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
The Paper Circuits zine introduces a definition of a circuit, as well as some in-zine templates for constructing a simple circuit and one with a paper clip switch.
Download one-page PDF here →
Download one-page JPG here →
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 →
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!
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 →
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 →
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 →
- Looking for some background music? Check out our PLIX Paper Circuits Playlist 🎶
- Read more about how the PLIX team thinks about designing creative learning activities ✨
- Share your experience running programs with this activity on the PLIX Discussion Forum or on social media using #PLIXPaperCircuits 😎
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.