This Duo Story was co-written by Tova and Ryan. Text written by Tova is italicized, while Ryan’s text is not.
Are you the type of person who loves doing things with tech? If so, then this is the camp for you!
Tova is a bright and curious eight-year-old who is interested in science. When she enrolled for the camp, I already knew Tova and her mom experimented with electronic and science projects at home for fun. Through Tova’s wardrobe each day at the camp, I learned not only that she was interested in science, but that science is everything to her. As she told me, she wants to be an inventor when she grows up, or maybe a scientist.
Tova arrived on the first day of Duo Project Camp wearing a knit sweater with large planets on it over a NASA t-shirt. When I first saw the t-shirt, I said, “Tova, that’s a really cool t-shirt. Where’d you get it?”
“NASA.” Tova said, with a tone full of the kind of obviousness I hear so often when asking kids “dumb” adult questions.
The planet sweater and NASA t-shirt were just the beginning of Tova’s science-themed wardrobe. Each day I gushed over another “geeky” girl outfit she wore. My personal favorite was on day three when she wore a skirt with shooting stars covered in sequins. Before coming to class that day, she carefully poked the leads of a large LED through one of the stars on her skirt and taped a coin cell battery to it, inside her skirt. When she walked in the room for camp, I saw a bright red light coming from her skirt. So cool.
On the first day of camp, Tova and I played with a Makey Makey. The Makey Makey is an electronic controller that allows the user to use anything conductive to control their computer. Tova explained to me that conductive materials are things with energy that electricity moves through. I started the camp with the Makey Makey so that we could play with creating circuits and practice using the vocabulary necessary for making a felt piano: the main project of the camp. She used the Makey Makey to control the piano sounds that come from this Scratch project.
At Duo Musical Playground summer camp, you make music using everyday objects such as a banana, tinfoil, a bell, and even tomatoes and cucumbers! Well, that’s the first step to it all. . . .First, Mrs. Ryan and I went on a scavenger hunt to collect the items. We collected items we thought would make an electrical current, like guitar strings and cucumbers. We used our ‘Makey Makey’ kit to make our first piano. We clipped banana clips to “Earth” on the Makey Makey and then clipped the other side to the objects (tinfoil, 2 cucumbers, a bell, a banana, a paperclip, and a tomato). We connected the Makey Makey to the computer. We held down earth, and pressed the items. They made sounds!!! Now that we knew the buttons worked, we needed to put the buttons in order from lowest to highest. So we did. Then we made a song. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It worked!
That was our semi-project. Now, onto the big stuff!
The “big stuff” was the felt piano: the main project of the camp. The felt piano is a large piece of felt with foil “keys” on it that play sounds out of a tiny speaker when pressed. The computing device on the felt piano (which I call the “brain” with young kids) is a LilyPad Arduino. You can program the brain using a computer to play different music notes when the foil key is pressed. Using conductive thread, we sew from the brain to the keys, creating a capacitive surface which triggers when our conductive skin touches the foil key.
First, I cut a pink circle out of felt. Mrs. Ryan taught me about the brain of the project. She also told me about the speaker. To attach the brain, we sewed on the snaps with conductive thread. We snapped the brain on. Then we cut hearts out of aluminum foil. We ironed them on with Mrs. Ryan’s mini iron. Then we sewed on the snaps for the speaker. We snapped the speaker on. Then we used the conductive thread to sew the brain to all of the buttons and the speaker. We attached the cord to the computer and switched on the piano, but it didn’t work! So we troubleshot. We flipped the piano over, and discovered that the strings were touching. That means there was a short circuit. So, we cut the string, and it worked!
Tova finished her felt piano on day four of the camp, a day early. We spent the day she finished her felt piano coding music in Scratch upon Tova’s request. I admit that I felt a little nervous about working in Scratch with Tova, worrying that I might not know how to help her do something. However,I learned that we made a great team when working in Scratch. While I felt deficient at creating sprites (characters) and programming their behaviors, Tova navigated this easily, asking for my preferences along the way:
Which person should we use? Which stage should we use? What color should we change the singer sprite’s dress to?
I noticed that her questions resembled the questions I asked her as she worked on her felt piano:
What color felt do you want to use? What shape do you want to make your keys? How do you want to organize the keys on the felt?
Working in Scratch, Tova was the expert guiding me through an experience. It was a wonderful tradeoff and a natural-feeling interaction between two people with a common interest. We changed roles once again when Tova wanted to add musical behaviors to her sprites. She knew how to record sounds and play single pitches, but I helped Tova to create rhythms using the “play ____ for ____ beats” block–one she had not used before. We controlled the sounds in Scratch using the Makey Makey and some buttons made of felt and aluminum foil.
With one day of camp left, I asked Tova what she would like to do on the last day. We decided to make a project together that would become an installation in the Duo Time class for the toddlers and babies to play with. Using a technique called needle felting to stick two pieces of fabric together, Tova and I designed an interactive wall hanging (we used this tool which is safer for kids). This was an opportunity for Tova to apply the skills of designing and sewing musical circuits using the LilyPad to a new project.
We made an ocean themed “touch and hear” mat for the baby’s room. We needle felted four pieces of blue felt together with seaweed that we cut out. Then we cut out 2 octopi, a fish, and a dolphin! We named them Ruby, Octi, Fishy, and Cooldude03! We put aluminum foil under their heads, then needle felted them on to the ocean mat.We used the speaker for Fishy’s eye. We put the brain underneath Fishy’s body. We sewed the sea creatures to the brain with conductive thread. But wait, that’s not all! We pressed the animals, and they made sound! We put it in a picture frame and it made noise!
Our project lives in the Duo Time area at Edelweiss School of Music where many kids and parents have enjoyed playing with it. Check it out!