and Craft Technologies
Acoalition of national education associa- tions that includes ISTE recommended an increased emphasis on natural connections between engineering design and other
subjects at the most recent National Technology
Leadership Summit (NTLS XII) in Washington,
D.C. Craft technologies offer one mechanism for
making such connections.
In contrast to many academic subjects,
engineering involves a reduction of theory to
practice, which includes translating digital designs into physical objects. This presents both an
opportunity and a challenge for the classroom
setting. Introducing physical materials and engineering equipment can present logistical and
economic hurdles. However, learning science
and mathematics in an authentic engineering
context can be engaging for both teachers and
students. Fortunately, there are inexpensive
entry points for doing this.
Craft technologies combine traditional crafts,
such as paper engineering, with modern technologies, such as digital circuitry. Students can
use these to construct objects such as mechanical
toys, paper sculptures that light up, and stuffed
animals with embedded artificial intelligence. A
variety of project videos produced by the Craft
Technology Group illustrates some of the possibilities (see Resources).
Karen Cator, director of the U.S. Office of Educational Technology, recently watched a video
of craft engineering (based on the work of Leah
Buechley and her students at the MIT Media
Lab) at the NTLS. She described the potential for
schools and learning as “inspirational” and challenged the group to place this technology in the
hands of teachers and students more quickly. We
The electronic sewing kit, developed at the Craft Technology
Lab, includes the basic materials needed to embed electrical
components into fabric. The kit
is intended to introduce children
to electricity and circuits.
are providing this information about emergent
craft technologies in response to her challenge.
Craft technologies can expand and build on
traditional activities. For example, the Sewing
Circuits project (which Buechley developed
while she was a doctoral student at the Craft
Technology Lab) provides a construction kit
and accompanying activities that allow children
to learn about circuits through sewing. This not
only provides an engaging context for learning
about science and mathematics concepts,
but also expands the audience that may
be interested in such activities.