The ALSC Children’s and Technology Committee is always looking for great program ideas to use technology with kids. My co-worker, Phyllis Davis, has become the STEAM Queen at my library district and I knew she’d be the perfect person to talk about soft circuits and wearable tech programs at the Library.
Phyllis Davis is the Youth Services Manager at The Library Station, part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District in Springfield Missouri.
What got you interested in doing wearable tech programs for kids?
My interest in wearable tech and soft circuits began when I worked at the Matteson Public Library in Illinois about six years ago. Makerspaces were in their infancy in public libraries. We were buying 3-D printers and trying out all kinds of activities found in Make magazine. I happened upon the work of Leah Buechley at the High Low Tech Group at M.I.T. She is the inventor of the Lillypad Arduino. I am a hand sewer and was intrigued by soft circuits, so collected as much information as I could. I purchased a basic starter project from Sparkfun Electronics to try out, and it was love at first stitch.
What tips do you have for a librarian wanting to get started in tech programs for kids?
If a librarian wants to start a soft circuits or sewn circuits program, they should first be proficient with basic hand sewing themselves. I require that kids and teens that attend my workshops practice hand-sewing before the day of the program. If sewing is not your thing, then paper circuitry is a much easier option. The other thing one needs to understand is basic electricity. Sparkfun Electronics has a great Education page on their website with videos, tutorials and lesson plans to get you up to speed.
What tools should librarians have on hand for a program like this?
If you are pursuing soft circuits, you will need conductive thread, LEDs, coin cell batteries, battery holders, and chenille needles (size 18-24). You can purchase LED’s and coin cell batteries in bulk cheaply on Amazon.com. Battery holders can be purchased cheaply in bulk from Digi-Key (part #BA2032SM-ND). In addition to these specialty items, you will also need sharp sewing scissors, needle-nosed pliers to bend the legs of the LEDs, felt or fabric, and beeswax to keep the conductive thread from tangling. If you choose paper circuitry, then you will need LEDs, coin cell batteries, and copper tape, which can also be purchased from Amazon. Sparkfun Electronics has terrific products and likes to partner with libraries. If you make a request for a donation of materials from their Education Department, they may be able to donate things like conductive thread, copper tape, battery holders, and sewable LEDS.
What was the outline of a program you ran? Or give an example of a program you hosted.
I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. I prefer these two guides when teaching soft circuits: http://alumni.media.mit.edu/~emme/guide.pdf and http://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/resources/etextiles_box.pdf. I have most often done a light up wristband or bookmark as a basic project. For paper circuits, I have used this tutorial: https://makezine.com/2013/06/04/beginner-electronics-project-the-tapetricity-card/ and this handout: https://learn.sparkfun.com/resources/65. For paper circuits, I usually do a light up card as a basic project.
Anything else librarians wanting to do STEAM programs should know?
If you are interested in STEAM programming there are a few websites that I recommend highly! http://www.click2sciencepd.org/ is the best place for professional development for you or your staff on best practices for teaching STEM in informal educational institutions like libraries. Engineering Is Elementary (https://www.eie.org/) offers exceptional free lesson plans that are easy to use and field tested with real kids. PBS KIds has lots of free lesson plans from their various programs, past and present. My favorites are from Fetch with Ruff Ruffman and Design Squad. Finally, I would recommend Curiousity Machine (https://www.curiositymachine.org/) for inspiration. They do charge for full access, but they have a few well-planned lessons available for free. I like their site for the wonderful inspiration videos that they have created to go with each lesson and are accessible without paid membership.
Sarah Bean Thompson
Youth Services Manager
The Library Center