Creator of Learning and Discovery Experiences

Westport Library IMLS MakerSpace, Westport, Connecticut

A six week position at the Westport Library IMLS MakerSpace to increase awareness of different technologies available at the MakerSpace and to lead hands-on, constructionist projects using these tools.

Staff Training

Staff members were encouraged to take one or more workshops to expose them to different maker projects and technologies.

Paper Circuits and Light-Up Postcards

Using conductive copper tape, Chibitronics LED stickers, and notecards, participants built light-up circuits. Next, they colored a light source on another notecard that was mounted in front of the circuit. Finally, they drew a background on a large notecard.

Circuits constructed, coloring a light source.
Coloring a background.
Light-up postcard.

Bricolage Marble Machines

Using different familiar materials, participants were challenged to construct a vertical track down which a marble could travel. The introduction of less familiar materials, a MaKey MaKey, Scratch, and LEGO WeDo, made possible additional challenges like making the marble play notes as it traversed the structure.

Musical Marble Machine.
Complex wired ramps with bumpers to slow the marble on a Musical Marble Machine.
Musical Marble Machine in action.

Cardboard Costume Building and 3D Scanning

A large-scale project in which I helped staff and patrons construct cardboard chess piece costumes. I 3D scanned the participants attired as different chess pieces. Afterwards, I processed the meshes and created 3D models of each chess piece. I 3D printed a chess set of library staff and patrons. The models are collected on Thingiverse.

Rolling cardboard to make it more fabric-like.
3D printed model of the Cardboard Queen.
3D printed Community Chess Set.

TurtleArt and Designing Algorithmically

Staff learned to program TurtleArt. Emphasis was placed on free-exploration of the software and sharing participants' serendipitous discoveries. Participants learned to create procedures from their programs and how to make designs express over time. 

Repeating rotating design.
Randomly placed and colored circles.


Although several 3D printing coaches were introduced to Beetleblocks, only Helena pursued an interest. She started by remixing example projects but quickly progressed to designing models capable of being 3D printed.

Exploring shapes in Beetleblocks.
3D printing an object that Helena designed in Beetleblocks.

Senior Center Series

In conjunction with the Senior Center of Westport, I ran three workshops for senior participants. A fourth session, an interactive exhibition, allowed us to share our knowledge and products as well as to continue our explorations.


Like the library staff, this workshop allowed time for free discovery and mastery of using the tools. After everyone achieved proficiency, they were guided toward transforming designs they had created into procedures that could be expressed over time.

A wonderful procedure that uses variables and explores polygons.
Randomly colored and placed, unfilled circles expressing over time.

LEGO WeDo Scratch ArtBots

Seniors explored three different WeDo ArtBots programmed in Scratch. One ArtBot helped make spin art. A second ArtBot used a tilt sensor to direct its movement on a vertical surface. Its Scratch project was modified so it ran in a loop on its own. A third ArtBot used a distance sensor to start and stop its movement.

SpinArt ArtBot.
Looping Wall-climbing ArtBot.
Thrash ArtBot.

Soft Circuit Bracelet

We sewed soft circuit bracelets that contained an LED. When the metal snaps were connected, the circuit was completed and the light illuminated.

Cutting felt for bracelets.
Completed illuminated bracelet.
3D printed diffuser sewn over the LED.

Teen Workshops

As part of the continuing Teen Maker Monday series, I challenged the middle school participants to consider a new feature of Scratch as well as to build collaged light-up postcards depicting a city of the future.

Scratch Video Input Experiments

Scratch can sense user movements through video input from the webcam. The user is able to interact with sprites in the project. Students were challenged to program musical instruments or games that made use of this technology, akin to Kinect on the XBox. 

Collaged Light-Up Postcards

Using found and repurposed images, teen makers were challenged to create a collage representing a city of the future. They also constructed a light-up postcard to illuminate part of their collage.

Future city.

Kids and Parents TurtleArt Workshop

Parents and children were invited to learn to use TurtleArt to program designs. Again, all were given time to free explore, learned to build procedures, and created designs that expressed over time. Participants were given inkjet paper that could be used to create an iron-on of their design.

Repeating design.
Random colors and a pattern that works its way around the workspace.

Adult Workshops

These workshops required participants to sign up ahead of time. The timing of them made them adult workshops, not the subject matter or difficulty of the project.

Interactive Storybook

Two participants in this workshop helped me to build a four page interactive storybook. Using a four sentence story as our narrative, we added an interactive element to the story by building circuitry in a collaged book. We connected the book to a computer with a MaKey MaKey and programmed a Scratch project to add an additional narrative layer to the story.

Physical book with copper tape circuit, simple button that unspools silver "thread" in the Scratch project.

Collaged Light-Up Postcard

Building on the success of the collages created during the Interactive Storybook project, this project eliminated the self-perceived inability to draw voiced by prior workshop participants by having the makers collage their images.

Many of the collages combined organic and technology pictures. 
These light up postcards were constructed the same way as the ones colored with crayons.
A beautiful collage, with the LED acting as the sun.

Interactive 'Zine

A physically smaller version of the Interactive Storybook, also collaged. A finger bridges the two copper tape leads to close the circuit. Scratch adds sound and video effects to the story.

A howling wind makes the situation seem more desperate. 
Sound effects transport the 

Drop-In Workshops

These workshops typically ran for longer than sign-up workshops and catered to a wide variety of ages.

Community Chess Set

Participants young and old alike helped construct the chess piece costumes. Unfortunately, Autodesk 123D Catch did not tolerate slight movements during the 3D scanning process, so children and most teens were unable to participate as models.

Building costumes and accessories.

LEGO WeDo Scratch ArtBots

This day-long workshop challenged participants to design LEGO WeDo ArtBots that could be controlled by a tilt sensor or a distance sensor. Additionally, the SpinArt ArtBot made an appearance and was hugely popular.

This ArtBot with a distance sensor drew arcs.
This ArtBot was programmed in Scratch to drive forward and back, creating beautiful rays.
The SpinArt ArtBot made another appearance.

Unusual Instruments: Cardboard Sound Costumes

Inspired by artist Nick Cave's Soundsuits, these cardboard costumes were fantastic looking, and were connected with a MaKey MaKey to a laptop running Scratch to make sounds, too.

A sound costume built by a mother and two daughters.
My sound costume, still under construction.

This work copyright 2015 Josh Burker

Twitter: @joshburker

Contact me if you are interested in hiring me for a similar experience in your library, school, maker space, or workplace.