I quilt and sew as a hobby, but I must admit that I was skeptical about the idea of having textiles as a learning tool. In our planning meeting for the MakerSpace we decided textiles would be one of our first focus areas, but I thought “What purpose would sewing have in the classroom?”
As I reflected on this question, my initial thoughts were connections to the textiles industry itself. I thought students could sew something and then look at the manufacturing or environmental costs, or even human rights issues like the conditions that led to the collapse of the clothing factory in Bangladesh, or connections to history like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.
I thought of sewing and textiles as a means for engagement in other issues, not as an end in themselves.
But….then I found out about the Lilypad Arduino and some other nifty tech tools and now I wish I was teaching in the grade with a textiles focus. I think we definitely need to incorporate this into our MakerSpace. Let me show you what I saw that changed my mind and made me super inspired about the potential (pun intended) for textiles in Maker-ing:
My first thought after seeing that video was “Wow, that’s really cool, but would kids learn anything or just make stuff that was pretty?” I did a little research and found that some people have actually used conductive textiles to teach computer science. The full article is accessible through databases, but I can’t post it here without violating copyright.
Another article, “A Crafts Oriented Approach to Computing in High School: Introducing Computational Concepts, Practices, and Perspectives with Electronic Textiles,” offers some interesting insight into how “playing” with the fabrics actually helps students learn about computing. Deborah Fields, one of the study’s authors, has another paper coming out soon about how using textiles to teach computing can promote the development of a “programming” identity. (Professor Fields also does some research into gamification of learning, which is another topic of interest of mine for another post.)
Developing an identity as a “maker” is a big part of what the maker mindset is about. Though it might seem stereotypical to have girls do sewing projects, the textiles projects are not an end in themselves, but a means to another end of learning and building the self confidence and identity that “I can do it!” as well as promoting curiosity about how things work and how to make things better. Research into science identity and its impact on persistence in STEM careers is receiving more focus these days as we learn more about how the “soft skills” impact education maybe more than content.
How could I use textiles as a teacher? I teach the biomedical class and I would love to incorporate some of these conductive textiles into a project. Adafruit has some cool ideas:
A UV Sensing Hat – skin cancer protection
A Heart Rate Badge – fitness/heart health
I could think of quite a few more because the biomedical class has the advantage of not having set content to teach.
As for my 8th grade class, which is rather prescribed by the Texas TEKS…I’ll have to do a bit more thinking there. Maybe an accelerometer to help “differentiate between speed, velocity, and acceleration” or light up shoes to show force applications? The hard part, for me, is structuring the project so content doesn’t get lost in cool creativity. Any ideas out there?