An ARG in a school?

I’ve been asked to work with a primary school in Leicester to work on something that sounds remarkably like an Alternate Reality Game/cross media project/immersive experience to me. Here are a few excerpts from the brief:

…creating a memorable learning experience for Year 3 children… a real ‘Wow’ experience… allowing them to use a range of creative approaches to explore real science… memorable learning experience… a lively, enquiring mind and a love of learning… the ability to question, to argue rationally and to think for themselves… the ability to work hard and to succeed at tasks both independently and with other people… identify and solve problems, take risks… activities that are open ended- so that the children can shape the direction of the investigation… creating a fantastical narrative which is developed by pupils, staff and artists…

So, 56 Y3 (about 7 years old) pupils with a suspended timetable for a few days so they can work/play on the themes of ‘light and shadows’ and ‘rocks and materials’. I can’t wait!

No, really, I can’t wait! I’ve been exploring a few different candidates for special objects that different parts of the narrative/exploration might hang on. I’ve just finished assembling a solar-powered spider and yesterday afternoon was spent putting RFID technology into a toy bat.

solar-powered spider from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

hacked bat from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

The bat currently opens different images depending on whether the left or right wing is folded across the chest. This project was initially just for my own playtime, but in the middle of sewing up the bat I realised it could be used as a simple true/false answering device to respond to questions relating either to the narrative or to the curriculum.

I’d also like to use the touchatag RFID system to construct an array of objects that have to be placed in the correct position in order to demonstrate that a puzzle has been solved. For example this could be the correct arrangement of the Sun, Moon and Earth to show when an eclipse happens.

Ideally I’d like to be able to work with 2 separate events: when the tag is placed on the reader and when the tag is removed from the reader, however the touchatag system currently only supports a single tag-on-reader event to trigger an action.

There have been a couple of suggestions as to how to get around this: using a programme to monitor the touchatag application to see when there is an increase and decrease in activity corresponding to the two events (thanks Tom), or to work with the hardware API from the manufacturers of the electronics within the reader (thanks Ted).

Are there any programmers out there who fancy tackling the challenge to make a touchatag app that can distinguish between putting a tag on a reader, taking a tag off a reader, and which reader (out of at least 4) is having tags taken on or off it?

hacking at the interstice

The Birmingham hack space mailing list has been going for several weeks now and much of the current discussion is centred on premises, constitution and business plans.

I’ve seen a fair bit of this stuff before when it’s been artists wanting studio space rather than hackers and tinkerers wanting a warehouse with WiFi. Only once have I seen it come close to fruition (I believe progress is still being made) and that was with a group of artists with very established reputations/practices. Fair enough: there are large sums of money concerned (which really need an established group with demonstrable outputs first!) and there’s a particular balance needed for you to be prepared to off-set building management duties against the benefits of having a space.

Wait a minute! I already have a space that can be used for messing around with tech and interfaces!

The decision that I was going to use the lounge in my new flat as a pseudo venue was made a month or so ago (referred to as interstice as a riff off of this post) and, grabbing a small slot of available time, last Thursday night I set up a sign-up page for people wanting to come around and work on whatever projects took their fancy.

That’s it: no agenda was set, just a start and an approximate finish time. I would provide the WiFi and attendees were instructed to bring stuff and some food to share.

The format was part Jelly co-working:

We invite people to work from our home for the day. We provide chairs and sofas, wireless internet, and interesting people to talk to, collaborate with, and bounce ideas off of.

You bring a laptop (or whatever you need to get work done) and a friendly disposition.

and part Kissa Hanare (shared food used as a keystone for producing a social atmosphere, strategies put into place to ensure the regular event is sustainable without impinging too much on the host’s normal activities).

laps and tarts

We had a small group of people, a great atmosphere (assisted by jam tarts!) and an unheard of amount of iguanas. Tinkering included fiddling with tints on Pindec’s Flatpack app; extracting code from Flash games past, in preparation for re-writing them in a newer language; and an infeasibly large amount of time spent trying to get some Python code from a Vista machine working on XP (thanks Ciarán!).

multiple RFID readers and a walrus

I now have 4 RFID readers interfacing between a crowdsourced Officious Walrus and Twitter, so stand by for more gubbins that plays with that!

In the meantime, the discussion continues over on the Birmingham hack space mailing list and I do believe someone else off the list has offered his office space for use, so hopefully things will evolve into a weekly hack session alternating weekly between venues. Come join us and see what happens!

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