'Objects-to-think-with' in a Climate Emergency

Ada Day 2019 saw us planning and co-designing an event themed around the climate emergency with computing teachers from Sirius Academy North in Hull.

Students from years 7, 8, 9 and 10 designed and built working prototypes over the day, with each team submitting a new wearable idea into the Ultimate STEM Challenge national competition.

The images above show the variety of activities, all linked to the computing curriculum and school enrichment programme, with the chance to test out and strengthen some STEM pedagogies linked to a constructionist approach to learning.

prototyping wearables

Pear programming?

That's an opportunity for student voice to be part of evaluating learning through pair programming! What's the perception of learning as a navigator and the impact of sharing what you know?

Themes around technology to mitigate climate change ranged from projects to collect outdoor and indoor air quality data, conservation projects for endangered animals and plastic pollution with its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment.

The day also offered students the chance to collaborate with engineers and conservationists on a new project linked to protecting the oceans from plastic pollution.

With planning to embed into the formal curriculum and additionally into learning through the Lego First League initiative, first objectives focused on understanding networks and data transmission between digital devices.

unplugged data packets activity

We know that unplugged computing activities are a powerful learning tool for understanding concepts and it was important for us to co-design an exercise based on protocols and transferring data. Mapped to KS3 and KS4 schemes of work, the students explored reliability and considerations when receiving and transmitting data across networks.

Look carefully and you might spot the students developing their own protocols as 40 sets of song lyrics travel across this network in Hull, with some of those data packets facing uncertainty (teacher sabotage!) from an unreliable internet.

Sense and Sense Air-bility

We jumped at our invite to present successes and lessons learnt from Sense and Sense Air-bility at Wuthering Bytes last month. The festival has an amazing programme of activities and events bringing together an open-source community filled with ideas, new collaborators and support, so it was great to talk with maker friends old and new.

Read more about Wuthering Bytes from the festival website or this great write up from Laura James, compére on the Friday. And watch out for the next project on the map from Lighthouse School in Leeds, shaping learning opportunities with the new hardware sponsored by the festival.

How can technology help us to understand and question the world around us?

Recent adult workshops and learning programmes in schools and universities have flagged up the capacity for data to spark more even questions, conversations and hypotheses.

Not always answers, as we've take the Internet of Curious Things activities across more areas of the curriculum and project themes including improving air quality into more communities, and that's given an opportunity to share findings across different regions.

Our mission is to deliver improved digital skills and inspiration to enable social good, and that inevitably links the UN Sustainable Development Goals to give context, purpose and a global perspective to activities.

un sustainable goals We get involved in discussions about empowering everyone to make the world a better place with technology, and have become great advocates of using low-cost sensors to underpin understanding of innovative possibilities. That raises questions in itself.

Putting tools (including those low-cost sensors) into the hands of more groups to understand the world around them has seen a rise of problem-finding, as described through Engineering Habits of Mind, in project-based learning programmes.

This year has seen some interesting research coming out of a project where low-cost sensors have been deployed across school sites in Southampton, and the continued discussion it has supported about a long-term field comparison of multiple low-cost particulate matter sensors in an outdoor urban environment. This quote in particular resonates with what we're trying to support:

"Low-cost sensors.........they may provide useful information on personal exposure to PM" (Bulot et al, 2019)

For the students at Manchester Met University who had their own theories about levels of pollution around campus, the groups embarking on the first Science Walk in Roundhay Park during Leeds Digital Festival or our latest project with adults funded by LNER, it is the knowledge, understanding and application of data collection that is empowering more people to make healthy decisions using physical computing.

Putting tools and decision making into the hands of communities.

Raising even more questions to investigate together.

Bramley Community Weather Stations and Air Quality Monitoring

This community-led project has now adopted the name ‘Bramley Weather Stations’ after first activities sparked ideas about how intergenerational groups can work together to improve air quality.

microbit temp and humidity monitoring

A series of imaginative and hands-on digital workshops launched with the first stations built and collecting data on the hottest day of the year!

The programme will continue over the coming months and explore the quality of air in Bramley and respond to concerns from local residents and groups.

More air quality monitoring projects will be built and deployed around the community with individuals, youth, adult and local Scout groups all learning new skills and gaining a deeper understanding about how they can address environmental concerns together.

map 1 bramley

Part of the programme will focus on sharing ideas and data to make better informed decisions, and that's an introduction to data science in an accessible and fun way for everyone.

You'll see these examples, from a mapping and data visualisation activity, showing routes taken with air quality sensor projects around Bramley Community Centre and a supplementary CSV file has all of the raw data.

What's brilliant about this example is the age of the digital makers as young cubs and scouts from the local group. They were able to interrogate their own data and tell their own story about changes in air quality as they walked away from the centre and towards the road. Moreover, they could consider and discuss the impact of action and choices made as a result of their findings with a group of adults.

bramley 2 map

The programme is multifaceted and a powerful insight into how equipping a community with the tools, knowledge and skills needed to make their own changes can impact on a wider scale.

We'll share updates, events and news throughout the summer and in the meantime the ‘Bramley Weather Stations’ group are collaborating with meet-ups, workshops and their own online collaboration space.

jaffa cake box casing for digital project

Some of the resources and inspiration from the first making day to create new stations and understand this climate emergency that's spoken about at school, around the community and across the city.

resources from bramley launch

national lottery community fund logo The Bramley Weather Station programme of activities and change is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.

Democratising innovation with Cisco thingQbator Manchester


Cisco thingQbator is a network of makerspaces with partner universities and we were delighted to be chosen as the education delivery partner for the innovation lab at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The ‘learning by making’ Manchester thingQbator programme is the first in a European university and has supported students from all backgrounds and degree courses to get hands-on with technology and turn IoT ideas into working prototypes.

Undergraduate and postgraduate students from a range of subject areas including psychology, sociology, architecture, maths, computer science, textiles, art, engineering and business have collaborated to build local digital solutions to local problems.

Learning Opportunities

Students have benefited from the opportunity to solve real world problems by developing internet connected objects and experiences from everyday objects and materials in order to provide novel functionality and user experiences. This has included wearables and textiles, smart appliances, print and manufacture-on-demand, even interactive signposts and other street furniture.

thingQbator Manchester has also offered all manner of creative solutions to a range of social problems, from health or global impact/consumption awareness, though social isolation and crime prevention and more; new ways of engaging people in the geographies, heritages and histories.

Student Motivations and Reflection

In collaborating with activities students have been given the chance to develop novel solutions to real social challenge and opportunity using tech, and build-in a reflective diary over time as part of their final assessed piece.

Examples of initial motivations expressed, included in the application process, include:

  1. Inclusivity through connecting subjects as distant as art provides cohesion between academic and imaginative societies to become firmly established.

  2. thingQbator will help me show my confidence and skill set on using data in the social world, my knowledge of statistics on an analytical level will offer greater insights into the social problems that we would be solving.

  3. I’m keen to apply my understanding of psychology to the real physical world, rather than within the confines of a therapy room. I hope that through this program, my developing knowledge of the intricacies of human experience and technological abilities can combine to create real-world action and change.

  4. Activities like thingQbator are an extremely useful learning curve to take the knowledge of Quantitative data over the past two years and apply my own analysis and creativity to have a positive affect on social issues.

  5. Upon completion of my degree I wish to pursue a career in Data Science, and the opportunity this activity offers to manage and manipulate big data.


Final reflections will be submitted after the summer break, and there are some interesting observations coming out of early conversations with this constructionist approach to learning in higher education.

Ashley's blog is a powerful narrative that should be remembered each time we talk about boosting diversity in the digital talent pipeline.

  • How can we extend constructionist approaches to learning as we recognise their significance of supporting students and potential employers to recognise talent and potential in this digital world?

  • To recognise that talent of students from the social sciences, and in fact every subject area of undergraduate studies?

screenshot of student blog talking about thingqbator experiences

Semester One

Students in the first cohort of thingQbator Manchester came together to explore solutions to urban challenges. Groups used field trials across the city to collect and innovate with data.

Individual project goals included reducing social isolation, improving air quality, app development with an ethical carbon footprint and wearables to highlight the interrelationship between urban planning and smart cities.

Semester Two

The second cohort of students have just presented back their projects and working prototypes as pitches, forming part of their 30 credit assessed module in the thingQbator space.

Activities over May and June included workshops, self-directed study, hack events, visiting speakers from local networks such as Open Data Manchester, Reason Digital and Making Rooms.

A collaborative session with SMEs hosted at Cisco's Mi_idea gave another opportunity to learn from and with other organisations who had used technological innovations to underpin their ideas for social change.

Examples of Problem Finding and Prototype Solutions

One group have developed an IoT transport prototype and pitched their solution from an initial observation to research assisted travel and accessibility through data.

'Transport Capacity Tracker' takes data from TFGM and utilises object recognition and machine learning to improve the travel experience for individuals based on real-time data and making informed decisions.

object recogntion sackville gardens

object recognition oxford road

Green Desk

'Green Desk' is a project focused on improving indoor air quality which will impact on well-being and productivity in the modern workplace.

Smart Bag

The following smart bag has been researched and built by a third year textile students using emotional design skills to underpin the technical build. Her aim was to stimulate conversations around positive mental and physical health and the project was selected to be displayed at the Design Show in London this month.

iot bag 1

iot bag 1


Softcare: A comprehensive virtual and physical mental health care platform.

UV Shield

Improving health through UV awareness is part of the mission statement from a group of students presenting this next prototype:

SHIELD: Awareness, Efficiency and Prevention.

2 students presenting their iot project uv defense

uv iot project presentation page 1

uv futures

Want to know more?

The examples above are quick introduction into the work developed by the students as they've collaborated with people from local and global networks. Contact us at info@digitalcreativity.foundation if you have any specific questions or would like to know more about any of the projects.