The inaugural Edinburgh mini maker faire was one of the most diverse collections of making I have seen; badge making, arduino hacking, soap making, laser cutting, lino printing and 3D printing. (which in my opinion no need for the mini pre fix!) This was where I road tested my new “code a kilt” workshop. Computation used to generate a pattern then printed on to a post card for the participant to take home and to build a big collage throughout the day. I thought some of you may be interested in the back story and doing something similar.
When you develop an outreach workshop for delivery in schools and in drop in sessions at science festivals there are a few important things to remember. This should be interesting, engaging, fun and educational. In a short space of time the learning must be very focused and to ensure you get a good return for you time investment a high degree of flexibility is also relay important, this will allow you to deliver to a range of people in different settings. To ensure credibility you must strike a good balance between educating and stage craft. It’s no good being really excited and learning nothing (that’s a different type of gig) and likewise if there is the potential to learn lots but it is difficult to stay awake, we are also in trouble. Chances are people are engaging in this activity in there own time or as a supporting part of their studies. So in short enjoyment is really important but achieved through a delicate balance of aforementioned ingredients. Following a great presenter and having those light-bulb moment as they explain and unravel a complex piece of knowledge can be very exciting even if they don’t set anything on fire. Attaining that engagement by sensing the pace of audience is a real skill.
One of the best parts of teaching is the inventive solutions students come up with. For me the “light-bulb” moment of understanding lies in the shadow of the moment when a student not only understands something but self identifies an interesting way to apply this understanding to do something they care about. Watching a big class respond to a relatively open brief is incredibly interesting. I always make an effort to ensure coursework gives the opportunity to demonstrate what is being assessed but has freedom to make it there own. One of the early Data Visualisation deliverables is basically demonstrate you knowledge of 2D primitives and control structures by generating a pattern. Often this is a case of hacking around with different loops, primitives and colours until something pleasing comes out. There are occasionally group that approach this form the other end and set out trying to recreate a pattern they have found. Last year one group made a rather convincing tartan and this got me thinking.
Depending on how you package this it can be a matter of a few lines of code or you can peel back the layers and expose nested loops the required spacing to get nice interference patterns and even have a conversation about the arising artefacts that appear on the screen but not in print but not with the higher resolution print out. As this was running as a drop in session at an event where I had little idea of who would rock up I built in a few layers.
In the simplest case and this may be a 6 year old that can drive a computer with a little bit of assistance from a parent, for them this is a workshop all about choosing colours and layering different grids on top of each other in a 2D space to make something that looks nice. Just using a mouse and performing minor edits to the text are likely to be tricky (but possible). If you move forward a little you can have a conversation about functions and parameters. We can change how this grid looks by changing these numbers when we use this function call the program jumps down here and does this stuff. Forward a bit more and we can talk about the stuff in the function, loops and lines. Moving further still if you want to produce a produce a pattern that has columns or rows as well as grids well we need to write our own loop to do this. Age is a pretty poor indicator of ability in this space, we had a Jedi eight year old who was probing for details about the syntax for a for loop in processing asking is this just java cause I know how to do this in Java. We had young couples competing to see who could make the best tartans. There were older gentlemen who had a good idea of what they wanted the output to look like.
A real diversity of participants and by the end of the day we had 57 new tartans and lots of smiling participants. We had a run of participants taking there tartan next door to be turned into a badge (with zoe and Ped). Like all good ideas this is just a tiny snap shot of where this could go with the right collaboration who knows maybe we could make a kilt in day?
This is a link to the processing code we used, a colour picker I wrote and I have a pdf crib sheet also.We printed directly onto A6 300gsm card blanks (with an Epson PD50) and trimmed the edges which worked well.