Hack Your Notebook and Illuminate Your Thinking

Cross-posted in a slightly different form at Educator Innovator.

Light is a pretty amazing phenomenon. It travels faster than any anything else in the universe as far as we can tell. Nearly all life on Earth relies on light for its sustenance, whether directly or indirectly. Light is beautiful. Light is powerful.

Perhaps because it enables us to see, it’s not surprising that so many educators use light as a metaphor for understanding. We may say a learner’s face lights up when they make an important connection; we speak of light bulb moments.

What if your notebook had a light bulb moment?

I’ve seen the power of notebooks as a tool for documentation and reflection in the classroom. But what I forgot far too often when I was teaching was that play is an essential element to transforming the notebook from “something my teacher makes me do” to “something I use to help myself learn and understand the world.” So when my colleague and collaborator, David Cole of CV2, and I saw the beautiful, playful paper circuitry of artist-engineer, Jie Qi, a doctoral candidate at the MIT Media Lab, a light went off in our heads.

Jie uses simple materials—copper tape, surface-mount LEDs, and watch batteries—to create beautiful circuits in notebooks, pop-up books, and paintings. What if learners could literally illuminate their thinking? Can we empower students by powering up their pen-and-paper notebooks?

NEXMAP (New Experimental Music, Art, and Production), an arts non-profit organization based in San Francisco is working with Jie and a handful of other artist-engineers to explore different ways that learners can hack their notebooks and change the way we think of documenting and processing our experiences.

Integrating light, sound, and art into notebooks also provides an interesting exploration of STEAM-powered learning (STEM + the Arts). Creativity and content drive the hands-on science, technology, and engineering know-how necessary to make the learner’s vision come to light. The possibilities of integrating paper circuitry in the classroom are many, such as a visualization tool or a way to enhance narrative, just to name a couple.

Jie, NEXMAP, and CV2 were thrilled to present paper circuitry at the NWP Annual Meeting. We created a mini-educator guide to paper circuitry that explores connections between this practice and educational standards and policy; provides simple step-by-step templates; and looks at what a class project might look like.

We heard many insightful comments from the workshop attendees. Many were struck by the similarity in process between making and writing: the need for pre-planning, iteration, and consulting with peers. Others noted it was a good opportunity to remind themselves what it’s like to try to make something that’s not in your comfort zone. But most universally, people spoke of the excitement of making the LED come on: people’s faces literally lit up. That sense of joy and accomplishment in our students is something we all strive for creating in our own classrooms.

View entire image slideshow here.

We’ll have more resources, including tutorials and more sample projects, on our website soon.