Hello, ITP camp! / week 1 (On pop-ups + paper circuits, teaching physical computing, and soft circuits)

IMG_4297Thanks to a recommendation from a student's father and a generous fellowship, I'm spending most of my out-of-classroom time in June working on projects at ITP Camp, "a summer camp for adults" that's hosted by NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. I'm coming here with 8 years of experience in classrooms but very little experience with computing, and I'm hoping to learn a little about a lot of things (including Processing, a programming language often used by artists; Arduino, a controller that can be programmed to interact with the world using sensors; and soft circuits, which are electronic circuits on fabric; and others.) After the first week, I've really been struck by the challenges of working in a space where I know nothing. I've realized that I often situate myself in environments where I'm at least kind of comfortable - ed conferences, ed/design meetups, etc - but this is a situation where I know so little that I almost don't even know what questions to ask. (It's not totally true that I know nothing - I'm coming to this with some interest in electronics and I kind of understand how programming works even if I don't know how to do it. And yet - ) So, here's what the week has looked like in that context:

1) Pop-ups and Paper Circuits (Or: On Teaching Something I'm Still Learning Myself) - Classes at ITP camp are taught by the participants, and one of the obligations of the fellowship is that I teach something. In my fellowship application, I proposed to make a pop-up book that uses paper circuits to explore electricity - and that's the topic of the class that I was scheduled to teach on day 1 of camp. So, knowing nothing about how circuits work, I taught myself using Jie Qi's work and other resources from the MIT Media Lab's High Low Tech Group. The recap of the session on Tuesday, including materials, is here. Lesson: Teaching really is the best way of learning stuff.

2) Teaching Physical Computing - I attended this conversation with Tom Igoe on Wednesday because I want to teach physical computing (the programming of physical objects - like an elevator call button, rather than a mobile app). The conversation was more philosophical than I'd anticipated ("What must students know before they're able to imagine?" "What do I have to offer (as a teacher), and what are the limits to what I have to offer?"), but it was really useful as a way of trying to make sense of my own experience as a "student" who's trying to learn this stuff herself. One of the arguments here was that students do not need to know as much as they think they need to know (about, for example, electronics) - but my sense is that one must have a significant amount of experience to even know what must be known and what can be forgotten. I don't have that experience in this space - I don't know what half of the sessions on the calendar are even about. Lesson: Once we know, it's difficult to remember what it's like to not know.

3) Soft Circuits  - On Thursday, I went to Jen Liu's workshop on soft (wearable) circuits. We spent the first 45 minutes looking at examples and materials, and then we spent the next hour making a working circuit that used snaps as a switch. I left feeling totally inspired and totally frustrated; my snaps weren't working, and I still haven't figured out how to create anything more than a very simple circuit. But, I have new ideas about materials I can use in my pop-up book, and I got to experiment with conductive thread. I'm still frustrated, but making fabric light up is so satisfying!! Lesson: I'm easily frustrated by things that I don't understand, + need to work on that one.

Other things I did: Shop Safety and Kids Day planning with Jaymes Dec.

Other things I missed that I wish I'd been able to do: Workshops on Processing, Wearable Electronics, Makerbot, and Intro to the Soft Lab (including the embroidery machine!)

This week: I'll be working on the book on Monday and Tuesday, but I'm leaving Wednesday for a different camp experience - an outdoor leadership program that's meant to prepare educators to take young people camping.