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Integrating Computational Thinking through Wearable Technologies and Programmable E-Textiles

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Computational thinking is a problem-solving technique that has traditionally been employed by computer scientists to develop computer applications. However, computational thinking practices are now believed to be applicable to a variety of other fields (Google for Education, 2018), specifically those related to engineering and technology. Accordingly, the Advancing Excellence in P-12 Engineering Education (2018) project identified computational thinking as one of the core engineering concepts fundamental for setting a foundation for students to conduct the quantitative analyses that engineers and other related professionals perform. Likewise, the Committee for the Workshops on Computational Thinking advocates that computational thinking is necessary for people to develop efficient and automated physical design solutions as well as visualizations of design concepts and computational scientific models (NRC, 2011). These abilities, which also include thinking critically about complex problems, generating creative solutions, and communicating solutions effectively, are now considered necessary at all levels of scholarship. While the demands in the computer science workforce continue to grow (Qian & Lehman, 2016), computational thinking skills are also considered valuable for multiple career fields (Kelleher, 2009). As a response to the demand, the interest in computer science education has been increasing, and introductory computer science courses have been developed for students at the elementary and secondary levels (Qian & Lehman, 2016). However, too few students are given the opportunity to develop computational thinking skills within engaging physical settings (Google & Gallup, 2016) provided through the hands-on and design-based learning environments afforded in engineering and technology classrooms. Therefore, this article will provide an example instructional activity for fostering computational thinking while also addressing core engineering concepts in electronics using programmable e-textiles (electronic textiles). Specifically, the instructional context of wearable technologies will be used to provide a physical connection to developing computational thinking skills and electrical engineering capabilities while also enhancing the rigor of engineering design and providing socially-connected relevance to learning.
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Strimel, G. J., Morehouse, A., Bartholomew, S. R., Swift, C., & Woessner, J. (2019). Integrating computational thinking through
wearable technologies and programmable e-textiles. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 78(8), 16-19.
Integrating Computational Thinking Through Wearable Technologies and Programmable E-Textiles
Figure 1. Student sewing an electrical circuit for a wearable device using conductive thread and E-textiles.
Introduction
Computational thinking is a problem-solving technique that has traditionally been employed by computer
scientists to develop computer applications. However, computational thinking practices are now believed to be applicable
to a variety of other fields (Google for Education, 2018), specifically those related to engineering and technology.
Accordingly, the Advancing Excellence in P-12 Engineering Education (2018) project identified computational thinking
as one of the core engineering concepts fundamental for setting a foundation for students to conduct the quantitative
analyses that engineers and other related professionals perform. Likewise, the Committee for the Workshops on
Computational Thinking advocates that computational thinking is necessary for people to develop efficient and automated
physical design solutions as well as visualizations of design concepts and computational scientific models (NRC, 2011).
These abilities, which also include thinking critically about complex problems, generating creative solutions, and
communicating solutions effectively, are now considered necessary at all levels of scholarship.
While the demands in the computer science workforce continue to grow (Qian & Lehman, 2016), computational
thinking skills are also considered valuable for multiple career fields (Kelleher, 2009). As a response to the demand, the
interest in computer science education has been increasing, and introductory computer science courses have been
developed for students at the elementary and secondary levels (Qian & Lehman, 2016). However, too few students are
given the opportunity to develop computational thinking skills within engaging physical settings (Google & Gallup, 2016)
provided through the hands-on and design-based learning environments afforded in engineering and technology
classrooms. Therefore, this article will provide an example instructional activity for fostering computational thinking
while also addressing core engineering concepts in electronics using programmable e-textiles (electronic textiles).
Specifically, the instructional context of wearable technologies will be used to provide a physical connection to
developing computational thinking skills and electrical engineering capabilities while also enhancing the rigor of
engineering design and providing socially-connected relevance to learning.
Computational Thinking in Engineering
Computational thinking is a problem-solving technique that dissects complex problems and generates solutions
that both humans and machines can understand (Aho, 2012). Everyone can possess the ability to apply computational
thinking in any career fieldone does not need to be a computer scientist (Wing, 2006). Typically, the computational
thinking technique can be separated into four elements: (1) decomposition, (2) pattern recognition, (3) abstraction, and (4)
formation of algorithms. Decomposition is the process of dissecting a problem into smaller more manageable tasks.
Pattern recognition looks for solutions or similarities within problems. Abstraction ignores irrelevant data while solving
problems. Finally, formation of algorithms is the creation of a step-by-step solution to be carried out by a computer
program (BBC, 2018). These four elements are now considered essential skills to be taught across all grade levels for
reasons including, setting a foundation for success in a technological society, increasing interest in the information
Strimel, G. J., Morehouse, A., Bartholomew, S. R., Swift, C., & Woessner, J. (2019). Integrating computational thinking through
wearable technologies and programmable e-textiles. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 78(8), 16-19.
technology professions, maintaining and enhancing U.S. economic competitiveness, supporting inquiry in other
disciplines, and enabling personal empowerment (NRC, 2011c).
In particular, the importance of computational thinking practices has been stressed in engineering education as
individuals in engineering fields regularly rely on computational models and automated systems as design solutions.
Additionally, the Next Generation Science Standards lists computational thinking as one of the eight science and
engineering practices (NGSS Lead States, 2013) and the Engineering in K12 education report (NAE & NRC 2009) states
computational and visualization tools should be used, as appropriate, to support engineering design, particularly at the
high school level. Consequently, the Advancing Excellence in P-12 Engineering Education (2018) project established a
engineering content taxonomy that included the practice of Quantitative Analysis with a core concept of Computational
Thinking. This core concept is comprised of the following sub-concepts: (a) Programming and Algorithms, (b)
Programming Languages, and (c) Software Design, Implementation, and Testing. In addition, a sample progression of
learning is provided in Table 1 to help integrate computational thinking into future or existing engineering coursework as
a means to (1) deepen students’ engineering design practices and (2) increase their abilities to produce optimized solutions
to authentic problems.
Table 1 Sample Progression of Learning in Engineering for Computational Thinking
Dimension: Engineering Practices
Practice: Quantitative Analysis
Core Concept: Computational Thinking
Overview: Computational Thinking is important to the practice of Quantitative Analysis because engineers systematically analyze and
develop algorithms and programs to develop or optimize solutions to design problems. In this area, students should learn how to design,
develop, implement, and evaluate algorithms and programs for an engineering system.
Level
4
I can successfully develop and implement algorithms and programs to solve an engineering design problem through the use of
computational thinking.
Programming & Algorithms
(including flowcharting)
Programming
(script programming languages)
Software Design, Implementation, &
Testing
Level 3
I can implement a program that
incorporates a series of algorithms
to develop my solution in its
entirely.
(Advanced)
Level 3
I can write and evaluate programs using
highly advanced techniques, such as
writing external functions and calling
them from a program.
(Advanced)
I can evaluate and justify which software
is optimal toward solving a specific
engineering design problem among a
variety of industry-grade software.
(Advanced)
Level 2
I can write algorithms to develop a
part of my solution and
communicate the algorithms with
flowcharts.
(Proficient)
Level 2
I can create programs using more
advanced programming techniques,
such as loops, conditional structures,
and variables.
(Proficient)
I can develop a solution to an
engineering design problem using
industry-grade software.
(Proficient)
Level 1
I can interpret a flowchart of
designed system and describe how
the system may work with what
algorithms.
(Basic)
Level 1
I can develop basic programs using
correct syntax and logical organization.
(Basic)
I can implement a solution to an
engineering design problem using a
variety of industry-grade software.
(Basic)
Engineering Concepts Through Wearable Technology and Programmable E-Textiles
Wearable technologies are devices that can be worn to extend one’s capabilities to achieve some sort of task or
meet a need/desire. Park and Jayaraman (2003) describe wearable technology examples as devices that enable more
‘hands free’ capabilities or devices that use interconnecting sensors to monitor a person’s health vitals. Popular wearable
technology today includes: smartwatches, like Samsung's Galaxy Gear or Apple’s iWatch; augmented reality headsets,
like Google Glass; and virtual reality headsets, like the Oculus Rift.
While these wearable devices have become more physically flexible and adaptable to idividuals, they are often viewed as
rigid technologies. However, E-Textiles (electronic textiles) have provided a way for flexible circuits which can enable electronics to
be more agile in the way they are used in society. E-textiles, also known as smart textiles or intelligent textiles, is a name for
fabrics that are converged with electronics so they can transform, collect, and transmit data; store and transfer energy; and
house small computers (Pailes-Friedman, 2016) while interacting with the environment or user (Stoppa & Chiolerio,
2014). These components can offer an engaging medium for designing and phyically prototyping wearable and flexable
Strimel, G. J., Morehouse, A., Bartholomew, S. R., Swift, C., & Woessner, J. (2019). Integrating computational thinking through
wearable technologies and programmable e-textiles. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 78(8), 16-19.
solutions to societal problems or creating novel products in relationship to a varity of fields such as fashion, medicine, and
athletics. Particularly, the technologies of low power wireless communications, such as bluetooth and wi-fi, and small
vital sensors have advanced exponentially, reshaping how we use wearable technology and E-textiles in healthcare and
preventive care (Suzuki, Tanaka, Minami, Yamada, Miyata, 2013). The wearable technology market is growing rapidly,
and the Scalar Market Research firm, states that this market is expected to grow 18.9% from 2016 to 2021, more than
doubling its revenue from roughly 29 billion dollars to 71 billion. This data emphasizes the need for more computational
thinking-skilled employees in the workforce.
Wearable technology and programmable E-textiles can also provide authentic contexts for teaching important
core concepts in engineering related to electronics and computer architecture/ For example, the physical components of
these technologies can address the sample progressions of learning provided in Tables 2 and 3.
Table 2 Sample Progression of Learning in Engineering for Electronics
Dimension: Engineering Knowledge
Core Concept: Electronics
Overview: Electronics are important to engineering literacy because engineers use and apply the principles of electronics as they create and troubleshoot
technological solutions to design problems. In this area, students should learn how, why, and when to choose a certain type of electronic component or use
the proper instrumentation based on the understanding of the basic structures of digital/analog electronics and electronic signals.
Level
4
I can successfully solve a design problem involving an electronic device.
Instrumentation
Gating
Integrated Circuits
Closed and Open Loop & Feedback
Level 3
I can determine and
justify the most
appropriate
measurements to take
with the appropriate
instrumentation for my
circuit.
(Advanced)
Level 3
I can simplify Boolean
expressions and logic circuits
to use the least number of gate
ICs. (i.e, use K-maps, use
Boolean algebra, draw multi-
logic expression using one gate
type, etc.).
(Advanced)
Level 3
I can determine and justify which
type of integrated circuits are
most appropriate for my design.
(Advanced)
Level 3
I can determine and justify which
type of loops are most
appropriate for my design.
(Advanced)
Level 2
I can properly use the
appropriate
instrumentation to
analyze my circuit.
(Proficient)
Level 2
I can draw a logic circuit based
on a given Boolean expression.
(Proficient)
Level 2
I can explain the functions of
different integrated circuits of an
electronic system.
(Proficient)
Level 2
I can explain the structures and
control processes of closed, open,
and feedback loops and
determine when it is most
effective and efficient to apply a
specific sensor to control the
system.
(Proficient)
Level 1
I can identify different
types of electronic
instrumentation for
circuit analysis (e.g. a
volt meter or
oscilloscope).
(Basic)
Level 1
I can identify the difference
between AND, OR, NAND,
NOR, and Invertor gates,
including drawing their logic
tables.
(Basic)
Level 1
I can identify a variety of
integrated circuits that can be
included in an electronic system.
(e.g. 555 timers or operational
amplifiers).
(Basic)
Level 1
I can distinguish between closed,
open, and feedback loops in
consideration of how each loop
controls actions. (Basic)
Strimel, G. J., Morehouse, A., Bartholomew, S. R., Swift, C., & Woessner, J. (2019). Integrating computational thinking through
wearable technologies and programmable e-textiles. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 78(8), 16-19.
Table 3 Sample Progression of Learning in Engineering for Computer Architecture
Dimension: Engineering Knowledge
Core Concept: Computer Architecture
Overview: Computer Architecture is important to engineering literacy because it allows engineers to design and optimize computer systems. In this area,
students should learn what components constitute computer systems, how the components relate to another within the systems, and how to configure the
components for desired performance.
Level 4
I can successfully solve a design problem involving a computer system.
Computer Hardware
Computer Software
Processors &
Microprocessors
Interfacing
Memory
Level 3
I can draw a basic
block diagram of a
full computer
system and explain
it.
(Advanced)
Level 3
I can determine and
justify which type
of software is
needed for my
design.
(Advanced)
Level 3
I can implement a given
microprocessor/processor in
a system of my own design.
(Advanced)
Level 3
I can determine and
justify which
components are
needed hardware or
software interfaces.
(Advanced)
Level 3
I can determine and justify
which type of memory is
most appropriate for my
design.
(Advanced)
Level 2
I can explain the
functions of each
major hardware
system within a
computer.
(Proficient)
Level 2
I can explain the
functions of
different system
software of a
computer system.
(Proficient)
Level 2
I can explain how a given
microprocessor/processor
works.
(Proficient)
Level 2
I can explain how each
component can be
interfaced with others
through interfaces.
(Proficient)
Level 2
I can explain the
performance of different
types of computer memory.
(Proficient)
Level 1
I can identify the
major systems in a
computer
(processor,
memory, RAM,
motherboard, fan).
(Basic)
Level 1
I can identify a
variety of system
software that can be
included in a
computer system.
(Basic)
Level 1
I can identify the
characteristics (processing
power, number of bits, etc.)
of a given
processor/microprocessor
(Arduino, Raspberry Pi,
etc.).
(Basic)
Level 1
I can identify a variety
of hardware and
software components
needing interfaces.
Level 1
I can identify a variety of
memory types that can be
included in a computer
system. (ROM, RAM, etc.).
(Basic)
Wearable Technologies: A Socially Relevant Context
In engineering education, there have been discussions that using programmable E-textiles in the classroom can
help students to simultaneously develop making skills related to textiles (such as cutting, measuring, and stitching) and
creative thinking while also providing connections to socially relevant contexts for learning in depth knowledge of
electronic circuits and components (Davies & Hardy, 2016). For example, wearable technology contexts can highlight the
influence engineering has on people and society while addressing many students’ desires to engage in fields that make a
difference in people’s lives (e.g. healthcare, physical therapy, vetinary care, athletics, fashion, assistive technologies, or
virtual reality). Additionally, these example can connect to the cultural backgrounds and communities in which the
schools are located.
There have been several studies focused on employing E-textiles to provide opportunities for students to
experience electronics and computer programming. Peppler and Glosson (2013) found that engaging children in E-textile
design activities can help them to understand concepts around electricity, such as circuit analysis, current flow, polarity,
and electrical connections. Qiu et al. (2013) proposed a curriculum with programmable textiles and reported that the
learning activities with programmable E-textiles can improve students’ comfort with, enjoyment of, and interest in
working with electronics and programming. Also, Kafai et al. (2014) explain that design activities with E-textiles can
influence high school students’ understanding of concepts, practices, and perceptions of computing. Furthermore,
Buchholz et al. (2014) focused on the effectiveness of E-textiles toward enhancing girls interest in STEM activities and
found that replacing the traditional circuity toolkits with E-textiles can encourage more girls to participate in design
practices. Therefore, the authors believe that aligning engineering with the socially relevant contexts provided through
wearable technologies and E-textiles can help broaden participation in STEM fields and aid in achieving engineering
literacy for all students. The lesson plan detailed in Tables 4, 5, and 6 provides a start for teaching engineering content
through the context of wearable technologies.
Strimel, G. J., Morehouse, A., Bartholomew, S. R., Swift, C., & Woessner, J. (2019). Integrating computational thinking through
wearable technologies and programmable e-textiles. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 78(8), 16-19.
Figure 2. Student threading a sewing needle with conductive thread to make a wearable electronic device.
Table 4 Wearable Technology Lesson Overview
Lesson Purpose: Students in this lesson will use E-textiles and computational thinking to complete an interactive wearable technology project. This
lesson will serve to introduce students to the basics of programming and electronics while immersing them in the iterative prototyping of physical
products. This lesson will explore the fundamentals of electronics and computer systems to develop a functional wearable technology product.
Socially Relevant Context: Wearable technologies and programmable E-textiles hold great potential for advancing toward solutions to grand
engineering challenges such improving health informatics and enhancing virtual reality. Many individuals have a phone or an electronic device of
some kind that requires a power source. Relatedly, more advanced wearable devices can track fitness, connect to mobile devices, and perform other
advanced functions. While these devices are far more flexible than the pre-existing technology, they are still often viewed as rigid. However, E-
Textiles (electronic textiles) provide a way for soft and flexible circuitry which may enable electronics to be used in increasingly agile ways.
Core & Sub Concepts in Engineering:
Computational Thinking
Programming and Algorithms
Programming Languages
Electronics
Components
Integrated Circuits
Closed and Open Loop and Feedback (systems system responses)
Computer Architecture
Processors and Microprocessors
Interfacing
Connected STEM Standards:
Standard for Technological Literacy 3
Benchmark H - Technological innovation often results when ideas, knowledge, or skills are shared within a technology, among
technologies, or across other fields
Standard for Technological Literacy 9
Benchmark J - Engineering design is influenced by personal characteristics, such as creativity, resourcefulness, and the ability to
visualize and think abstractly.
Benchmark K - A prototype is a working model used to test a design concept by making actual observations and necessary
adjustments.
Next Generation Science Standard ETS1-2.
Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be
solved through engineering.
Next Generation Science Standard ETS1-3.
Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of
constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
Learning Objectives:
I can determine and justify which type of integrated circuits are most appropriate for my design.
I can utilize a given microprocessor/processor in a system of my own design.
I can develop programs using more advanced programming techniques, such as loops, conditional structures, and variables.
I can determine and justify which components are needed hardware or software interfaces.
I can explain the structures and control processes of closed, open, and feedback loops.
Strimel, G. J., Morehouse, A., Bartholomew, S. R., Swift, C., & Woessner, J. (2019). Integrating computational thinking through
wearable technologies and programmable e-textiles. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 78(8), 16-19.
Driving Questions:
1. How can wearable technologies and E-textiles influence our daily lives?
2. What is computational thinking and how can we use it to solve design problems?
3. How can we enhance the flexibility of electronics devices to better adapt to living things?
4. How can computational thinking be applied to non-programming tasks?
Career Connections:
Specific skills that students will learn include: computational thinking, programming, and systems thinking. These skills related to careers
such as: Systems Engineer, Full Stack Developer, Computer Scientist, Manufacturing Engineer, Textile Industry Fashion Designer, Textiles
Engineer/Manufacturer, and Electrical Engineering.
Table 5 Wearable Technology Lesson Plan
Engage: Sets the context for what the students will be learning in the lesson, as well as captures their interest in the topic by making learning relevant to
their lives and community.
Teacher will present the wearable technology tinkering activity “Complete the Simple Circuit.” Students are challenged to be the first to
complete a circuit and light the LED using only the E-textile items listed below:
Materials Needed Per Student:
Coin Cell Battery
Coin Cell Battery Holder
4” Conductive Thread
1 Sewable LED
After 5 to 10 minutes bring the class back together. If there are students who completed the challenge have those students explain how to
solve it to the other students.
Explore: Enables students to build upon their prior knowledge while developing new understandings related to the topic through student-centered
explorations.
Begin discussing the ever-growing popularity, necessity, and importance of wearable technology and E-textiles. Suggested talking points:
o What is wearable technology?
o What are some examples?
o What are E-textiles?
o Why are E-textiles and wearable technologies popular?
Teacher will then present how an E-textile circuits functions.
o A circuit is a path that electricity flows
o In battery circuits, the positive and negative ends need to be connected
§ Complete circuit
§ If the circuit is broken it won’t work
o Some components need electricity to turn on
§ Lights/LEDs function when electricity flows through them
o To turn off components we can break the flow of electricity
§ Switches prevent the flow of electricity
§ To allow the electricity flow turn on the switch
§ With push buttons we must push the button to allow flow
The students will now complete the exploration activity to create a flexible, light up emoji keychain. See Figure 3. This activity will give the
students practice with sewing electrical circuits.
Figure 3. Exploration activity: Creating a flexible, light up emoji keychain
To begin the exploration activity, have students gather into groups of two and handout the following materials:
Materials Needed Per Group
Available Part Number from Kitronik:
3” Circle of felt x 2
-
Strimel, G. J., Morehouse, A., Bartholomew, S. R., Swift, C., & Woessner, J. (2019). Integrating computational thinking through
wearable technologies and programmable e-textiles. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 78(8), 16-19.
Sewable Miniature Coin Cell Holder
2718
CR1220 3V Coin Cell, pack of 5
2269
Electro-Fashion, Conductive Thread, 6m
2727
Electro-Fashion, LED Board, White, pack of 10
2714
Electro-Fashion, Push Button Switch
2708
Needle Set, pack of 5
2741
Basic Sewing Thread
-
Keychain
-
Students will then create a light up LED emoji keychain following the schematic below. Note: when using conductive thread separate strings
need to be used between each sewing loop. Otherwise, it can short circuit the wiring (i.e. one string between cell holder and push button;
another string between push button and LED).
If students are having trouble with sewing, there are multiple short demonstration videos on YouTube they can look up and follow along
with. There is also a helpful chart below to demonstrate a simple stitch.
Explain: Summarizes new and prior knowledge while addressing any misconceptions the students may hold.
E-textiles can be considered the “hardware” of a product, but to be considered a wearable technology, there needs to be software to control
the hardware. Review the following definitions with students:
o Coding: Using a programming language to create a flowchart like process to execute a desired outcome.
o Computer Programming: The process of creating software.
o Computational Thinking: A problem-solving technique that is often used when programming. The end results is the
formulation of a problem that allows either a computer or human to carry out a task. This involves the logical organization of data
(see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUXo-S7gzds for a good explanation which may help students).
o Decomposition: The breaking down of complicated problems into smaller manageable problems.
o Pattern Recognition: This is the technique used to simplify a program so we do not repeat unnecessary parts of code.
o Abstraction: The organization of data into sections. Prevents confusion of too many variables.
o Algorithmic Thinking: The process of writing steps the computer can use/coding.
Pass out Arduino kits to students and explain that they will be using Arduino for their engineering challenge.
Engineer: Requires students to apply their knowledge and skills using the engineering design process to identify a problem and to
develop/make/evaluate/refine a viable solution.
Programming wearable technologies to solve a problem is an opportunity to develop computational thinking skills.
Wearable technologies can interface with common devices such as Arduino microcontrollers, allowing students to build, code, and test
solutions for real problems in their lives.
In the engineering challenge of this lesson, students are introduced to the “ninja game.” This is a playground game where one player is
trying to tag another’s hand, to knock that player out of the game. A video explaining how to play the game can be found at: (“How to play
the Ninja hand game” link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FOp9JJPH5A).
Although commonly played, one problem with this game is that players often cheat and say their hand wasn’t touched. Therfore, the
engineering activity challenges students to create a wearable item that would indicate when another player had scored a successful hit, to
prevent cheating.
An example step-by-step solution to this challenge is provided in Table 6.
The following materials will be needed to complete this challenge.
Materials Needed:
Available Part Number from Kitronik:
Electro-Fashion conductive thread, 50 yards/ 45m
2722
Electro-Fashion, LED Board, White, pack of 10
2714
Strimel, G. J., Morehouse, A., Bartholomew, S. R., Swift, C., & Woessner, J. (2019). Integrating computational thinking through
wearable technologies and programmable e-textiles. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 78(8), 16-19.
Needle Set, pack of 5
2741
Basic Sewing Thread
-
Uxcell Women Elbow Length Thumbhole Arm
Warmer Fingerless Gloves Pair
-
Adafruit Trinket Mini
-
Arduino
-
67 Values Resistor Kit
-
9V Battery Clips Connector Buckle (10-Pack)
-
Set of 50 Ceramic Disk Capacitor 50V 10nf
-
9V Batteries, 6-Pack
-
Evaluate: Allows a student to evaluate hers or his own learning and skill development in a manner that enables them to take the necessary steps to
master the lesson content and concepts.
Students will record their circuit sketches, code, and any other notes and sketches throughout the lesson in their engineering notebooks.
Further, after students have constructed and programmed their ninja gloves, they will play the game with partners and conduct user-testing
to pilot the use of their designs.
In their engineering notebook or journal, have students write a short reflection paragraph explaining what about their gloves worked, didn’t
work, and what they could do differently to improve the glove.
Note. Lesson format adapted from Grubbs & Strimel (2015).
Table 6 Example Solution to the Lesson’s Engineering Design Challenge
Step 1: Design and Component Selection
A solution to the design challenge can be centered around the development
of a wearable capacitive touch sensor. A capacitive touch sensor measures
the change in capacitance along a part of a wire, where the “capacitor”
exists in the space between the wire and another grounded object. Thus, a
periodic signal is sent from one pin on a microcontroller, through a resistor,
and another pin listens for that signal on the other side. If a grounded
object is brought close to either side of the resistor, a slight capacitance is
created, making an RC circuit that changes the signal as it passes through,
in a way that can be measured by the microcontroller. Arduino has a great
capacitive sensor library, for more information visit:
http://playground.arduino.cc/Main/CapacitiveSensor?from=Main.CapSens
e.The other piece of this step is selecting the components for the design. A
small Arduino microcontroller was chosen, along with sewable LEDs, to
be powered by a simple 9v battery. A long, fingerless glove was chosen to
give ample room for securing.
Step 2: Initial Prototyping
Initial tests of the CapSense library functions were undertaken with an
Arduino UNO. Simple code was written to test the Capacitive Sensor
library, which was later re-used in the final design. Breadboard circuits
were created. This was to test assumptions on proven hardware, which
would prove to be helpful during the next step.
Strimel, G. J., Morehouse, A., Bartholomew, S. R., Swift, C., & Woessner, J. (2019). Integrating computational thinking through
wearable technologies and programmable e-textiles. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 78(8), 16-19.
Step 3: Prototype with Adafruit Trinket
Adafruit’s Trinket microcontroller was selected for its small size and
simplicity of operation. It was discovered at this step that the Capacitive
Sensor Function did not work as expected. After some research into the
implementation of the sensor, it was discovered through some tinkering
that switching the send and receive pins from step 1 produced results
consistent with what was desired. (eg: the capacitive sensor wire needed to
be on the send pin side of the resistor)
Step 4: Prototype Sensor
The capacitive touch sensor itself, hardware-wise, is just a single
conductive thread, sewn into a grid pattern on a separate piece of fabric.
Conductive thread was chosen for its flexibility. The separate piece of
fabric was needed such that the glove would insulate the wearer from
setting off their own sensor. From here, initial sensitivity values were set in
code.
Step 5: First Glove Prototype
The capacitive touch sensor prototype was attached to the glove with non-
conductive thread, and the sensor’s thread was carefully threaded back to
attach to the microcontroller, such that it would not touch the inside of the
glove. In this step, it was discovered that the thread is slick, and needs tied
onto the microcontroller pins then carefully soldered. The heat from the
iron can melt the thread, so direct contact needs to be avoided. The wire
paths (conductive threads) were not the best in this first iteration, and hot
glue was used to avoid shorts around the microcontroller. Also, an extra
felt piece was added to cover the microcontroller, again to prevent
accidental shorts or contact with the user.
Step 6: Refinement to Final Product
Felt was selected to replace the fabric backing for the capacitive touch
sensor for ease of use and improved aesthetics. It was discovered that
without extra felt between the sensor grid and the glove, the user could
trigger their own glove by flexing their hand. The overall layout was
improved, and the process and workmanship was refined through the
learning experience provided by creating the first prototypes. Hot glue was
no longer needed around the microcontroller. The finished glove will blink
several times when someone touches the felt pad on the back of the hand.
Authors
Greg J. Strimel, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of technology leadership and innovation at Purdue University.
He can be reached at gstrimel@purdue.edu.
Strimel, G. J., Morehouse, A., Bartholomew, S. R., Swift, C., & Woessner, J. (2019). Integrating computational thinking through
wearable technologies and programmable e-textiles. Technology & Engineering Teacher, 78(8), 16-19.
Abby Morehouse, is an undergraduate student in the engineering/technology teacher education program at
Purdue University. she can be reached at amorehou@purdue.edu.
Scott R. Bartholomew, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of engineering/technology teacher education in the
Purdue Polytechnic Institute at Purdue University. He can be reached at sbartho@purdue.edu.
Colin Swift, is an undergraduate student in the engineering/technology teacher education program at Purdue
University. He can be reached at cswift@purdue.edu.
Jonathan Woessner, is an undergraduate student in the engineering/technology teacher education program at
Purdue University. He can be reached at jonwoessner@gmail.com
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