This semester I had the opportunity to revisit the cloud project that fellow Artist-Educator Ainsley Buckner and I piloted last year. The LED cloud residencies have been one of our most successful projects. In fact, the cloud project has been so successful that Progressive Arts Alliance will be traveling to the SXSWedu conference to exhibit and build clouds with conference goers.
This semester we refined our project objectives which led to the use of new materials and the opportunity to engage more students in the work.
First, we decided that the groups of students would focus on making three different types of clouds, cumulus, stratus, or cirrus, where as last year’s groups focused primarily on creating cumulus clouds. We also decided that instead of using slow rotating RGB and standard white LEDs, we used Adafruit’s Neopixels with Through-Hole connectors which made for a different soldering process, allowing me to cover both series and parallel circuits and how they can work together.
Following are some of my reflections on what went well and what could be improved.
What went well:
Each school (Mound STEM School, Hannah Gibbons STEM School, and John Marshall School of Information Technology) completed several clouds. This might sound like a simple objective, but it can be a tall order to have groups of students building sculptural forms, soldering LED lights, and combining the two into a functioning and stable sculptural object in only ten class periods.
The schools each completed clouds of several different types. Last time, most clouds ended up resembling cumulus clouds. This time around, each school has distinctly different clouds that still complement each other aesthetically.
The clouds are now powered by a wall outlet and an Arduino. The previous versions of the clouds were battery-powered which are expensive to replace and a little more unwieldy. The wall power ultimately cuts down on cost and overall hassle.
As mentioned above, an Arduino now powers the lights in the clouds. This allows us to make the lights actually look like lightning, and in the future if we choose, we could add sound or any other features, without having to start the project over. Click below to see a video of the Arduino-powered cloud:
What could be refined in the future:
As I mentioned earlier, it is hard to get all that we’d like done in ten sessions. Keeping this in mind, I think that finding ways to have students work on a project outside of PAA being there could be beneficial in several ways:
- It would give more responsibility and ownership of the project to the students.
- Provide an opportunity for classroom teachers to be just as involved in the project, better preparing them help in future projects or more elaborate/extended projects.
- It would allow more time for scaffolding the project. Currently students haven’t had the opportunity to actually install the clouds with the PAA team. I feel like this is a large disconnect between the completion of the objects, and the overall goal of a public installation piece, which I think is an important part of the artistic process.
The individually addressable RGB LEDs that we chose for this project were difficult to work with. Due to excessive wear and tear, the pins were more likely to snap off, and the pixels themselves can blow or not work properly if any large number of things goes wrong. In the future, I’d like to experiment with discovering a more fluid method of soldering the lights together to improve efficiency.
This project is always changing and moving. There are never any two classes that are the same, and that’s a good thing. It just means that the Artist-Educators need to be prepared with multiple solutions to multiple problems that could arise in any combination. The ultimate goal is to prepare students to be able to work through the steps of the design process enabling them to identify and solve a wide variety of challenges.