Computational Circuitry: High School Students Code Circuits in Electronic Textile Designs

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting


American Educational Research Association


San Antonio, TX

Publication Date



Purpose. As digital and maker technologies proliferate our lives, there is a growing interest in integrating computational thinking (CT) in K-12 curriculum. Our study explores the use of electronic textiles (e-textiles) designs that use conductive thread and sewable microcontrollers to build wearable circuits to enable learning at the unique intersection of crafting, circuitry, and coding. This provides a promising example of the type of STEM and CT learning called for in national reports and initiatives (Katehi, Pearson, & Feder 2009; Smith, 2016; Wing, 2006). In this paper, we expand upon students’ learning about circuitry by also looking at their understanding of computational circuitry, or circuits whose sensor inputs and light outputs are controlled by code.

Theoretical Frame. With the emergence of new maker tools and materials, circuitry teaching and learning has expanded to include other conductive materials such as conductive thread, sensors, and microcontrollers (Buechley, Eisenberg & Elumeze, 2007). Some researchers (e.g., Peppler & Glosson, 2013) have examined how to assess circuitry learning with e-textile materials, however, there is still a gap in our understanding of how students produce computational circuits, a unique type of design where both the blueprint of the circuit and the structure of the code are aligned such that the LEDs, sensors and switches perform desired behaviors. Understanding computational circuits is a key computational skill in producing functional e-textiles.

Methods. We conducted this study with a class of 23 high school STEM juniors (4 boys, 19 girls, 16-17 years old) at a charter school in a northeastern metropolitan city. During fifteen workshop periods, student pairs collaboratively constructed an interactive, e-textiles sign for the school that would be exhibited in a high-traffic area of the school.

Data. All students participated in a series of circuitry and coding tasks, including designing a simple circuit, as well as reading, designing, and remixing a computational circuit. Two of these were administered in pre- and post-interviews, while three were included only in post-interviews. In analysis, we generated a quantitative coding scheme appropriate for each task based on the skills and knowledge the task targeted, and conducted statistical analyses on the pre-post tasks.

Results. After completing the e-textiles workshop, students significantly increased in their ability to design a functional simple circuit and read a computational circuit compared to their pre-task performance. In the post tasks, students demonstrated more complex skills that involved designing computational circuits, as well as debugging and remixing code for computational circuits. Specifically, our final post task enabled us tease apart these different skills while guiding students through a natural progression of difficulty.

Significance. The present study contributes to the growing body of research exploring CT in maker activities and designing tools to assess that learning. Our work expands maker designs by highlighting the value of learning at the intersection between traditional disciplines and CT, where we can focus future research. Further, the codeable circuits tasks we present in this study is a first example of how interdisciplinary, multimodal CT assessments could look.

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