser cut at the think[box] at Case Western Reserve University.

Along with the making side of things, the 7th graders also did an amazing job at grasping the concepts of image, narrative, and installation art, and how they interrelate.

lightbox1

Examining a finished box in class.

 

In the second semester, there will be a day in which all of the lighboxes will be installed and the school will have the opportunity to see these expressions of the 7th graders and raise awareness around the social issues each student addressed.

lightbox4

Projecting our completed light boxes onto the classroom ceiling.

 

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