Playful Storytelling with Technology

We live in a world built on comfort zones.  We buy our favorite foods week after week; the internet uses information about our likes and interests to curate content, so we don't feel too challenged.  I have a teaching comfort zone, too:  after eleven years, I find that I have some favorite, tried and true prompts for the preschool classroom, including photography, printmaking, and cooking.  Yet the most wonderful thing about Early Childhood Education, to me, is how many of us have quite a bit of creative freedom in our daily practice.  If you believe in the power of play and exploration like I do, you probably try to find ways to incorporate new-to-you ideas in your work with children.

A desire to play and explore more often in my everyday life brought a new experience to the children in my class over the past month.  In order to bring this to the classroom, I had to read, tinker, try, fail, fix, and try again.  This is a simple project compared to what many people create with this technology, but I am proud of my perseverance and the process.  Part of good teaching is being adaptable and thinking outside of the box.

 

THE PROJECT

Bare Conductive  is a computer board that allows a user to link sounds with touch.  I first learned about this idea through Gluck Workshops:

 

I bought the Bare Conductive starter kit, and I created their starter project, following the instructions to create the same house you see in the video above.  When an interest in Peter and the Wolf emerged in the classroom, I saw it as an opportunity to implement the kit, and I programmed my first original touch board project.  

I found an open source version of Peter and the Wolf, used Audacity to isolate character themes from the introduction, and then loaded them onto the board using instructions from Bare Conductive.  All of these skills were new to me, but I only spent a few hours playing around to create the project. 

I used aluminum foil to create the connections, and placed the end of the foil underneath a simple image of each character in the story.  The pressure on the foil triggers the related sound, which is loaded onto the touch board and plays through the speaker.

 

Bringing this into school brought a new challenge for me, personally:  I am an open-ended, process based educator, right?  So, now there is only one way to do things?  I showed the children the board when we gathered at the start of the afternoon, and put it on the table.  Before I knew it, they had gathered figurines and the Peter and the Wolf picture book, with everyone huddled around, pressing on the characters to hear their themes.

 

I assumed that the children would give this technology a run for its money, and it was true:  there was a lot of pressing in those first minutes.  I restarted the board a few times, but did not stop them from their explorations:  Just as children learn about the manipulative properties of paint and sand, I believe they need to experiment and explore with technology to truly understand it. The touch board did seem a bit overwhelmed, but nothing that a reset could not fix.

 

The children gathered figurines for characters and played along with them, and this prompted me to use the figurines as the touchpoints rather than the pictures.  Using wires (a bit more reliable) and a bit of foil on each figurine, we invented a new way to explore the story.  

I taped the wires down, and in hindsight I might not have done that, but it came from my understanding of the technology:  if the conductive parts connect, we don’t get the result we intend.  But children want to play with the figurines to tell the story, putting the bird and the cat in the tree.

 

I definitely plan to use Bare Conductive with children again, with much more of their input.  They can create the sounds, and then tinker with the board.  They can choose what they touch to create a sound, and those possibilities are endless, ranging from silly and fun to useful.  The more we use this, the more process-based it can become, and serve as another language for discovery and expression in the classroom.


 

EXTENDING OUR THINKING

 

  • We are still thinking about Peter and the Wolf, with a greater focus on instruments, music, and musical notation in our current inquiry, and Bare Conductive can still be part of that work.  

 

 

  • More playful, techy things on my mind to explore myself, and with children, in the future:

Makey Makey

The Crafty Robot

Little Bits 

Squishy Circuits

There so many applications for these playful technologies with young children, but the educators need to play around a bit to gain a deep understanding.  When we take a lesson from another classroom that does not tap into the culture of our own group, we risk losing engagement.  I encourage all of you to find a way to play around with some new ideas that are a little bit out of your comfort zone so you can bring fresh ideas to the classroom.