On the week of March 8, we talked about tools and materials and read two interesting readings, Some Reflections on Designing Construction Kits for Kids by Mitchel Resnick and Brian Silverman and
some sections from Evocative Objects: Things We Think With” by Sherry Turkle. Our activity was to "hack" an electronic toy and explore how it worked by completely taking it apart using the tools at the Make Innovate Learn Lab (MILL). After taking the toy apart, we would hack another toy and make something by putting together pieces from both toys.
It was interesting to me how I was able to see some of the guiding principles from Resnick and Silverman (2005) in this hacking activity, even the activity was not about construction kits per se. Some of those principles were Low floor and wide walls, Make powerful ideas salient-not forced, and Iterate, Iterate – then iterate again. The toy hack activity was "low floor" because it was easy to start taking stuff apart and it had "wide walls" because the possibilities of creating something had no limits. We could take apart any toy and use it in any way we wanted. By designing my new creation, I ran into "salient powerful ideas" where I decided to remove the existing battery configuration and use a 3V battery because I did not have replacements for the small batteries. I was also able to figure out a way to connect the wires back to their respective circuits when they broke off and make the circuit work again. And finally, the "iteration, iteration" was needed since I did not know for sure what I wanted to create after taking apart the toys. I tried multiple configurations and everything worked at the end.
The two toys I picked were a small Hello Kitty toy and a small electronic blue cat that my dad brought to my daughter from Mexico over a year ago. The cat plays short songs by pushing on a red button that lights up as well. The cat has a string in the back that when pulled and released, the back wheels start turning making the cat move forward (see Figure 1).
Using a small screwdriver and pliers I was able to completely take the cat apart finding out that the cat was not working because the three small batteries were discharged (Figures 2 and 3). I did not have replacement batteries so I decided to cut the plastic off and make room for a 3V battery. Thanks to hot glue I was able to make room for the new battery (Figure 4a and 4b). I was also able to see the mechanism that made the wheels turn, the small circuit with the small LED and the wires to a small speaker.
To make sure the circuit worked, I connected the 3V coin battery to the circuit and after pressing the buttons it started to play the "annoying" songs, hehehe (play video below).
Another challenge I had was the breaking of couple wires off from the circuit and speaker. The wires were very small and flimsy and barely had solder attaching them to the circuit and the speaker. After much handling of the circuit and speaker, the wires came off. After "panicking" for a few minutes since I did not have a soldering iron with me, I decided to use hot glue to keep the wires together and Voilà, it worked! (Figures 5 and 6).
The final tasks were to put everything together and glue the new head of the cat, a Hello Kitty head from the second toy:
At last minute I decided to add two green LEDs to make the toy a little more playful:
I close with two thoughts. Hacking toys or machines is a wonderful way to learn how a system of multiple elements work together. And secondly, it was empowering to have the "freedom" of taking apart a complex toy and design and create something of personal interest using any tool or material available. I could bring my interests and ideas into the mix and use the system's pieces and elements as the construction blocks to create something.
Resnick, M., and Silverman, B. (2005). Some Reflections on Designing Construction Kits for Kids. Proceedings of Interaction Design and Children conference, Boulder, CO.