Makers2Mentors: Let it Glow Family Program

As part of my library’s year long Makers2Mentors initiative, I hosted a family program around the winter holidays that introduced computational thinking and Computer Science concepts in a computer-less program. We made light-up, pop-up cards! This program, and its name, were inspired by SparkFun’s Let it Glow light-up card projects. In additional to the learning that happened, this program served a social purpose; supporting family engagement and bringing community together during Alaska’s darkest time of year.

flyer for Let it Glow program

Intended Outcomes

  • families will understand the basics of how electricity work
  • families will learn basic CS concepts (algorithms, conditionals, events, inputs, outputs)
  • families will be introduced to computational thinking (CT) skills in a low stress, hands-on experience
  • families will see experience play-based learning that blends a traditional art form (paper craft), literacy (writing a greeting card), and tech (electrical components), instead of one or the other
  • families will play and learn together and meet new neighborsAs part of my library’s year long
  • families will attend a program for the first time

When, Who and Where
Date: Saturday, close to Winter Solstice in December

Time: 10:30-11:30am (could have been longer with more time to decorate, but the space is popular and often hard to schedule for more than 1 hour)

Staff: 3 (me, another grown-up who is a casual employee/sub and a teen mentor who volunteered time towards the high school’s community service requirement)

Ages: families with kids 4+ (best for ages 6+)

Location: library’s meeting room

Advertising: library’s dedicated Makers2Mentors webpage, library calendar, flyers posted around town, social media, local radio, newspaper and community online calendars.

Equipment/Supplies
For room:

  • large monitor for displaying graphics of electrical circuit and template
  • laptop or tablet with slides to display graphics
  • tables pushed together to make 3 large tables or stations
  • a handful of chairs for those who wanted or needed to sit (not one for everyone so we had more space)
Shared Supplies for Each of the 3 tables:
(on each table when families arrived)

  • 5mm conductive copper tape- 3 for each table (extra tape used for other programs)
  • regular tape (like Scotch brand)- 2 dispensers for each of 3 tables
  • instruction signs- 1 for each of table
  • gluesticks- 4 for each table
  • scissors- 4 each table

Electrical and Paper Supplies for each child/card:
(distributed to tables after I described the project, defined computational thinking, and explained how electricity works)

  • 1- 12mm coin batteries, plus extra for troubleshooting or additional experimentation
  • 2 pieces of cardstock (1- white and 1-red or green)
    • white: printed with SparkFun’s template #1 for electrical part of card (see project link)
    • red or green: printed with SparkFun’s template #2 for the tree portion of the card (see project link)
  • 2- 3mm LEDs in miscellaneous colors (Spark Fun)
  • LillyPad button boards (Spark Fun)- the button is used as a switch so the card lights up when the button, placed at the bottom of the card, is pressed
Shared Decorating Supplies:
(at front table for families to take when they were ready)
  • Winter and Christmas stickers for decorating cards- enough for approximately 5-8 stickers per card
  • markers and pens in a variety of colors- 2 baskets of markers/crayons for each of 3 tables

Program Plan

60 minutes prior to start: set up and answered any last-minute program staff questions

5-10 minutes: At the beginning of the program, I welcomed families, introduced the Makers2Mentors initiative and then gave a quick explanation of how electricity works and how it relates to computing. With only an hour, I kept the explanation short and used a graphic displayed on the monitor to help families visualize the abstract concept. Kids who had attended maker programs previously, and knew about electricity, helped me.

Flyer which explains computational thinking

DRAFT computational thinking flyer for my library

I then displayed an image of the template we were going to use (#1) and described the process (CT: algorithm) for creating a circuit and the light up portion of the card. I started by explaining the “problem” (CT: decomposition)- we needed to make a pop-up card light up using an electrical circuit and LEDs. I explained how to use the template to create the circuit, pointing out each step (CT: algorithms) to be followed, and I asked what patterns kids could see as we verbally worked through the process (CT: pattern recognition). I wanted families to have the maximum amount of time to actually make the cards, so the talking to the group portion took less than 10 minutes. I had the same template and directions displayed at each table for reference.

50 minutes: For the remainder of the program, each child took a template and either created the circuit on their own or with a family member. Some families with multiple children worked on one card as a family instead of each child making one.

The basic idea is that kids apply conductive tape to the lines on the template #1, adding LEDs, the batter for power a button (switch) in the appropriate places. The template has the steps numbered to make it easier to follow along. Once the circuit was working, and the LEDs were turning on when the button was pressed, families moved on to decorating the second layer of the card (template #2) with stickers, drawings and messages. As we talked with families, we used vocabulary that connected to computational thinking and computing (circuit, input/output, switch, debugging, pattern recognition, algorithm, etc.) During the hands-on portion of the program families used what they knew, or learned, about electrical circuits and determined what information could be applied to the card project (CT: abstraction).

30 minutes after program: clean up

Family working together to make a light up, pop up card.

How It Went

  • The program was a success!
  • We have hosted several family programs and maker programs for kids over the past few years so I anticipated a large crowd (for our size library). The attendance, 52 kids and grown-ups, did not disappoint.
  • It was a little challenging to manage this size of group with only 3 of us in the lead, especially with the fact that many of the kids knew me better than the other two program staff. (“Claudia, how do you…?”) But, as a result, grown-ups were empowered to participate- helping their kids make the card and troubleshoot. I modeled how to support kids instead of doing it for them. This was especially important when it became clear that some of the batteries were older than others, not working well, and needed to be switched out to make the circuit work.
  • I had enough materials on hand for the families that attended.
  • Beyond remodeling the library, the space accommodated the group size without requiring registration, just barely.
  • Most of the kids who attended were ages 4-9, but several were closer to 12. The ideal age for this program is probably 6-12 because of the troubleshooting aspect of the program. Several of the younger kids got pretty frustrated when their circuit didn’t work. On the flip side, it was valuable for them to see grown-ups work through the troubleshooting process and see how we handle ‘mistakes’ or something that isn’t working the way we intended.
  • Several families were attending their first program at the library and among the grown-ups were grandparents and both moms and dads. Some families knew each other, some met for the first time. because of the size of the space, families interacted as they shared materials and worked side by side.
  • Part of the program’s success had to do with the activity, but the publicity surrounding the Makers2Mentors grant funded initiative and offering the program during the Winter school break on a Saturday helped also. Many grown-ups mentioned that they liked the combination of electrical and paper/art. I got lots of nods when I made the electrical/computer connection.
  • Every family left the library with a working pop-up card that lit up, I made sure of it!

What I Would Do Differently

For future iterations of the program, I would:
  • modify the age range for the program to 6-12. Some families would still bring younger siblings, but the expectation would be slightly different.
  • have all new batteries to avoid the power issues we had.
  • identify ways to help families articulate the CT and electricity concepts in addition to being able to make a functioning circuit.
  • plan a longer program to allow more time for deeper learning, debugging, and decorating.
  • include this project in the almost-monthly Maker Club program line up (ages 8-11).

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