For young learners, this process can feel very frustrating. It can be difficult to see the value in iteration until one begins to see progress and can reflect on what happened. As much as I might say that failure is a vital piece of the learning process, this concept is not always accepted graciously.
This week I worked on a wearables project for my Tinkering Fundamentals course through Coursera. I have enjoyed this course immensely, not simply because of the concepts learned, and the ideas and viewpoints shared by classmates, but also for the opportunity to sit in the learner's seat. It is vital for me, as a teacher, to experience projects from this perspective, in order to understand the challenges and stumbling blocks my own students may go through in a similar situation.
For my project I chose the LilyTiny. There are a growing number of wearable microcontrollers that range in price, function and complexity. Here are just a few that I have worked with:
I selected the LilyTiny because I wanted to spend my time on the circuit design, not the programming. The Tiny comes pre-built with a program that provides various sequences of blinks and fades on the four available connections for LEDs, so testing the circuit is quick and easy. Or so it should be.
Am I glad that I didn't have to worry about the programming, because the sewing of the circuit was challenging enough for my old eyes and thick fingers. I went through at least three iterations, switching out the item I was sewing on, changing the design of the circuit, and having to de-thread my first attempt because of a short circuit or open circuit that I never found. Just like my middle school students, I wanted to finish quickly and perfectly, and it just wasn't to be. I had to tell myself, "Be patient, don't give up, try something new, and move forward".
Having gone through this iterative process this past week, here are a few tips I can share with regard to wearable projects:
- Take the time to draw out your circuit on paper before sewing, this will help you to know how to orient your various pieces for a clean design and no crossover connections;
- Test out the wiring with alligator clips to make sure all components are working and that your circuit is wired correctly;
- Use a needle threader to assist the conductive thread through the needle. I purchased these inexpensive ones from Amazon;
- Design your circuit with enough space between components so that you avoid the potential for thread overlap or contact (see my pic below of the final circuit design).
As with most projects, the journey was as fulfilling as the destination.