Scrapyard Challenge at MobilityShifts

by Farah

When I signed up for the Scrapyard Challenge workshop at MobilityShifts, I took to heart the organizers’ claim that no electronics experience would be necessary to participate. Although I’m completely clueless in that department, I wanted to give it a go anyway in the DIY spirit of the class. Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Katherine Moriwaki conduct these workshops all over the world where they have participants take old electronics and other “junk” and use the parts to make something new. For this one, we were making simple sound machines.

I had expected the workshop to be more instructional, but its loose structure actually works in its favor. Rather than a complete step by step tutorial, we were given a brief lesson on how electronic switches work and how we could make our own; then, the workshop leaders essentially let us have at the table of junk. I wrote in my reading reflection paper about Vygotsky’s ideas on the importance of play for the development of children and mentioned that I thought workshops like the Scrapyard Challenge sounded like a good example of that for adults. Sure, you can probably teach people (or teach yourself) how to hack electronics through classroom style lessons. It’s more fun to learn by playing, which for me ended up being trying and failing and trying again.

A friend had given me an old boombox to work with, and a trash artist named Todd helped me in disassembling it and figuring out what we could do with it. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a power supply that worked with the interior motors, so we decided to try something else. I ended up making a switch by soldering some wire to a metal Slurpee tin, which we had tested to see if it was conductive. I attached the wires to the organizers’ Arduino board and made some sounds by opening and closing the tin. Admittedly, it was quite lo-fi compared to some things others were making.

Just as Vygotsky says that children have differing levels of proximal development, I think that adults do too depending on the field. However, seeing what others do and being guided by someone with more knowledge helps bridge that gap. The ultimate success of these workshops is that through play, they enable newcomers to learn basic principles of electronics and gain confidence that they can DIY. No, I’m not an expert after a couple hours of tinkering, but I’m a lot less wary of trying something more complex another time.

Below are a few of pictures I took. You can see more here:

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And here’s a video from the workshop:

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