Circuit Bending

Garnet Hertz (Last Modified: July 5th 2013)


Project Overview



This project involves taking electronics workshops for adults and adapting them to be more suitable to children and people that wouldn't normally have the chance to work with electronics. In particular, we have targeted students 9-12 years of age from under-served communities, and are currently working on building curriculum, guidebooks and kits to help these students in "circuit bending" (Ghazala, 2004) - the process of hand-modifying battery powered children's toys to build custom electronic instruments. Our goal is to instruct individuals with no prior experience in computing or engineering in the fundamentals of electronics.

In 2010 and 2011, Garnet Hertz led a team of five students at UC Irvine to develop a workshop guidebook specifically targeted to children. Titled "Toy Hacking", the booklet has gone through two major revisions and has been translated from English into Spanish, Chinese and French. The group currently working on this project is the "Technology and Community Outreach" (TACO) Team. We are currently seeking partners to hold community workshops, give feedback on curriculum design and help translate this booklet into other languages.

(Slides: UCSD Experiential Learning Conference: Education in Action - January 26th 2012)


Goals of Work

The specific goals of this work are:
  1. To use this curriculum to prepare the next generation of leaders to approach human challenges through creative technical solutions.
  2. To introduce creativity and arts into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) educational activities. We agree with John Maeda's statement that innovation is born when art meets science.
  3. To leverage the creativity and energy in maker and D.I.Y. electronic cultures to hold workshops that encourage school age and undergraduate students to pursue advanced education.
We will accomplish these goals through design, implementation, and evaluation of:
  1. A series of free hands-on workshops with low technical requirements to introduce STEAM to school aged children in under-represented and low-income communities through partnerships with community organizations.
  2. Involvement of undergraduate students with similar cultural backgrounds as mentors and workshop assistants for research and outreach activities.
We believe the combination of inexpensive and familiar materials, low technological requirements, and a clearly designed curriculum and guidebook have contributed to the strong success of this initiative.



Project Workshops and Events

Circuit Bending Workshop #1: Art Center Media Design Program

24 Jan 2010, Pasadena, California

Garnet Hertz led a one-day workshop in January 2010 at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California in which participants brought sound-making electronic toys to modify by hand. Although many had no experience with electronics, 90% were able to successfully produce their own custom electronic device from scrap materials.


Photographic documentation of this Art Center circuit bending workshop can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/youraccount/sets/72157623162097177/.

Circuit Bending Workshop #2, University of Southern California, Institute for Multimedia Literacy

24 Jan 2010, Los Angeles, California

This Circuit Bending workshop was taught by Garnet Hertz at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy in the School of Cinematic Arts at USC on August 5th 2010. A custom instructional zine was commissioned for this event. The workshop was held as part of "Broadening the Digital Humanities", which designed to foster innovative multimedia research. Sponsors include The University of California's Humanities Research Institute, USC's Institute for Multimedia Literacy and the electronic journal Vectors.


Photographic documentation of this USC circuit bending workshop can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/youraccount/sets/72157624538423295/.


Circuit Bending Workshop #3, University of California Irvine, Department of Informatics / Civic and Community Engagement

27 Jan 2011, Irvine, California

This Circuit Bending workshop was taught by Garnet Hertz in the Department of Informatics at UC Irvine on January 27th 2011. The workshop was held as a training session for students interested in acting as mentors in expanding the circuit bending workshops to children in underserved communities. The name of this initiative is the "Technology and Community Outreach" (TACO) project. This workshop was the first exposure to soldering or electronics for most students.




Photographic documentation of this UC Irvine circuit bending workshop can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/youraccount/sets/72157625743810771/show/.


Circuit Bending Workshop #4, Transmediale.11

04 February 2011, Berlin, Germany

This Circuit Bending workshop was taught by Garnet Hertz at the Transmediale electronic art and culture festival in Berlin, Germany on February 4th 2011. The workshop was held with Jussi Parikka, co-author of the Vilém Flusser Theory Award nomined paper "Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method" which provides an academic basis for circuit bending. During this workshop, enrolled participants disassembled battery powered devices and toys, modified them, and performed their customised instruments.


Photographic documentation of this Transmediale.11 circuit bending workshop can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/youraccount/sets/72157625922124976/show/.


Circuit Bending Workshop #5, USC

03 March 2011, Los Angeles, California

A return of bending circuits at USC!


Photographic documentation of this circuit bending workshop (as well as two other classes taught) can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/youraccount/sets/72157626165170559/.


Circuit Bending Workshop #6, Art Center Media Design Program

05 March 2011, Pasadena, California

Art Center!


Photographic documentation of this circuit bending workshop can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/youraccount/sets/72157626290320772/.


Circuit Bending Workshop #7, Verano After School Program

11 March 2011, Irvine, California

This was the first time the workshop was given exclusively to children. Ages ranged from six years old (as seen in the video below) to twelve years old. Our curriculum guide was also provided in a bilingual English / Simplified Chinese format.




Photographic documentation of this circuit bending workshop can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/youraccount/sets/72157626290084388/.


Circuit Bending Workshop #8, Renuevo School

17 March 2011, Huntington Park, California

This was the second time the workshop was given exclusively to children. Renuevo is a small private school in south central Los Angeles. Our curriculum guide was also provided in a bilingual English / Spanish format.


Photographic documentation of this circuit bending workshop can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/youraccount/sets/72157626290072296/.


Future Directions

Our vision is to extend these curricular and mentorship advances through the development of a mobile D.I.Y. laboratory to more easily bring our specialized infrastructure to multiple communities in Los Angeles and Orange County in Calfiornia. We propose to extend the "bookmobile" concept (Orton, 1980; Dixon, 2006; Huang, 2007) to bring specialized resources to groups and communities that lack educational infrastructure. Our "D.I.Y. bookmobile" would take form as a customized taco (food) truck, a common component of Los Angeles and Orange County culture, especially in communities with considerable Latino populations. This vehicle would transport workshop mentors and specialized tools and would serve as a public platform to disseminate the D.I.Y. workshop materials. This STEAM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) mobile electronic lab services underserved communities in an innovative and culturally relevant way by leveraging existing street cultures and communities.

A mockup of the proposed Do-It-Yourself Technology and Community Outreach (T.A.C.O.) Truck.
A mockup of the proposed Do-It-Yourself Technology and Community Outreach (T.A.C.O.) Truck. Vehicle wrap background image of Reed Ghazala's Incantor. (From Hertz & Hayes [unpublished proposal] 2010)



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Garnet Hertz, 2010/2011
http://conceptlab.com/