Pubs 2004-2011

LEDnoseEisenberg, M.; Buechley, L.; and Elumeze, N.  2004. Computation and Construction Kits: Toward the Next Generation of Tangible Building Media for Children.  In Proceedings of CELDA 2004 (Cognition and Exploratory Learning in Digital Age), Lisbon Portugal, pp. 423-426.

Construction kits represent a venerable, creative, and (occasionally) even beautiful genre of educational toys for children. Nonetheless, traditional construction kits have limitations as educational media. In the past decade, a number of research efforts have attempted to address these limitations by augmenting construction kit design with various types of computational media. This paper describes two new prototypes of “computationally-enhanced construction kits”; unlike previous efforts, these newer kits allow for large numbers of mutually-interacting, computationally complex, geometrically innovative, and user-programmable pieces. We describe the current (still- early) state of these systems, and discuss plausible directions for future development and research.


Eisenberg, M.  2004.  Tangible Ideas for Children: Materials Science as the Future of Educational Technology.  In Proceedings of Interaction Design and Children 2004, College Park, MD, pp. 19-26.  https://doi.org/10.1145/1017833.1017836

Traditionally, the notion of “educational technology” has been equated with “educational computing”. While computer technology is, and will continue to be, a central focus of educational technology, its importance is likely to be rivaled in the coming generation by developments in materials science. This paper represents an early attempt to discuss the role of novel materials in educational settings, and in children’s lives more generally. We discuss a variety of fascinating new materials, all of potential importance in education; outline a number of existing and possible educational projects to make creative use of these materials; and discuss several issues likely to become prominent in educational research as materials science increasingly takes its place at the forefront of educational technology.


FreddyHendrix, S. and Eisenberg, M.  2004.  Computer-Assisted Engineering for Children: a Pop-Up Design Application. (Poster presentation).  In Proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS 2004).  Los Angeles, CA, p. 606.

We have argued for the design of computationally-enriched craft activities [Eisenberg et al. 2003; Eisenberg, 2002; Eisenberg, Rubin, and Chen 1998]: activities that combine the affordances of computational media with those of children’s educational crafts. In this poster, we present and describe such an application: a system for the design of pop-up forms in paper, geared toward use by K-12 students. Briefly, the application, Popup Workshop, permits students to create a paper template from which a pop-up form will be created, and to see that form simulated in a three-dimensional rendering. Once the design has been created to the child’s satisfaction, the template may be printed and cut to produce the predicted moving structure.


Eisenberg, M.; Elumeze, N.; and Wrensch, T.  2004.  Computationally-Enhanced Craft Items: Prototypes and Principles.  In Design Computing and Cognition ’04 Poster Abstracts. Cambridge, MA, pp. 9-11


Caravone, C.; Eisenberg, M.; Sanders, Z.; and Stockho, J.  2004.  A Computationally-Enhanced Geoboard. (Poster presentation).  In Proceedings of CELDA 2004 (Cognition and Exploratory Learning in Digital Age), Lisbon, pp. 545-546.


Eisenberg, M.  2005. Technology and the Future of Educational Crafts.  Educational Technology (invited paper), 45(3): 3-11.

Craft activities – constructive, creative activities with tangible materials – have been a venerable and delightful element of childhood education for centuries; and they have always been a reflection of contemporary technology. In the coming decades, children’s crafts will become integrated with novel technology in ways that can (potentially) serve to make the craft activities more educationally powerful and aesthetically appealing. This article is a review of various research projects under way in the author’s laboratory – projects that seek to explore the ways in which computation and materials science can expand the horizons of children’s craft activities. The article concludes by arguing that the educational technology community at large would be well served by devoting a far greater degree of attention to the advancement of educational crafts.


Elumeze, N. and Eisenberg, M.  2005.  SmartTiles: Designing Interactive ‘Room-Sized’ Artifacts for Educational Computing.  Children, Youth and Environments. 15(1): 54-66.

Historically, the notion of design for educational computing has assumed that the “computer” in question is a desktop box. In this paper we describe a genre of educational computing in which the artifacts designed are “room-sized:” moderate-to-large-scale objects or furnishings with which children can interact in powerful or interesting ways. We describe a working prototype of one such system—SmartTiles, a system of large-scale programmable “tiles” that can endow surfaces such as walls with interesting, child-controlled dynamical behaviors. While SmartTiles is still at a relatively early stage of design—and has yet to be formally tested with children—it nonetheless illustrates a potentially important and novel genre of design for children’s environments. We contrast the notion of “room-sized educational artifacts” with related research directions in interface design and educational computing, and we discuss what we believe to be central issues in the design of such artifacts.


Elumeze, N. and Eisenberg, M.  2005.  SmartTiles: Mobility and Wireless Programmability in Children’s Construction and Crafts.  In Proceedings of Wireless and Mobile Technologies in Education  (WMTE 2005), Tokushima, Japan, November 2005, pp. 230-237.  https://doi.org/10.1109/wmte.2005.58.

This paper presents a working prototype of a mobile, programmable set of construction kit elements for children. SmartTiles are small, lightweight, independently programmable tile objects that can be combined to cover various sorts of planar surfaces; each touch-sensitive tile contains its own computer and LED, and communicates with its neighboring tiles when placed on an appropriate background material. Collectively, the tiles enact usercustomizable cellular automaton programs and thus display complex and fascinating dynamical patterns of light. In this paper, we discuss the implementation of SmartTiles and explore their potential use as an instance of mobile computation for children. We also discuss the way in which the tiles can be programmed wirelessly via a PDA interface, and discuss the implications of this sort of programming for educational computing more generally.


FreddyHendrix, S. and Eisenberg, M.  2005.  Computer-Assisted Pop-Up Design for Children: Computationally-Enriched Paper Engineering (One of 5 Best Paper Finalists).  In Proceedings of Eighth IASTED International Conference on Computers and Advanced Technology in Education (CATE 2005), Oranjestad, Aruba, pp. 47-52.

Computationally-enriched crafts are activities that blend the advantages of computational media with the affective, social, and cognitive affordances of children’s crafts. In this paper, we describe a design application, Popup Workshop, whose purpose is to introduce children to the craft (and engineering discipline) of pop-up design in paper. We describe the fundamental ideas behind computational crafts in general, present our application in its current implementation and offer a scenario for its use, explore the particular ways in which pop-up design serves as fertile ground for integrating computation and tangible design, and discuss our early pilot-tests with elementary-school children, as well as ongoing and related work.


Eisenberg, M.  2005. The Material Side of Educational TechnologyCommunications of the ACM, 48(1): 51-54.  https://doi.org/10.1145/1039539.1039569.

The traditional view of the “home computer” is as a self-contained appliance: computation, on this view, is something that takes place within a desktop box, and that produces interesting visual effects only on a screen. In this paper, we argue that one can alternatively view “the computer” through its tangible effects on larger settings: that is, the computer can be imagined as the heart of a creative workshop centered within the home or classroom. The advent of accessible fabrication devices, as well as small computers that can be embedded in craft items, permits users to think of the room at large as a place in which computationally-enriched or computationally-designed “exhibits” of various types may be displayed. We illustrate this idea with a variety of projects undertaken within our laboratory.


Andersen, D.; Bennett, C.; Huyn, P.; Rassbach, L.; Reardon, S.; and Eisenberg, M.  2005.  Printing Out Trees: Toward the Design of Tangible Objects for Education.  In Proceedings of IASTED International Conference on Education and Technology (ICET 2005), Calgary, Alberta, Canada, pp. 61-66.

When educational technologists employ a term like “scientific visualization”, what they usually mean is that scientific concepts or information are portrayed creatively on a two-dimensional screen. Increasingly, however, the advent of novel fabrication devices enables computers to “print out” physical objects that can themselves serve as models or representations of scientific concepts. This paper describes a working prototype of an educational application, entitled Growth, that enables users to print physical models of trees (and other botanical forms) with the aid of a 3D prototyping device. We describe the implementation of the program (and the mathematical theory of “L-systems” that underlies its biological content); and we show several examples of “printed-out trees” in plaster created with the software. The paper ends by arguing that Growth is an early instance of a style of educational software that is likely to burgeon in importance and variety during the coming decade.


Eisenberg, M.; Elumeze, N.; Buechley, L.; Blauvelt, G.; Hendrix, S.; and Eisenberg, A. 2005.  The Homespun Museum: Computers, Fabrication, and the Design of Personalized Exhibits.  In Proceedings of Creativity and Cognition 2005, London UK, pp. 13-21.  https://doi.org/10.1145/1056224.1056229

The traditional view of the “home computer” is as a self-contained appliance: computation, on this view, is something that takes place within a desktop box, and that produces interesting visual effects only on a screen. In this paper, we argue that one can alternatively view “the computer” through its tangible effects on larger settings: that is, the computer can be imagined as the heart of a creative workshop centered within the home or classroom. The advent of accessible fabrication devices, as well as small computers that can be embedded in craft items, permits users to think of the room at large as a place in which computationally-enriched or computationally-designed “exhibits” of various types may be displayed. We illustrate this idea with a variety of projects undertaken within our laboratory.


Eisenberg, M.; Eisenberg, A.; Blauvelt, G.; Hendrix, S.; Buechley, L.; Elumeze, N.  2005. Mathematical Crafts for Children: Beyond Scissors and Glue.  In Proceedings of Art+Math=X Conference, Boulder, CO, pp. 61-65.

Traditionally, craft activities have provided a tasteful introduction to mathematics for children: through the building of paper polyhedra, or the creation of patterns in string, children have often come to appreciate profound mathematical ideas. The next decade, however, is likely to see a tremendous expansion of accessible, powerful technology that will (or at least could) radically reshape and enrich the space of children’s mathematical crafts. In this paper we describe a variety of technological innovations–ranging from software systems to fabrication devices to “smart” materials–that have the potential to become powerful tools for children’s crafts. We discuss new directions for some traditional crafts–polyhedron-building, for example–and the evolution of never-before-seen crafts, such as building with computationally-enhanced construction kits or “printing out” customized complex mathematical forms.


LEDnoseBuechley, L.; Elumeze, N.; Dodson, C.; and Eisenberg, M.  2005.  Quilt Snaps: A Fabric Based Computational Construction Kit. (Poster presentation).  In Proceedings of Wireless and Mobile Technologies in Education (WMTE 2005), Tokushima, Japan, November 2005, pp. 219-221.  https://doi.org/10.1109/wmte.2005.55.

In this paper we present Quilt Snaps, a fabric based construction kit consisting of a set of computationally enhanced quilting pieces. Our discussion focuses on three ways that children can engage with Quilt Snaps. First, Quilt Snaps allows children to act as the engineers, designers, and decorators of their own digital manipulatives. Second, by playing with the manipulatives that they’ve helped to construct, children can learn about concepts relevant to programming, graph theory, and dynamical systems. Finally, since Quilt Snaps is fabric based, children can use the pieces they construct as personal mobile display media.


FreddyHendrix, S. and Eisenberg, M.  2006. Computer-Assisted Pop-Up Design for Children: Computationally-Enriched Paper Engineering.  International Journal on Advanced Technology for Learning, 3:2, 119-127.  (An extended version of a shorter paper in Proceedings of Eighth IASTED International Conference on Computers and Advanced Technology in Education (CATE 2005), Oranjestad, Aruba, pp. 47-52).  https://doi.org/10.2316/JOURNAL.208.2006.2.208-0878.

Computationally-enriched crafts are activities that blend the advantages of computational media with the affective, social, and cognitive affordances of children’s crafts. In this paper, we describe a design application, Popup Workshop, whose purpose is to introduce children to the craft (and engineering discipline) of pop-up design in paper. We describe the fundamental ideas behind computational crafts in general, present our application in its current implementation and offer a scenario for its use, explore the particular ways in which pop-up design serves as fertile ground for integrating computation and tangible design, and discuss our early pilot tests with elementary-school children, as well as ongoing and related work.


Elumeze, N. and Eisenberg, M.  2006. Toward Ambient Programming for Children. In Proceedings of CELDA 2006 (Cognition and Exploratory Learning in Digital Age), Barcelona, Spain, pp. 11-18.

Children’s programming is typically envisioned as an activity that takes place solely in front of a desktop screen. This paper argues that, given an environment in which increasing numbers of objects are “computationally enriched”, we can move children’s programming toward an activity that is itself undertaken away from the desk, in all sorts of day-to-day situations. We use three programmable objects–tiles, a shirt, and a pendant–as a springboard for discussing ways in which children’s programming may be re-thought as an ambient activity, in which programming is done wirelessly via PDAs and using novel means of gathering input for running programs.


Eisenberg, M.; Eisenberg, A.; Buechley, L.; and Elumeze, N.  2006.  Invisibility Considered Harmful: Revisiting Traditional Principles of Ubiquitous Computing in the Context of Education.  In Proceedings of IEEE 4th International Workshop on Wireless, Mobile, and Ubiquitous Technologies in Education (WMUTE 2006), Athens, Greece, November 2006, pp. 103-110.  https://doi.org/10.1109/wmte.2006.261355.

Ubiquitous computing, as a subfield of computer science, has traditionally been associated with a set of principles expressed (loosely but tellingly) with terms like transparency, invisibility, and the like: essentially, the idea is that people should be able to use ubiquitous computing artifacts while hardly being conscious that they are doing so. We argue that, as a design principle, “invisibility” has advantages in some domains; but that it has powerful, and ultimately counterproductive, connotations for educational design. We present an alternative set of potential design principles for educational ubiquitous computing, stressing values such as expressiveness, creative control, and aesthetics; and we illustrate these principles with several projects undertaken in our lab.


Blauvelt, G. and Eisenberg, M.  2006. Computer-Aided Design of Mechanical Automata: Engineering Education for Children.  In Proceedings of International Conference on Education and Technology (ICET 2006), Calgary, Alberta, Canada, pp. 61-66.

With decreasing numbers of engineers graduating from undergraduate institutions in the United States, the importance of developing children’s interests in engineering is increasingly apparent. In this paper we discuss an approach to engineering education based upon the design of mechanical toys and automata. In implementing this approach we have created a software system, MachineShop, for the design of automata; MachineShop facilitates the design of mechanical elements, and their fabrication in wood or plastic on a desktop laser cutter. In this paper, we describe both our software and its place in a larger portrait of engineering education. We also present a case study highlighting the design process of one ten year old student as he designed and constructed his first mechanical automaton, and draw some general observations from our ongoing testing with children in elementary and middle schools.


LEDnoseBuechley, L.; Elumeze, N.; and Eisenberg, M.  2006.  Electronic/Computational Textiles and Children’s Crafts.  In Proceedings of Interaction Design and Children (IDC 2006), Tampere, Finland, pp. 49-56.  https://doi.org/10.1145/1139073.1139091

An astonishing array of new technologies is currently effecting a revolution in the professional design of textile artifacts. This integration of electronics and computation into textiles likewise suggests new directions in the practice of children’s crafts. In this paper, we present a classification scheme that we believe will prove useful in structuring exploration and discussion of new directions in children’s textile-based crafts. Within the context of this classification scheme, we describe several projects in our lab (along with early pilot-testing efforts) that offer examples of how children can work with computationally enriched textiles. We conclude by describing several extremely exciting–but nonetheless plausible–scenarios for continued work in this area.


Eisenberg, M.  2007.  Mathematical String Sculptures: A Case Study in Computationally-Enhanced Crafts.  International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning. 12:2, pp. 157-166.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10758-007-9117-z

Mathematical string sculptures constitute an extremely beautiful realm of mathematical crafts. This snapshot begins with a description of a marvelous (and no longer manufactured) toy called Space Spider, which provided a framework with which children could experiment with string sculptures. Using a computer-controlled laser cutter to create frames for weaving string, not only can we recreate the original toy, but we can also experiment with a variety of new frame geometries. This snapshot concludes with a discussion of additional ways in which computational tools and output devices can enhance the practice of this particular mathematical craft.


Eisenberg, M. 2007.  Pervasive Fabrication: Making Construction Ubiquitous in Education. In Fifth Annual IEEE International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications Workshops (PerComW’07), White Plains, NY, 2007, pp. 193-198.  https://doi.org/10.1109/PERCOMW.2007.93

The notion of “pervasive computing” has traditionally been identified with a focus on what might be called “pervasive processing”. This paper, in contrast, argues that the notion of pervasive computing can be profitably extended to accommodate the burgeoning potential of educational fabrication. We present several projects under way in our lab-projects that illustrate how fabrication devices can be employed in educational settings. We then use these examples to motivate a broader discussion of scenarios for “pervasive fabrication” in education.


Gross, M. and Eisenberg, M.  2007.  Why Toys Shouldn’t Work ‘Like Magic’: Children’s Technology and the Values of Construction and Control.  In the Proceedings of the First IEEE International Workshop on Digital Game and Intelligent Toy Enhanced Learning (DIGITEL 2007), Taipei, Taiwan, March 2007, pp. 25-32. (Best paper award nomination.)  https://doi.org/10.1109/DIGITEL.2007.55.

The design and engineering of children’s artifacts–like engineering in general–exhibits a recurring philosophical tension between what might be called an emphasis on “ease of use” on the one hand, and an emphasis on “user empowerment” on the other. This paper argues for a style of technological toy design that emphasizes construction, mastery, and personal expressiveness for children, and that consequently runs counter to the (arguably ascendant) tradition of toys that work “like magic”. We describe a series of working prototypes from our laboratories–examples that illustrate new technologies in the service of children’s construction–and we use these examples to ground a wider-ranging discussion of toy design and potential future work.


LEDnoseBuechley, L.; Eisenberg, M.; and Elumeze, N.  2007.  Towards a Curriculum for Electronic Textiles in the High School Classroom.  In Proceedings of Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE), Dundee, -Scotland, June 2007, pp. 28-32.  https://doi.org/10.1145/1268784.1268795.

This paper proposes a curriculum for a high school e-textile course-a curriculum rooted in our experiences in developing an e-textile construction kit and in holding several courses and workshops with these materials. The paper briefly describes the e-textile kit and reports on our teaching experiences, reflecting on the relationship between the evolving tools and curriculum and our user experiences.


Screen Shot 2020-08-30 at 9.14.36 PMBuechley, L. and Eisenberg, M. 2007.  Boda blocks: a collaborative tool for exploring tangible three-dimensional cellular automata. In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL’07), Clark A. Chinn, Gijsbert Erkens, and Sadhana Puntambekar (Eds). International Society of the Learning Sciences 102-104.  https://doi.org/10.3115/1599600.1599618

Construction kits like traditional building blocks provide excellent media for face-to-face collaborative interaction. The complexity and expressive power of these kits are increasingly being augmented with computational elements like controllable lights, motors and sounds. This paper introduces a computationally enhanced set of building blocks, Boda Blocks, which allows for collaborative interaction through the construction and programming of tangible threedimensional cellular automata. We provide a brief introduction to computationally enhanced construction kits, describe the Boda Blocks system and report on the results of a preliminary user study.


Eisenberg, M. 2007.  Technology and the Work of Children.  In Proceedings of the The First IEEE International Workshop on Digital Game and Intelligent Toy Enhanced Learning (DIGITEL ’07). IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, USA, 3-.  https://doi.org/10.1109/DIGITEL.2007.46

One of the most enduring and marvelous traditions of children’s culture has been that of craftwork – the creation of personal, homemade items from everyday materials. Often, this tradition is described as a kind of counterweight to the influence of technology: where technology is associated with (say) the Web, or video games, or robotics, children’s crafts by contrast are assumed to be low-tech, somewhat old-fashioned activities. In point of fact, though, children’s crafts have always taken advantage of technological advance; and in that sense, the current era is no different. The capabilities of digital media and new tangible materials herald what could be a marvelous reinvigoration of children’s crafts. This talk will describe a variety of current projects at the Craft Technology Laboratory at the University of Colorado as an illustration of new possibilities for children’s work. The talk will also include a variety of free project ideas for the offering – ideas that we ourselves haven’t undertaken, and may never get to try at all, but that somebody somewhere ought to try.


shapeimage_5Eisenberg, M. and Buechley, L.  2008.  Pervasive Fabrication: Making Construction Ubiquitous in Education.  Journal of Software, 3:4, pp. 62-68.  (An extended version of a shorter conference paper in Proceedings of the Third IEEE International Workshop on Pervasive Learning (PEREL 2007)).

The notion of “pervasive computing” has traditionally been identified with a focus on what might be called “pervasive processing”. This paper, in contrast, argues that the notion of pervasive computing can be profitably extended to accommodate the burgeoning potential of educational fabrication. We present several projects under way in our lab–projects that illustrate how fabrication devices can be employed in educational settings. We then use these examples to motivate a broader discussion of scenarios for “pervasive fabrication” in education.


Eisenberg, M.; Eisenberg, A.; Buechley, L.; and Elumeze, N.  2008. Computers and Physical Construction: Blending Fabrication into Computer Science Education.  In Proceedings of FECS ’08: The 2008 International Conference on Frontiers in Education: Computer Science and Computer Engineering, Las Vegas, NV, July 2008, pp. 127-133.

In this paper, we argue that physical fabrication can be productively interwoven into a computer science curriculum. We present two project-based courses that we have taught: Things that Think, a course in the creation of novel educational artifacts for children, and Leonardo da Vinci: the Engineer, a course devoted to the engineering work of the great Renaissance artist. Both courses involve a substantial degree of computer-aided physical fabrication. In the first course, projects focus on embedding computation into physical objects; in the second, the focus is on recreating great ideas of engineering through the use of up-to-date construction tools and devices. Toward the end of the paper, we use our two courses to ground a discussion of the role that material construction could eventually play in the broader computer science curriculum.


Elumeze, N. and Eisenberg, M.  2008.  ButtonSchemer: Ambient Program Reader.  In Proceedings of MobileHCI 2008, Amsterdam, September 2008, pp. 323-326.

This paper describes ButtonSchemer, an “ambient program reader” that can be used to input program code directly from a computer screen or from specially bar-coded surfaces. The placement of programs for such a device can be made informal, creative, and practically ubiquitous, suggestive of ways to extend the traditional desktop-centric notions of programming.


shapeimage_5Buechley, L., Eisenberg, M., Catchen, J. and Crockett, A.  2008.  The LilyPad Arduino: Using Computational Textiles to Investigate Engagement, Aesthetics, and Diversity in Computer Science Education.  In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference (CHI 2008), Florence, Italy, April 2008, pp. 423-432.  https://doi.org/10.1145/1357054.1357123

The advent of novel materials (such as conductive fibers) combined with accessible embedded computing platforms have made it possible to re-imagine the landscapes of fabric and electronic crafts—extending these landscapes with the creative range of electronic/computational textiles or e-textiles. This paper describes the LilyPad Arduino, a fabric-based construction kit that enables novices to design and build their own soft wearables and other textile artifacts. The kit consists of a microcontroller and an assortment of sensors and actuators in stitch-able packages; these elements can be sewn to cloth substrates and each other with conductive thread to build e-textiles. This paper will introduce the latest version of the kit; reflect on its affordances; present the results of our most recent user studies; and discuss possible directions for future work in the area of personalized e-textile design and its relation to technology education.


Elumeze, N. and Eisenberg, M.  2008.  Scheming Textiles: End-User Programming for Wearables [poster presentation].  In Twelfth International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC 2008), pp. 111-112.  https://doi.org/10.1109/ISWC.2008.4911598

This paper attempts to expand the landscape of wearable computing with button-schemer, an “ambient program reader” that can be used to input program code directly from a computer screen or from specially bar-coded surfaces. The placement of programs for such a device can be made informal, creative, and practically ubiquitous, suggestive of ways to extend the traditional notions that wearables are to be worn, but not programmed away from a desktop computer.


shapeimage_5Buechley, L. and Eisenberg, M. 2008. The LilyPad Arduino: Toward Wearable Engineering for Everyone. IEEE Pervasive Computing 7, 2 (April 2008), 12-15.

The LilyPad Arduino toolkit enables novices to design, engineer, and build their own electronic textiles. The tool not only lets artists and craftspeople experience computational design but also gives children and teenagers a chance to develop longer-term interest in computing and engineering in a fun, creative setting.


Huang, Y., Gross, M., Do, E., Eisenberg, M.  2009.  Easigami:  A reconfigurable folded-sheet TUI.  In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Tangible and Embedded Interaction (TEI’09), Feb 16-18 2009, Cambridge, UK.

Easigami is a novel tangible user interface (TUI) and interactive system intended to help children to learn to fold 3D geometric forms and to explore 2D-3D transformations. We present the design of Easigami’s physical interface: a reconfigurable system of thin flat polygon pieces connected by electronically instrumented hinges. Using the Easigami TUI as an input device, we have developed early prototype applications to develop children’s visualization and spatial recognition skills. We discuss our experience in integrating traditional craft with computation, which may inform future tangible and graspable user interface design.


shapeimage_5Buechley, L. and Eisenberg, M.  2009.  Fabric PCBs, electronic sequins, and socket buttons:  techniques for e-textile craft.  Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 13:2, pp. 133-150.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s00779-007-0181-0

The blossoming research field of electronic textiles (or e-textiles) seeks to integrate ubiquitous electronic and computational elements into fabric. This paper concerns one of the most challenging aspects of the design and construction of e-textile prototypes: namely, engineering the attachment of traditional hardware components to textiles. We present three new techniques for attaching off-the-shelf electrical hardware to e-textiles: (a) the design of fabric PCBs or iron-on circuits to attach electronics directly to a fabric substrate; (b) the use of electronic sequins to create wearable displays and other artifacts; and (c) the use of socket buttons to facilitate connecting pluggable devices to textiles. In this work we have focused on using easily obtained materials and developing user-friendly techniques; our aim is to develop methods that will make e-textile technology available to crafters, students, and hobbyists. This paper describes the techniques and employs them as a springboard for a wider-ranging discussion of “e-textile craft”.


Eisenberg, M.; Elumeze, N.; MacFerrin, M.; Buechley, L. 2009.  Children’s Programming, Reconsidered: Settings, Stuff, and Surfaces.  In Proceedings of Interaction Design and Children 2009 (IDC 2009; June, Milan, Italy), pp. 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1145/1551788.1551790

The subject of children’s programming has long been a vexed and controversial one in the field of educational technology. Debates in this area have typically focused on issues such as how to create a child-friendly programming language; or whether children can learn particular topics (e.g., recursion) in programming; or indeed, whether it is worthwhile for children to encounter programming at all. For the most part, these debates have taken place against an implicit background of assumptions about what children’s programming looks like–namely, an activity focused on creating effects on a desktop screen or, occasionally, robotic toy. This paper argues that the cultural and anthropological contexts of children’s programming are now poised to change: that new programming materials, physical settings, and unorthodox display surfaces are likely to shift the nature of the children’s-programming debate in profound ways, and to make programming a far more informal, approachable, and natural activity than heretofore. We illustrate this argument with projects underway in our own research.  


Eisenberg, M. 2009. Fabrication for Children: Toward the Frontier of Educational Construction.  In Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 2009–World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (pp. 3558-3563). Honolulu, HI, USA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

The notion of “educational computing” is rapidly expanding to accommodate not only computers themselves, but also the devices casually known as “peripherals”. In particular, with the advent of a wide variety of fabrication tools and software, children are increasingly able to use computers to design and construct physical objects in a range of expressive materials. This paper looks at the current landscape of children’s fabrication and identifies three central areas for research and development: (a) the design of new child-appropriate interfaces for construction, (b) the exploration and creation of new output devices for children’s activities, and (c) the design of software infrastructures and community support for children’s construction. Throughout the paper, we make use of examples drawn from the various educational construction projects undertaken in our own laboratory.


Screen Shot 2020-08-30 at 9.02.55 PMBuechley, L.; Hendrix, S.; and Eisenberg, M.  2009.  Paints, Paper and Programs: First Steps Toward the Computational  Sketchbook.  In Proceedings of Tangible and Embedded Interaction 2009 (TEI’09),  Cambridge UK, February 2009, pp. 9-12.  https://doi.org/10.1145/1517664.1517670

This paper describes what we believe to be important initial steps toward realizing a novel computational medium that combines elements of programming, painting, and papercrafts. Briefly, this genre of paper computing allows a user to create functional computational artifacts on painted paper substrates. We introduce a construction kit for paper computing that consists of computational elements— microcontrollers, sensors, actuators, and power sources—that are held on paper surfaces by magnetic paint and magnets.


Schweikardt, E.; Elumeze, N.; Eisenberg, M.; and Gross, M. 2009.  A Tangible Construction Kit for Exploring Graph Theory (demo paper).  In Proceedings of Tangible and Embedded Interaction 2009 (TEI’09),  Cambridge UK, February 2009, pp. 373-376.  https://doi.org/10.1145/1517664.1517739

Graphs are a versatile representation of many systems in computer science, the social sciences, and mathematics, but graph theory is not taught in schools. We present our work on Graphmaster, a computationally enhanced construction kit that enables children to build graphs of their own and investigate their properties by experimenting with algorithms that operate on them.


Eisenberg, M. 2010. Educational Technology, Re-Imagined.  In New Directions for Youth Development.  Issue 128 (Winter 2010), pp. 25-33.  Special issue on “Youth as Media Creators” (M. Bers, editor).  https://doi.org/10.1002/yd.372

“Educational technology” is often equated in the popular imagination with “computers in the schools.” But technology is much more than merely computers, and education is much more than mere schooling. The landscape of child‐accessible technologies is blossoming in all sorts of directions: tools for communication, for physical construction and fabrication, and for human‐computer interaction. These new systems and artifacts allow educational designers to think much more creatively about when and where learning takes place in children’s lives, both within and outside the classroom.


Eisenberg, M.; Buechley, L.; and Elumeze, N. 2010.  Bits and Pieces: or, Potential Future Scenarios for Children’s Mobile Technology.  International Journal of Mobile Human Computer Interaction, 2:2, pp. 37-52.  https://doi.org/10.4018/jmhci.2010040103

The reigning portrait of mobile technology for children has, by and large, been founded on a portrait of computing derived from an earlier generation of desktop devices. That is, the recurring image of “mobile computing” employs a full-scale personal computer shrunk down to handheld size as in a PDA or iPhone. While this image suggests avenues for innovation, it nevertheless reflects a highly constrained view of computing that fails to do justice to the educational possibilities of children’s informal day-to-day activities. This article seeks to challenge the “PDA-centric” view of children’s mobile technology by discussing two major design themes that lead in alternative directions: namely, material computing endowing physical substrates of various kinds with computational capabilities and piecewise computing enhancing mobility through the dissociation of various functional capabilities of traditional computers. In discussing these themes, the authors draw on design projects.


MacFerrin, M.; Bailey, J.; Hallesy, B.; Robbins, N.; Shelton, B.; Shulman, G.; and Eisenberg, M.  2010.  Turtle Geometry on a Sphere: a Projected Future for Constructionism.  In Proceedings of Constructionism 2010, Paris, France, August 2010.


Meyers, J.; LaMarche, J.; and Eisenberg, M. 2010. Craftopolis: Blending Tangible, Informal Construction into Virtual Multiuser Communities.  In Proceedings of Interactive Design and Children (IDC 2010), Barcelona, Spain, June 2010, pp. 242-245.  https://doi.org/10.1145/1810543.1810581

The last decade has seen a blossoming of creative online activities for children in which groups, or communities, of youngsters participate within (e.g.) multiplayer games, social networks, shared programming environments, and so forth. Despite the marvelous features of these environments, they all share the limitation of being exclusively “virtual” in their design: children can play in virtual worlds, create virtual buildings and farms, or design programs, but they cannot experiment or create with tangible materials in these activities. In this paper, we present a prototype of a shared online children’s “world” in which the basic elements are tangible, informal, “rooms” or constructions that can be controlled computationally and accessed over the World Wide Web. This system, Craftopolis, enables users to make their own computationally-enriched physical models (e.g., of dollhouse rooms, dioramas, game boards, and so forth), using any materials whatever, and to link those rooms into a shared online space.  


cropped-cucrafticon.jpgElumeze, N.; Huang, Y.; Meyers, J.; and Eisenberg, M. 2010.  Serious’ Programming Made Cuddly: a Fully End-User-Programmable Stuffed Toy.  In Proceedings of DIGITEL 2010, April, Taiwan, pp. 146-150. (Best Paper Awardhttps://doi.org/10.1109/digitel.2010.26

One of the recurring design issues in creating computational artifacts for children is the question of programmability. On the one hand, there is only a limited range of things that a non-programmable artifact or toy can be “taught” to do. On the other hand, the traditional trappings and cultural associations of full-scale programming (e. g., incorporating a screen within a programmable artifact, or using wire or Bluetooth connections to transmit a program) run counter to the informal, playful aesthetics of children’s playthings. This paper describes a “detente” in children’s design-integrating the informality and physical structure of a toy with the full expressive range of symbolic programming. As an illustration of this approach, we describe Birdwatcher, a stuffed toy duck that can visually “read” meaningful programs-even hand-written programs. We show a representative scenario using Birdwatcher and explore several key issues for continuing work in making programming accessible to children.


cropped-cucrafticon.jpgHuang, Y.; Meyers, J.; DuBow, W.; Wu, Z.; and Eisenberg, M. 2011.  Programming Plush Toys as an Introduction to Computer Science: the (Fraught) Question of Motivation.  In Proceedings of CELDA 2011, Nov. 2011, pp. 195-202

[See extended paper under the same title, 2013].


cropped-cucrafticon.jpgHuang, Y. and Eisenberg, M. 2011. Steps Toward Child-Designed Interactive Stuffed Toys.  Proceedings of Interaction Design and Children (IDC 2011), Ann Arbor, Michigan, pp. 165-168.  https://doi.org/10.1145/1999030.1999052

[…]This paper describes Plushbot, a system-in-development that allows children to create their own plush toys and stuffed animals, and to include computational enhancements within the toys that they create. Thus, Plushbot represents a step toward expanding children’s creative design of their own interactive, computationally-enhanced characters. The paper describes the current state of the Plushbot software, shows a sample project created with the system, and describes plans for upcoming pilot tests with the system.


cropped-cucrafticon.jpgHuang, Y. and Eisenberg, M. 2011. Plushbot: an Application for the Design of Programmable Stuffed Toys (demo paper)  In Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction (TEI 2011), Portugal, pp. 257-260.  https://doi.org/10.1145/1935701.1935753

In recent years, a burgeoning landscape of tangible, interactive toys has emerged.–construction kits, robotic characters, and so on. At the same time, there has been relatively little development in software systems that permit users (including younger users) to design and create their own computationally-enhanced tangible figures. This paper presents Plushbot , a prototype system whose purpose is to allow people to create and customize programmable stuffed toys. Plushbot includes features specifically aimed at facilitating the incorporation of computational elements within stuffed fabric designs.


Leduc-Mills, B., and Eisenberg, M. 2011. The U-Cube: a Child-Friendly Device for Introductory Three-Dimensional Design.  Proceedings of Interaction Design and Children (IDC 2011), Ann Arbor, Michigan, pp. 72-80.  https://doi.org/10.1145/1999030.1999039

[…]  This paper introduces the UCube, a spatial input device designed specifically with children and “3D novices” in mind. The basic idea behind the UCube is that it provides a spatial, volumetric array of light switches that can be turned on and off individually by the user; the pattern of lights is then input to a desktop computer, where it can be employed to specify a collection of 3D points in space. The result is that 3D design–at least for simple shapes–becomes a matter of moving one’s hands in space to (e.g.) select the boundary points of the desired shape. We describe the design of the UCube, the influences behind it, and some early encouraging pilot tests of the device with middle-school-age children.  


Eisenberg, M.  2011. Educational Fabrication, In and Out of the Classroom.  In M. Koehler & P. Mishra (Eds.), Proceedings of SITE 2011–Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 884-891). Nashville, Tennessee, USA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

A technological revolution in children’s construction is now poised to occur–a revolution founded upon the advent of accessible fabrication and printing devices. Increasingly, children (and schools) have access to laser cutters, 3D printers, paper cutters, computer-controlled sewing machines, and a variety of other powerful output devices. In concert with the process of technological evolution, however, a cultural evolution must likewise occur in re-conceiving fabrication for children. Much as computers themselves needed to be understood as something other than industrial devices, so do fabrication tools need to be imagined as part of children’s worlds. This paper discusses several important dimensions of the cultural evolution that needs to take place–namely, the dimensions of materials, subject matter, and physical settings–in altering our collective view of fabrication and construction activities for children.