July 18-August 2, 2013


Michael Smith-Welch


Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium, San Francisco, California


workshop, electronics, programming

Tinkering Studio Residency at the Exploratorium

Two-week residency developing exhibit content and guiding visitors through activities at the Tinkering Studio in the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

I spent the majority of my time in San Francisco in the Exploratorium. There, I facilitated a MaKey MaKey activity in the Tinkering Studio, an area of the Exploratorium focused on tinkering, making, and other creative activities.

Paper Circuits

One of the first things I did was build some example controllers to play games and make music on a computer using a MaKey MaKey.

Paper control interface and speaker.

I spent most time in the Learning Studio, which is an area next to the Tinkering Studio that focuses on designing and organizing and facilitating the activities that take place in the Tinkering Studio. I helped throughout this process of the MaKey MaKey activity.

Photo of a MaKey MaKey controller built at the Tinkering Studio.

A work table in the The Tinkering Studio during the After Dark event (left) and a girl using her custom controller to play Flabby Physics (right).

Balloon Button Burst (Beyond Black Boxes)

Michael and I programmed a simple two-player game in Scratch for use in the Tinkering Studio. In the game, called Balloon Button Burst (Beyond Black Boxes), each player competes to inflate a balloon until it bursts. The balloons burst once they’ve been inflated large enough to collide with the nails positioned above them. This game worked pretty for the MaKey MaKey controller building activity.

The Scratch stage for the two-player balloon game Michael and I programmed for a MaKey MaKey activity in the Tinkering Studio.

I continued helping facilitate MaKey MaKey activities throughout the two weeks that I spent in San Francisco.

A work table in the The Tinkering Studio during the After Dark event (left) and a girl using her custom controller to play Flabby Physics (right).

The Mother of All Scratch Video Demos

Michael and I also built an interactive installation using vellum, tape, a laptop connected to an external webcam and a projector programmed in Scratch. The Scratch stage was projected onto the vellum sheet, mounted on a window pane of the Learning Studio. The webcam was positioned behind a sheet of vellum under the sheet onto which we projected the Scratch stage. The installation consisted of 12 rectangles, vertically oriented, that reacted to motion that occurred in the space they occupied. We installed it on the window of the Learning Studio so visitors to the museum could see the process of making it and interact with it (in its various forms) as we built it.

Michael and I building a Scratch installation in the Learning Studio. Michael focused on the physical construction while I focused on making variations of Scratch programs.

Exploratorium visitors interacting with the Scratch installation and the sign explaining it.

We tried many variations on the Scratch program with the same physical installation. This allowed us to explore the different video effects as part of the installation as people watched and to consider what we might use in projects for the Scratch book. The following screenshot shows one such variant that creates 300 squares that adjust their transparency based on the motion that occurs in the area that they occupy. The squares in the array overlap one another horizontally and vertically. The patterns that emerges from this seems to act, approximately, as an “edge detector”, highlighting the outline of the moving objects detected.

Cardboard Skateboard

I also built a cardboard skateboard controller and programmed a Scratch game at the After Dark event, themed "Freestyle." I called this demo The After Dark Showboard Cardboard Skateboard.

Cardboard skateboard controller and Scratch game in progress (top) and on the Tinkering Studio floor during the After Dark event (bottom).

Make Your Own Video Game Controller

I also facilitated a controller-making activity during the After Dark event in which visitors built custom controllers for the classic Atari Pong game.

Guests in the Tinkering Studio during the After Dark event playing Pong using their own built controllers.