This year’s Teen Tech Week theme, “Libraries are for Creating,” highlights how teens can combine technology and creativity to create some truly unique products. The ideas and resources here make for great program activities this Teen Tech Week and any time of the year.
This low-tech, low-cost project integrates art into an activity that is perfect for teaching how circuits work. The main supplies are copper tape, a 3-volt coin cell battery, and a basic LED. MIT’s High-Low Tech features a tutorial and templates, and Sparkfun has a list of projects. If money is not a barrier, take it a step further with LED stickers from Chibitronics.
Sewable Circuits / Wearable Electronics
Sewable circuits similar to paper circuits, only instead of copper wire, electrical current is conducted through conductive thread. Create a circuit with the thread, an LED, a battery holder, and metal snaps. The sewing is fairly basic, so sewing newbies should be able to participate, but teens without an existing understanding of circuits might do better starting with paper circuits. One draw of sewable circuits is that teens can create a functioning and (possibly) fashionable product in a relatively short amount of time. MIT has an excellent lesson plan here, or this Instructables project is a good starting point.
Squishy Circuits allow the user to create circuits that light up LEDs, sound buzzers, and run a motor by conducting electricity through play dough. Teens can create tech-infused sculptures and learn some electrical engineering principles in the process. Any type of play dough will work for conducting the electrical current. The possibilities and learning opportunities expand significantly with the addition of insulating dough, which stops the flow of electrical current. Here is a guide to getting started.
The MaKey MaKey is named for exactly what it does: make keys. Anything that conducts electricity can be made into a key. Attach one end of an alligator clips to a spot on the front of the MaKey MaKey board, and attach the other to any object that conducts electricity. That object can be substituted for any of the arrow keys, the space bar key, or a mouse click. That means teens can play a Super Mario game on Scratch and control Mario with buttons made from bananas. Sparkfun offers a useful introduction to the device. Host challenges, or make a project like this MaKey MaKey floor piano. More advanced users can add even more keys using the extra ports on the back side of the board, and can remap the MaKey MaKey to change which keys can be controlled.
are all good tools. Provide some basic instructions and then let the teens play around and go where their imaginations take them. This activity requires minimal prep work, and is free if devices for apps are already available.
Green Screen Photobooth
Green screens intimidate a lot of people, but they’re actually simple. Use a green background of any kind; if an actual green screen is not available, green paper will work. Paper can also be used to make a mini green screen for use with LEGO minifigures or other small objects. (Just be aware–anything green in front of the screen will disappear. If a teen is wearing a green shirt, they can say bye-bye to their torso.) Green Screen by Do Ink is an excellent app for doing the actual photography. Choose any image saved onto the device, and the app will replace all the green on camera with that image. This can be done to both still images and video. Get some props, put some images on a device, and have a photo booth. Or, take a video in front of the screen and watch the app replace it with a background image in real time.
Stop Motion Animation
There are a number of mobile apps, such as Stop Motion Studio, that make stop motion animation far easier than it is with a traditional camera. LEGO stop motion is a big draw for some teens; one of my patrons has a thriving YouTube channel of his creations. Teens can also create an animation of a piece of art in the making, like this one.
Bloxels are marketed as being best for elementary schoolers, but I’ve used them with teens with great success. Users arrange colored blocks on a board and then capture it in the Bloxels Builder app to use in creating a 13-bit video game. The app allows the user to create levels, characters, enemies, scenery, and more. This is the priciest program on this list. Kits run for about $30 each, and the app is free but a device to put it on is needed. In my experience, high interest from teens made Bloxels well worth the price.
Take It Apart (and Make It Art)
Ask staff or other community members to donate old, unwanted technology. Provide teens with the technology and whatever tools and craft supplies are available. Deconstruct the tech and put pieces back together in new, artistic ways. Teens will get to see the inner workings of electronics, then create 3D art with the pieces. Wear goggles, as there are likely to be flying parts. Also, do not take apart any cathode ray tube monitors (the fat TVs and computer screens from the olden days), as they contain some unsafe materials. Take a look at this post on Teen Librarian Toolbox for more tips and ideas.