The Environmental Science Workshop (ESW) in Watsonville, CA, is a vibrant space of STEAM engagement, creativity and resilience. In May 2019, our team partnered with ESW on a full day training to introduce their staff to electronics, coding, and cardboard mechanics of PaperMech. The workshop built on ESW’s strengths in mechanics and DIY technologies, as well as their pedagogical commitment to creating a STEM learning space that is welcoming to anyone, regardless of their background. Our goal was to provide an introduction to PaperMech that would give the educators enough experience to adapt PM for their programs, and enough time to explore whatever aspects of PM were most interesting and important to them. 

The training began with an overview of the PaperMech suite of tools, including FoldMecha and mechanism building tutorials, and examples of themes that have been used in past workshops. Encouraging them to think about their own interests, project designs, and work, and about the students they work with, we then supported the educators as they prototyped mechanisms using the LocoTap microcontroller. The mechatronic creations varied widely as the educators took on new challenges and worked to make use of different materials easily available to them in the space. These projects included a right-angle gear that created a spinning head, a multi-linkage mechanism that powered a bucking bull, a dancer with gently waving arms, and a boat with paddles sunk into the teeth of a cardboard gear.

The ESW instructors included high school students, college mentors, and experienced community educators, running programs in classrooms, after-school clubs, and the workshop’s homebase in a community center. For many of these, the second stage in the workshop was particularly interesting: introduction of the CardBoard DIY microcontroller and introduction to Arduino programming. Though time to build and program was short, the CardBoard provided an example of low-cost technology that could work within the workshop’s budget and ethos. The workshop ended with project share-outs and reflection, then a jump back into tinkering, as young people arrived for ESW’s weekend open shop hours.