Paper Circuits

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The materials included in the PLIX Paper Circuits supply kit.
The materials included in the PLIX Paper Circuits supply kit.

Overview

Welcome to PLIX Paper Circuits! Learn the basics of circuits while creating beautiful, interactive works of art! A friendly introduction to electronics, this activity is a PLIX team favorite. It's our recommended starting point for new facilitators who want to begin offering creative STEAM programming in their libraries.

Activity at a Glance

This activity works well as either a structured workshop or a drop-in activity.

  • Age Range: 8+ years old
  • Group Size: 10 participants
  • Number of Facilitators: 1–2
  • Activity Length: 1–1.5 hours for a structured workshop
  • Cost: $16–$24 for 10 participants (depending on what you buy in bulk, and where)
  • Prep Time: 1-1.5 hours to fold zines, make examples, and set up supplies

Supply Kit

Copper tape with conductive adhesive
Various colors of LEDs (e.g. red, yellow, white, green, blue)
Binder clips
Colorful paper
Printed, cut, and folded A Guide to Making Paper Circuits zines (one per participant)
Printed and cut Troubleshooting Tips handouts (one per participant)
Several basic circuit & creative project examples
Scissors
Tape
👉

PLIX Tip: For purchasing electronic parts, we use online shops like SparkFun or Adafruit, but there are many other options as well (e.g., local hardware stores; Amazon).

Zine

The A Guide to Making Paper Circuits zine introduces a definition of a circuit, as well as some fundamentals around drawing circuit diagrams. Finally, it includes information about setting up your first paper circuit creation!

Download here →

PLIX-Paper-Circuits-Zine_v0.03.pdf218.1KB

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A note about zines: Our PLIX zines are designed to be supplementary resources for patrons and librarians to refer to during workshops. They're a quick and easy way for people to learn some fundamentals. You can print them on 8.5x11" paper, and they're easy to assemble. Here’s a resource that shows you step-by-step how to cut and fold them after printing!

Troubleshooting Tips Handout

The Troubleshooting Tips for Paper Circuits handout contains helpful tips for solving some of the most common issues that arise when running this activity. As a facilitator, you can point your participants to this handout if they get stuck or are having trouble getting their circuit to light up as expected.

Before the workshop, you'll want to print this document and cut it in half (one sheet of 8.5x11" paper will give you two handout sheets). You can make this resource available to your participants simply by scattering them around in the middle of your work table with the rest of your materials.

Download here →

PLIX-Paper-Circuits_Troubleshooting-Tips_v0.01.pdf164.1KB

Facilitation

Workshop Prompts

The Paper Circuits activity supplies can be used with a wide variety of workshop prompts. Below you'll find a few that we love 💕— and we encourage you to come up with your own!

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Dazzling Greeting Cards — Make greeting cards for any occasion a little more special by decorating them with LEDs

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Vintage Photo Remix — Print out images from the internet, and bring them to life with LEDs! (Examples: A cat with light-up LED eyes; a flower with LED petals)

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Lit Wearables — Enhance your clothes, jewelry, or other wearables with LEDs and copper tape (Examples: Decorate your shoes with LEDs; make a light-up bracelet)

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3D Sculptures — Explore paper folding and creating in three dimensions by making light-up paper sculptures (Examples: Build a light box sculpture; make shadow-box art)

“Cat with Creepy Light-Up Eyes” 😸
“Cat with Creepy Light-Up Eyes” 😸
Valentine’s card with button!
Valentine’s card with button!
Lydia wears a light-up bracelet she made.
Lydia wears a light-up bracelet she made.
Light box sculpture inspired by
Light box sculpture inspired by James Turrell’s art.

Making Example Projects

When preparing to facilitate a creative learning activity, we always recommend populating your space with diverse example projects. A good example project is thoughtfully designed to inspire your patrons, spark their curiosity, and be easy enough to understand to support them in getting started with the activity.

Check out the guide below for step-by-step instructions for making examples for your Paper Circuits workshop →

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How-To: Make Examples for Paper Circuits⚡

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Learn more about the art of the example in our PLIX Guide to Making Activity Examples.

Facilitation Tips

This activity is designed to invite learners of all backgrounds into tinkering with circuits and electronics. The materials used in this activity are intentionally low-cost and friendly to encourage participants to try new things, mess around, make mistakes, and experiment. When facilitating this activity, we encourage you to support this tinkering mindset!

Facilitation Techniques to try with Paper Circuits →

🤖 Treat electronics like just another craft material.

With this activity, it’s tempting to dive deeper into electronics: how circuits work, diodes, etc. Avoid getting into the weeds or using technical jargon. Curious participants who want to learn more can look at books from your collection (such as Charles Platt's Make: Electronics) or the abundant online resources like Adafruit, SparkFun, Make:, and Instructables.

👯 Ask neighbors to troubleshoot each other's projects.

Before you take a look, ask participants to get a fresh pair of eyes on a creation. That's sometimes all one needs to discover a small error that kept an LED from lighting up. This practice encourages peer learning.

🥳 Celebrate ideas and debugging effort, not just successful circuits.

Recognize the value of the concept that the participant had in mind, and what difficulties they encountered, whether or not they resolved the issues. Process is critical in industry too. Remind your participants of how often commercially made electronics fail, and how electronics often go through long design cycles before manufacture, and that a lot of engineering is debugging.

🔦 Check in and share out frequently to reduce frustration.

Doing this throughout the making process will allow you to identify the resilience and problem-solving the participants demonstrate. Clarifying questions to ask include:

  • Did you try switching out components?
  • Are there any points where the circuit is overlapping where it shouldn’t? Or where the circuit is broken but it should be continuous?
  • Use the troubleshooting guide to help work through other possible circuit issues.
💙 💔 Recognize resilience and the frailty of electronics.

While in this project we should think of electronic components as just another craft material, unlike with pompoms or pipe cleaners, paper circuits may fail at the end of the workshop for unknown reasons, even after a lot of debugging. Try to make sure your participants feel good about their effort: there are new rules to what works and what doesn’t, and that itself takes some time to get used to.

🤹‍♀️

Be sure to also check out our PLIX Facilitation Techniques Guide for additional techniques from the PLIX team to help you cultivate your own creative learning facilitation practice.

Paper Circuits in Action

Check out these Paper Circuits shares and remixes from PLIX community members, and add your own on the PLIX Discussion Forum!

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Wristband Take-and-Make Kits by Dave Fink (Michigan City Public Library)

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Vintage Photo Card Take-and-Make by Tracy (Hennepin County Public Library)

What We ❤️ About This Activity

  • Low floor, high ceiling, wide walls. Making a basic paper circuit is very simple (low floor), yet the materials support increased complexity (high ceiling) and allow for a broad range of creative and aesthetic expression (wide walls).
  • Offers a playful approach to learning about circuits. This activity is designed to invite learners of all backgrounds into tinkering with circuits and electronics.
  • Inexpensive, familiar materials support tinkering. The materials used in this activity are intentionally low-cost and friendly to encourage participants to try new things, mess around, make mistakes, and experiment.
  • Encourages collaborative troubleshooting. Common issues are easily investigated and resolved by a group of participants making paper circuits along-side one another – a great way to learn!

About PLIX Paper Circuits

The PLIX Paper Circuits kit was inspired by Jie Qi’s work from the High-Low Tech group at the MIT Media Lab. You can check out additional paper circuits components and tools designed by Jie on the Chibitronics website!

Other ways to engage with PLIX Paper Circuits →

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The Public Library Innovation Exchange (PLIX) is a project of the MIT Media Lab Digital Learning & Collaboration Studio. Except where otherwise noted, all materials on this site are licensed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. Accessibility.