Thrifting with Squishy Circuits

This week in CEP 811, we watched a video and read an article from Punya Mishra on the topic of “Repurposing.”  Mishra discusses the fact that many of the tools or manipulatives teachers use were not originally invented for use in the classroom.  Teachers take it upon themselves to repurpose tools they find for use in the classroom (Mishra and Koehler, 2008).  From my experiences as a teacher, a great example of this is using Play-Doh as a manipulative for students.  In doing some research, I found that Play-Doh was originally used as wallpaper cleaner back in the 1930s.  You can read the article about Play-Doh here:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/14/play-doh-wallpaper-cleaner_n_3430042.html.  It was not until the 1950s when Play-Doh was first introduced in schools, kindergartens, and nursery schools.  As an elementary school teacher, I have used Play-Doh in the classroom multiple times with my students.  It is a fun and excellent tool to use to engage students and help them use their creativity to explore new concepts.

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Our assignment for this week was to visit a thrift store and find items to combine with our kits to make a new invention we could use in our classrooms.  This assignment was very challenging for me, but I found it intriguing because I had the opportunity to come up with a completely original idea I could potentially use in my classroom.  From our readings, I learned, “Quality teaching is the transformation of content.  It is the act of learning to think in a disciplined manner” (Mishra and Koehler, 2008).  This week, I had to combine my thrift store items and kit and transform or repurpose them into an idea to use in my future classroom.  It undoubtedly took thinking in a disciplined manner to achieve this task.

At Goodwill, I was able to locate several used containers of Play-Doh.  Although a bit dirty, I believed them to be necessary for the idea I had in mind.  The kit I used was the Squishy Circuits Hardware Kit.  Overall, Squishy Circuits use conductive and insulating dough, a battery pack, and LED lights to allow you to construct a circuit.

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I used the photo above as inspiration for my classroom activity.  My task for students is to combine as much Play-Doh as you can along with the Squishy Circuits to make a face.  My only rules would be that they can make any design of face they would like, but they must incorporate at least three working LED lights within the circuit.  So, students must successfully set-up the circuit while also incorporating it into the design of their face.  Since I teach at the elementary level (and because I am a beginner with Squishy Circuits), I wanted to keep my activity simple.  However, although simple, I believe it to be effective in teaching students about circuits while keeping them engaged and allowing them to have fun with the Play-Doh.

Overall, the students’ faces incorporate the “hot dog” circuitry on the underside, and the wires stick through the insulative dough to the conductive dough underneath.

1. Using the conductive dough first, roll one little piece into a ball.

2. Now, roll a larger piece of conductive dough into a cylinder shape so it looks like a snake.

3. Next, roll a piece of insulating dough into a cylinder shape just as big as the one you just finished.

4. Wrap the insulating dough snake around the conductive dough ball.

5. Then, wrap the conductive dough snake around the insulating dough snake.  Make sure the two pieces of conductive dough are not touching.

6. You should have two pieces of conductive dough separated by one piece of insulating dough.  Also, the overall shape should be that of a round circle.  If your shape does not look like this, reformat the dough with your hands.

7. Using the battery pack, put the black wire into the outer ring of conductive dough, and put the red wire into the inner ring of conductive dough.

8. Using Play-Doh, students can build their faces on top of their round shape as creative as they would like using any colors, styles, and formations.

9. Insert the LED lights on top of the face after the face has already been made and placed on top of their round shape.  Insert the LED lights so one leg of the LED is stuck in the outer conductive dough, and the other leg of the LED is stuck in the inside conductive dough.

10. Have fun, and enjoy your new creation!

The final product would look like this:

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In conclusion, I found that incorporating Squishy Circuits in education can have great benefits.  Squishy circuits can help students exercise creativity, and the Play-Doh definitely helps put students at ease who may otherwise be intimidated by electronics.  As a whole, squishy circuits provide students with the opportunity to design, create, and invent truly original ideas.

References

Ecker, S. (n.d.). Play-Doh Was Originally… Wallpaper Cleaner? (PHOTO, VIDEO). Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. Retrieved July 14, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/14/play-doh-wallpaper-cleaner_n_3430042.html

Flickr. (n.d.). Wilson Squishy Circuits. Retrieved July 14, 2013, from http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8401/8685025685_51339d7d70_b.jpg

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (n.d.). Thinking Creatively: Teachers as Designers of Technology, Content, and Pedagogy. Vimeo. Retrieved July 14, 2013, from vimeo.com/39539571

PLAY-DOH History and Timeline | About Play-Doh. (n.d.). Hasbro Toys & Games for Kids, Board Games & Action Figures. Retrieved July 14, 2013, from http://www.hasbro.com/playdoh/en_US/about.cfm

Squishy Circuits. (n.d.). Welcome to the Squishy Circuits Project Page. Retrieved July 14, 2013, from http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/apthomas/SquishyCircuits/index.htm

Wikimedia Commons. (n.d.). Playdoh. Retrieved July 14, 2013, from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2e/Playdoh.jpg

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One response to “Thrifting with Squishy Circuits

  1. Hi Jacob,

    First of all, the English teacher in me would like to compliment you on your writing skills. This blog post is clear, well organized, and your task is well defined.

    You get at the heart of Punya’s philosophy when you state, “Mishra discusses the fact that many of the tools or manipulatives teachers use were not originally invented for use in the classroom. Teachers take it upon themselves to repurpose tools they find for use in the classroom (Mishra and Koehler, 2008). From my experiences as a teacher, a great example of this is using Play-Doh as a manipulative for students. In doing some research, I found that Play-Doh was originally used as wallpaper cleaner back in the 1930s.” I actually had no idea that is what Play-Doh was created for. This is the spirit of Punya’s theory on repurposing. Teachers must be able to take a resource that was not necessarily created for teaching and reuse it in a new and meaningful way. I believe your lesson plan is getting at this movement. You are using a product that was repurposed in a completely different fashion than its first intention.

    (I’m not an elementary ed teacher, so if any of the following questions are obvious, I apologize.)

    What I am reading is that your learning objective is to have the students be able to understand and create a circuit. Will you explain the difference between the Play-doh and the Squishy Circuits dough? Is there a difference? And this may seem silly, but why smiley faces? Again, I don’t teach elementary ed, please don’t mistake my questions for criticism!

    If I have any advice on the Maker Project, remember that it is all about the exploration. Don’t be afraid to have your students just explore squishy circuits with different objects (or dough)! You are doing a great job and I am looking forward to checking back and seeing what you do! Great work!

    Sincerely,
    Kate

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