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Featured Educator: Tim Thatcher and Conductor Light Boxes

February 21, 2019

Featured Educator Series

We love the innovative ways that educators (in both formal and informal learning spaces) introduce learners to the concept of physical computing with Makey Makey and coding languages like: Scratch, Processing, and Python. Each month, we will feature an educator and a unique project they've worked on recently. To read more educator posts, simply sign up for our newsletter and we'll guide you to our best content!
This month we are sharing the work of New Zealand educator, Tim Thatcher told from his point of view! Here is the big question his work centered around:
How do we teach Innovation literacy while also culturally empowering students?


The Challenge

In New Zealand the indigenous Maori culture is an essential part of education. However STEAM projects and Educational Technology products are often generic and product focused not culture focused. While facilitating STEAM workshops and technology integration across New Zealand I have been wondering how to use innovative STEAM tools such as Makey Makey in a local way, that serves the needs of our students.  


Can innovation literacy be developed alongside cultural competencies?

I recently had the privilege of facilitating a workshop focused on this question with a group of art teachers and what fun we had! The challenge I gave the teachers was to create an interactive lightbox which interfaced with a digital painting on Scratch. The intention was to empower the teachers to challenge the nature of STEAM within their school and to equip them with the tools, techniques and vision to integrate STEAM with cultural competencies.

The Project

The goal of this workshop was to also give teachers a range of techniques that can enhance traditional art projects. In the first part of the project we made conductive paint which is 1:1 graphite powder with indian ink. We explored traditional Maori Tukutuku patterns which were painted onto an A4 card taking care to keep some areas separate.

An example of woven Tukutuku patterns. Whare Runanga poupou and tukutuku (Image with Creative Commons License from  )

While this section was drying the teachers explored paper circuitry by making a circuit of 2-3 LED lights on another sheet of A4 card. The LED’s were powered by AA battery packs. Paper circuity makes Art genres such as Light Art accessible for all.

Once the LED circuit was complete we revisited the conductive painting and this time created some Kowhaiwhai patterns which were then cut out. The curved Kowhaiwhai forms complemented the Tukutuku pattern and allowed the LED backlight to shine through.


This teacher chose to echo the Tukutuku patterns instead of the kowhaiwhai.

Now for the crazy part! Digital Art is an amazing contemporary art genre and it’s complexity makes it seem out of reach for teachers. For this project the teachers created 3-4 Scratch sprites and backgrounds based on Maori concepts. These were then coded to randomly generate Digital paintings by using a range of Looks and Motion blocks.

An example of some of the Scratch code.

The teachers rose to the challenge and created some fantastic digital paintings and could see how Scratch and Makey Makey allow students to engage in Digital Art forms.

Once the Digital Art was complete and the light boxes were assembled it was time for an exhibition. To add a final touch we used cheap EL lights to add a little flair. The Makey Makey alligator clips were attached to the conductive paint and when pressed instigated the digital paintings.

In 6 hours we had completed an interactive light sculpture that interfaced with a digital artwork. Tools such as Makey Makey and Scratch allowed the teachers to engage with contemporary art genres while also considering the potential of these technologies to support students to engage with their culture.

Tim Thatcher

STEAM Trainer

Using Technology Better

Follow Tim on Twitter @MrtThatch !


We love sharing the innovative projects teachers design and kids create! Have an idea for a featured educator or featured project? Just let us know in the comments.

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