Making LED Bracelets for Hip Hop Camp

This week we are helping with an activity at a different camp offered
through Progressive Arts Alliance. Hip Hop Camp is a two week long
immersive experience for children ages 11-18 to learn about Hip Hop
culture, music, and self-expression. Each day the campers are rotating
through different activities that include DJing, MCing, break dancing, and
graffiti art. We decided to incorporate an LED lesson where the campers
could make bracelet cuffs that light up for their dance routines. Our
activity provided something different and challenging to break up their day.
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The first step was teaching the campers about LED lights and how they work. LED stands
for Light Emitting Diode and they create a brighter, less heat producing light than
filament light bulbs. An LED has two metal prongs protruding from the
bottom, one longer than the other. These are called leads and the longer
lead is a positive charge and the shorter lead is a negative charge.
Next, we ask the campers what conductive means and if they
know any materials that are. Conductivity is the rate at which electricity
passes through a specified material. Campers yell out common conductive
materials such as metal and water. Materials that are not conductive are
called insulators, like rubber, wood and fiber.
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Each camper receives a rectangular piece of black felt with which he or
she will create a parallel circuit to power the LEDs. Instead of a wire we use
a special conductive thread that is made of cotton spun with steel. The
campers first trace the template of the circuit onto the piece of felt.
Then the campers will figure out which sides of their LEDs are positive by
looking for the longer lead. Each LED is poked through the felt, making
sure the positive leads are aligned. In order to sew the LEDs to the felt
we have to use needle nose pliers to curl each lead into a flat swirl. Once
the lights are on the felt, the next step is to start sewing the negative
path. Using the conductive thread the campers learn basic sewing techniques
and start by attaching the negative side of the battery pack onto the felt.
Then they continue with a running stitch and sewing through each negative
lead twice to secure them.
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In order for the lights to be able to turn on and off, we created a break
in the circuit that can be completed when the two metal clasps are
connected. We achieve this by sewing on the positive side of the battery
pack and then sewing a path to the first metal snap and securing it. Once
that is tied off we can finish our parallel circuit by sewing on the other
metal snap and continuing that thread through the positive side of each
lead. The last step is to sew the sides of the bracelet closed using a cover stitch with regular black thread.

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This was a challenging activity to complete in two one-hour sessions, but
the campers remained focused and determined. Not every person was familiar
with sewing, so it was a fun challenge for them to learn a new skill. It
also took some trial and error to make sure the circuit worked and the LEDs
would light up. If the LEDs were not lighting up, they had to retrace their
steps and see where in the circuit the problem might be. Despite some
frustration learning a tedious new skill, the campers enjoyed being able to
problem solve and produce a fun accessory that will brighten up!

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