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Textile Messages

Dispatches From the World of E-Textiles and Education

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Edited By Leah Buechley, Kylie Peppler, Michael Eisenberg and Yasmin Kafai

Textile Messages focuses on the emerging field of electronic textiles, or e-textiles – computers that can be soft, colorful, approachable, and beautiful. E-textiles are articles of clothing, home furnishings, or architectures that include embedded computational and electronic elements. This book introduces a collection of tools that enable novices – including educators, hobbyists, and youth designers – to create and learn with e-textiles. It then examines how these tools are reshaping technology education – and DIY practices – across the K-16 spectrum, presenting examples of the ways educators, researchers, designers, and young people are employing them to build new technology, new curricula, and new creative communities.
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5 Learning about Circuitry with E-textiles in After-school Settings

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The relationship between various tools and the structuring of subject matter is central to many examinations of disciplinary learning. Papert, for one, called attention to the impact of specific tools (“objects to think with”) (Papert 1980) on the ways that we learn and perceive subject matter. Of potential interest to anyone working with e-textiles in educational settings is the impact that working with these tools has on our ontological understanding of robotics, computing, and engineering, particularly in the ways that it contrasts with learning outcomes that derive from the use of more traditional tools (e.g., batteries, insulated wire, nails, thumbtacks, paper clips, bulbs, and so on). The historical prevalence of youths’ conceptual misunderstandings of simple circuitry from learning with these traditional materials (Evans 1978; Tiberghien and Delacote 1976) provides additional justification for this exploration. For instance, traditional circuitry toolkits possess numerous design elements that make invisible what makes them work (e.g., the connecting wires in an incandescent bulb disappear behind an electrical contact foot and metallic screw cap; insulated wires prevent crossed lines from shorting out). By contrast, e-textile toolkits reveal underlying electrical structures and processes in tangible and observable ways, allowing designers to investigate aspects of circuits and computational technologies that are otherwise invisible to the user (Buechley 2010; Kafai and Peppler; under review). ← 71 | 72 → Furthermore, dramatically changing the nature of the tools used to explore circuitry concepts (e.g., fabrics, threads, and other soft materials) inspires youth to ask questions they otherwise wouldn’t have. Is cotton...

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