We’ve underestimated the potential use of energy emanating from 25 excited kids eating sugared playdoh. I reached this conclusion shortly after starting to talk about squishy circuits with a group of 6-8 year olds at an LCRC after school program. This project is part of Artengine’s community arts initiatives and is funded by the Community Foundation of Ottawa.
I was inspired by AnnMarie Thomas’ recent TED talk and her research at the University of St. Thomas on engaging hands and minds with different approaches to technology. Her squishy circuits, made with two different kinds of homemade play dough, can be used to demonstrate electrical properties and empower kids to use their creativity to design simple circuits.
By the light of LEDs, whir of spinning motors and hum of peizo buzzers the kids were able to physically enable their dough creations to take on new life. The magic happens in the dough:
I made 8 batches of the conductive and insulating dough in orange, pink, blue and green, which I thought would be enough to satisfy the whims of nearly any creator. Little did I know how tempting it would be to eat the insulating dough, which consists of flour, sugar, oil and water. The conductive dough was a bit too salty for the tiny palettes and was spared the consumptive onslaught.
I set up each table with a bag of each dough, a handfull of LEDs, a few mini motors and buzzers, a 9V battery with power connector snaps. Looking back on it I would have reenforced the ends of the connector cables to give more surface area for connection and stability to the wires, but they worked well enough as they were. The conductive dough is fairly corroding, so if you want to reuse the electrical components afterwards you’ll have to strip or cut off the exposed areas.
A lot depends on the ages and size of the group- the group I had were on the younger side so much of what I had to say about electricity and how it worked was lost. I made working examples at each table so they could see what was happening and that helped. It was so fun seeing the aha moment when the LED they inserted the right way lit up! Even when they could see other kids creations working, the infallible surprise and delight at their own was so endearing. Here are a few proud circuit designers and their (mostly) working attempts at harnessing the electricity in the dough.
Snack in one hand, bug sculpture in the other.
This one looked cool, but wasn’t functional.
Green pizza with red blinky lights?! OMNOMNOM
This one somehow lost the outer ring that had it working, but she had a lot of fun making it. The workshop was very low in cost to run, I’d estimate I spent $40 on the supplies I used and depending on attention spans, the time spent creating is 1-2 hours. Super fun!
[For more projects by Emily Daniels please visit her site here.]