Connected Messages is a project that we developed with the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and Design School. Connected Messages was the brainchild of our two teams thinking about ways to knit together all five Maker Corps sites at the Free Library of Philadelphia this summer, both physically and digitally, and creating meaningful ways of blending technology, community and literacy with the youth we reach on a daily basis. We needed a project that 1) would be easy to execute, in terms of low-cost materials 2) could be completed in four weeks 3) would be relevant and interesting to youth and 4) would have an interactive component, and could also exist digitally as a way to share with a wider audience outside of the community.
We looked to the city for inspiration. How do disparate communities in Philly express themselves? Through public art, specifically murals. What is Philly’s nickname? The City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection). Connected Messages is a both physical and digital mural project. We have five murals at the five Maker Ed sites across some of Philadelphia’s most underserved communities, plus an additional mural at our Parkway Central library. Each mural is comprised of 64 individual boxes, each box 1-inch deep and 5-inches square. Youth at each site will be guided through conversation and construction by their Maker Corps Member as they design, decorate, and install boxes according to a theme – for example, one site’s theme may be about “equality” another may be about “friendship” another about “skills” etc.
Each box will contain one LED, which will be connected to our DIY circuit board through pushpins and copper tape. Each wall is connected to the internet through an Electric Imp, a great device that makes it easy to connect hardware to the internet. Each of the walls will have its own webpage on connected.ecrafting.org where anyone can see the boxes that youth have made, read more about the creator and the ideas behind each box, and control which boxes are lit up by clicking buttons on the page.
When all is said and done, we’ll have spent about $3,000 for all materials for six sites – that’s $500/per site, from 3G modem and data plan to glue and scissors.
Our Maker Corps Team, BK, Brittany, Ryan, Drew, and May, has been working with the Penn team, Dr. Yasmin Kafai, Orkan Telhan, Rich Davis, Thuy Le, Becca Hallec, and Amanda Suarez, to form a design and implementation SWAT team. We would have loved to get some of our kids in on building the boards, but location and time unfortunately didn’t give us that luxury. Regardless, we’re really excited to see what the kids make, and how this project is going to work once it’s in their hands!