Sunday, April 27, 2014

Toy Hacking in New Orleans - Mardi Gras Fun

As we entered New Orleans I found myself with the challenge of completing a Toy Hacking Project for my grad course.   The assignment started by having us visit our basements or other places for used or broken toys. Since I took all my toys to Good Will before I moved into the bus, I had little to work with. No Good Will stores nearby, but aha a Dollar General. Rounded up a few toys with potential and came up with this Toy Hack.

Deconstructing was great to do "after" a circuit unit. I understood what was happening and imagined the parts I could not control (like the song being played) .

I appreciated the programming in the Toy Phone which had both English and Spanish, and lots of conditionals (including a built in Quiz)

One of the toys appeared not to work, but after swapping out the watch batteries from another toy, we discovered it was the batteries and upon further deconstructing discovered the switch was stuck on ON (thus the drained batteries).

After I got everything apart I started to imagine possibilities. In playing with possibilities, I managed to dislodge some wires, which gave me the opportunity to learn to solder. Lucky me, I had a great teacher nearby who let me use his tools.

This got me to reflect on the importance of having access to resources (both tools and people) to support your process. Also important is a person who notices when you've reached capacity and encourages you back on your journey to a point where you have the desire and confidence to keep going. After all the tools were put away and we were working on some decorative elements, Mr. Potato Head's light up nose, stopped working - didn't take me long to spot that one of the wires had broken on the switch. ;-( By that time it was late at night, I had worked all day on this, and didn't have any stamina left for this 'slight' setback. Although Craig had left me to my "inventions" most of the day, he was within earshot and stepped back into the picture long enough to get my spirits up again, and offered to take out the solder so that I could "practice my new skill". ;)

A school environment does not lend itself well to the extra time mishaps take to fix. And many kids do NOT have mentors outside school that could lead them through this type of learning. When I read the Steve Jobs biography, I learned that Steve's adopted father was a tinkering and set up many opportunities for Steve to feel empowered as he learned to control computing devices. Where is that opportunity for our kids today?

To me creating these type of opportunities provides a common goal for schools and community to work  for together on.  I'm glad to see the interest in "making"  come to the surface again.   I think its a sign that our society is try to correct its path after having wandered too far off course.   
Time to  make to learn, invent to learn, and play to learn.