chebe: (LanternReflect)
[personal profile] chebe
I have to quote Meg here, "wait until I tell my mother I spent Saturday evening in a church, sewing, she'll be so happy". We were contacted a while back. Some people wanted us to help bring the joy of electronics to young people. How could we say no?

The Clubhouse is an organisation that provides a place after school for young people (8-18) to go and learn some pretty cool stuff like computers, game design, web design, music production. They also host nights at the weekend that provide a place for the older young people to hang out.

On Saturday they held an event, Dublin 8 is Great! Volunteers spent the day cleaning up around the area (in some quite bad rain). As a reward a party was organised for them later in the day. This is where we come in. A make station was set up. They already had people showing how to make throwies, and badges, and were wondering if we'd like to help out. Of course we were only delighted. So Rob and Jeff brought some stuff to teach soldering, and Meg and I set about the task of showing how to make LED electronic bracelets. It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of hard work, and what I learned most was how unprepared I was.

Firstly, I thought we'd be dealing with a slightly older age group. As it turned out the age range was more 4-13. When most don't know how to sew, and some are even so young that they're not allowed use scissors yet, teaching electronic textiles is very difficult.

Secondly, I didn't realise the set-up. We were basically in a big room with people wandering about the place, wanting to jump in and take part all the time. It lead to us getting very distracted, and unable to keep everyone occupied. Also, we were close to one of the speakers, so if we were at one side of the table the people at the other end couldn't hear us over the music.

Thirdly, I didn't realise they would be so enthusiastic. Most people I talk to about this stuff get bored very quickly. But these girls (mostly girls, but a couple of boys too) shouted "Cool!" and wanted to get started immediately. Some were nearly begging to join in, as the table was full and it was taking longer than expected to get through the first lot. Big softy that I am caved a couple of times and told them to get started. (Sorry again Meg!) However, there was also a significant portion who didn't wait to ask, and as we were otherwise engaged just grabbed some stuff off the table and dived right in! It was glorious, and chaotic!

The main problem with the age of the participants was that they didn't want to learn to do the sewing (and in some cases weren't allowed). So we ended up doing most of the sewing for them. In fact we still have about four or five bracelets left to finish and drop back! Some of the mothers were absolutely lovely and helped out as much as they could. Being so busy and flustered though I wasn't able to explain the conductive thread and battery set-up properly, so we still had to do the meat of the work. Also, I don't think anyone learned anything about electricity, except maybe that it can be pretty.

That said, I was astounded by the creativity of these kids. Give them some pieces of felt, a little glue, and some fabric pens and they come up with some absolutely beautiful, and highly original, pieces. I think that in more controlled circumstances they would really do amazing things even with just the basics of electro-textiles we wanted to show them.

All in all, I feel one instructor is required for two people, a small group (maybe about six) is better, with plenty of time allowed, and peace and quiet to concentrate (although, most lasted longer than I expected) is what's needed to make this kind of workshop work. This bracelet takes about 20-30 minutes. Plus more time for explanations.

Also, it seems something that young girls are very interested in (am thinking up things to get young boys interested as well). Perhaps this would be a very good way to get girls into electronics and programming. Simple electronic bracelets lead to more complicated bracelets. Which eventually lead to the Arduino Lilypad, which leads to programming. Then you just need to make the switch from small toy-computers, to programming real computers. Hmm, I'm not sure, but I am suddenly struck with a strong desire to do this more often. I wonder if it would be possible to run this kind of workshop at The Clubhouse?
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