Paper Circuits

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Welcome to PLIX Paper Circuits! Learn the basics of circuits while creating beautiful, interactive works of art!

🥰 Ages 8+ 🕐 1–1.5 Hours 👩‍👧‍👦 up to 10 Participants 🍎 1–2 Facilitators ⚡️ Low-tech Electronic

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.

Workshop Prompts & Gallery

“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.

Prompts from PLIX

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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)

PLIX Community Remixes

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Paper Lanterns remix by Angelica (Johnson County Black & Veatch Makerspace)
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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)
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Check out more examples and experiences from other librarians on the PLIX Forum Paper Circuits space
📚 Book connections from the PLIX community

Materials

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Supply Kit

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).

Cut & assembled Paper Circuits zines 1 per participant
Printed & cut Troubleshooting Tips handouts 1 per participant
Copper tape with conductive adhesive
Various colors of LEDs (e.g. red, yellow, white, green, blue)
Binder clips
Colorful paper
Scissors
Tape
Several basic circuit & creative project examples

Printouts

Zine ↓

PLIX-Paper-Circuits-Zine_v1.0.pdf2685.2KB
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PLIX zines are a supplementary resource for patrons and librarians to refer to. Use this guide to cut and assemble them on 8.5x11" paper.

Remixable Zine ↓

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Love our zine, but it doesn’t fit your adaptation of the activity? Remix our zine with this Google Slides template!

Troubleshooting Tips ↓

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

Facilitation

Playtest and Plan

Remember: There’s no one right way to prepare for a workshop. Use these steps as a loose guideline for planning to run this activity.

  1. Choose one of our prompts, or come up with a prompt that suits your library community. Our activity guides are for getting you started—feel free to change or create new design elements to suit your local community! All PLIX activity guides are designed for a minimum of 1–2 facilitators
  2. Gather materials and print out the zine.
  3. Make an example project. Try it out with friends and colleagues. Thoughtfully incomplete, good examples feature a variety of approaches and starting points. Use them to inspire learners to make something uniquely their own. Check out the guide below for step-by-step instructions for making examples for your Paper Circuits workshop.
  4. 💡
    How-To: Make Examples for Paper Circuits⚡
  5. Try the activity with your patrons. Set a date and time. Easily promote your workshop with our editable Paper Circuits flyer template
  6. Populate your workshop space with diverse example projects. Create and play together!
  7. Reflect on what you’ve done and consider doing a remix!
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Learn more about the art of the example in our 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!

🤖 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.

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Dive deeper into creative learning facilitation with our Self-Guided Mini Course. It’ll also help you get started running your first PLIX workshop.

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!

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Share the love—Did you come up with your own prompt? We’d love to hear from you! Share your ideas on the PLIX Forum or via our PLIX Remix report form.

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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