January 15, 2015

Kickstarter campaign aims to develop educational toys from Yasmin Kafai’s research

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In the last five years, Yasmin Kafai has found ways to bridge a traditional craft, sewing, with technology to provide new ways for children to learn creatively about electronics. That has included partnerships with Penn’s School of Design and the Franklin Institute, an annual festival, and ecrafting.org, a website and project backed by the National Science Foundation.

Now Kafai and her partners have extended the research project by creating Cirkits, a circus-themed sewable electronics kit for children ages 6 to 10.

Click here to visit the Cirkits Kickstarter page.

On January 16, they’ll launch a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $15,000 by February 15 to pay for the production and distribution of the kits. For the time being, this campaign will be the only way to purchase Cirkits. Contribution points include three card beginner set for $30 dollars, a six card set plus the base board for $150, and a classroom pack of 10 beginner sets for $300. The team estimates they will be available for delivery by December 2015.

The kits — cards depicting circus characters and a big top — come alive when children sew together a circuit with conductive thread. The newly wired characters will spin, sing, and light up.

Kafai, who worked on the project with Orkan Telhan, from School of Design, and a team of Masters students from Penn’s Integrated Product Design Program, said Cirkits offer children a basic understanding of how electronics work. While the kits are designed to appeal to both boys and girls, Kafai hopes the storytelling nature of the kits will especially interest girls, who are often less likely to be interested in the electronics.

Cirkits provides hand-on experience with electronics. To make a character light up, a child has to learn how to sew and connect the positive and negative sides of a circuit.

Those lessons have value, Kafai said. Engineers often have to both imagine a design and figure out how to implement it in the real world. In the past, Kafai said, children were taught more hands-on crafting skills, like the sewing that is used in Cirkits.

“Let’s bring that back and add the circuitry as a stepping-stone to the 21st century,” Kafai said.