Robot Dance Party at ScratchBDX2017


Earlier in the summer, I had the chance to test out a new Dancing Robot workshop at the Scratch conference in Bordeaux. Since our experiments with scratchpaper at MIT last summer, we've been interested in trying out new ways of connecting programming and computation to tinkering activities. 

Back when we started initial scratchx arduino explorations, Nicole and I went to a robot petting zoo workshop at the Tech Museum where we experimented with motors and motion. At the Seymour Papert memorial event in Janurary, we were inspired by Amos's experiments with LEGO dancing robots and Eric's new spotify scratchx extension


Before the workshop, I made a few examples of robots made out of recycled materials that move and dance to the beat but the scratch conference in Bordeaux was the first time to try the workshop with a group of participants. Luckily I had some help from my friends and colleagues Vanessa, Maxime and Celine from ESPGG in Paris

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They brought the perspective of their most recent exhibition at the center called Science Frugale. This stance emphasizes the use of cheap and recycled materials for projects both because it makes the cost of the workshops more accessible but also because using these non-precious materials allows learners to be more playful and take more risks. Although this activity does require laptops and arduino boards, we tried to stick to the values of "frugal tinkering" as much as possible using cheap servos, hacked IKEA lights and lots of recycled bodies. 

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Maxime constructed a set of tinkering boards for arduino from our instructable and we collected a set of recycled materials. We set up the room so that people could work in pairs. It's been a challenge to setup the drivers for the software/hardware in previous workshops, so we put up a link to a google doc with instructions for getting everything installed and links to some starting point examples!


Many people in the workshop (including those with extensive scratch experience) had never used arduino before so it was a good chance to go over some of the basics of microcontrollers individually as needed. 

The 'low threshold' nature of the activity was apparent, as for most groups getting the servo to twitch or a LED to blink on their own pushed them toward creating a more interesting and personalized robot. 

And the weird collection of familiar materials added lots of playfulness and sense of humor to the workshop. Just putting a yogurt cup and piece of cardboard on the motor created interesting and unexpected movements. 

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Once again the combination of physical materials with the digital programming proved to really open the door for collaboration between the partners. It was awesome to see both partners engaged with tweaking the code and prototyping the mechanism.

The wide walls of the activity were also apparent in the outcomes from each of the groups. I loved this automata-esque creation made by Carmelo and Angela. 

Shruti and Moran created an amazing dancing taco inspired by the default song on the spotify extension! It was so cool how this one used the servos to flip up the tissue paper and pompom lettuce and tomato!


A big goal of this workshop was to show how an introduction to programming, robotics and arduino can be fun and accessible. The recycled materials and off-the-shelf parts helped by lowering the costs for the supplies and create a less precious set of materials. But more importantly, I think the theme of the workshop focusing on music and dance created a really open and playful experience.  


It was awesome to see one of the legends of our field, Cynthia Solomon, having fun and enjoying the activity at the same table as a twelve year old girl and her mother who hadn't used scratch before. As we continue to explore the concept of computational tinkering, we hope to develop more activities that can appeal to a wide range of interests and experience levels without requiring lots of special equipment or kits. 

I'll get the chance to try a version of this activity again next month at the Fablearn conference. Angela Sofia Lombardo, who participated in the workshop in Bourdeaux, will help facilitate the tinkering session. Over the next couple of months we'll continue to experiment and post about the results of our testing and prototyping.