Painted Circuits Create Teaching Tool

Painted Circuits Create Teaching Tool
Posted on 05/18/2017
Painted Circuits

If you are familiar with the famous Rogers and Hammerstein song “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music, you already know the solfege scale and note names: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la and ti.  While an essential part of vocal education, it helps students learn and practice scales in the different keys.  Though, vocal instruction is predominantly sound-based, AP Physics student, Wren Vogelschmidt, came up with a way to bring auditory and visual learning together.  In working with the others in his group, Chloe Baker, Parker Polaschek and Scott Hoy, the idea of creating painted circuits in conjunction with the solfege scale was born.

Thanks to a grant from the Spencer Community School Foundation, Will Dible, AP Physics Instructor, was able to purchase Bare Conductive Touch Boards for his students to incorporate into their final unit of the year, Painted Circuits.  The boards can be programmed to meet the needs of the different project ideas, and they can be repurposed for other projects in the future.

When each group was tasked with creating a useful purpose for the boards, the idea of the solfege scales immediately popped into Vogelschmidt’s head.  As a choir student, he had been studying the scale.  Sharing his idea, he said, “The solfege scale is a way to show the notes in a major scale using eight different hand positions.  It can represent all of the major scales, and the conductive paint will provide a visual as to the intervals between the notes, in order to have a better understanding of how scales and music work.”  After getting buy-in with the group, the students then had to garner support from SHS Vocal Instructor, Katie Kardell, who jumped on the opportunity with enthusiasm.

Using Bare Conductive Ink, the students painted hands in the shape of each note.  Conductive tape was then applied to connect the hand shapes to the circuit board which was attached to the wall below the scale.  The students connected the circuit board to speakers in the room using a cable, and sound files for each major scale were saved on microSD cards.  The cards are inserted into the circuit board, and the circuit board detects the change in resistance when the conductive paint is touched.  “When touched, your body will conduct electricity which changes the resistance, and that will activate the sound,” explained Hoy. 

“The initial challenge was to figure out what the triggers would be and how we could compensate for the entire scale,” said Kardell.   “We teach in a movable “Do”, starting in the key of C, and then we move the students to the key of F, which helps students to understand that “Do” moves around the piano or around the series of pitches according to where that major scale starts.”  The solution was to save each scale on the microSD card which could then be switched out accordingly, to compensate for all of the notes and scales.  “The cool part is that it makes it even more interactive,” added Kardell, explaining that the solfege scale is an already interactive way to help kids understand the distance between their pitches.  The end result?  Teachers and students can touch the painted hands, the touch sensitive circuit, and it will make the sound of the note, allowing students to hear it along with seeing it. 

When the students were deciding where to complete the project, they chose the high school, mostly for logistical purposes, but it might not stop there.  Kardell sees that the initial project could serve as a pilot to help determine costs and how it can be adapted to each level throughout the district.