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An Electronic Textiles Unit in Exploring Computer Science

In Fall 2018, Exploring Computer Science will release an additional curriculum option for Unit 6, Electronic Textiles. Electronic textiles (e-textiles) are articles of cloth­ing, accessories or home furnishings with embedded electronic and computational elements. In classrooms, students work individually or in groups to make a variety of e-textile projects such as cards, bracelets, collaborative murals, clothing and toys that sparkle, connect and interact.

Gallery of Electronic Textiles Designed and Crafted by High School Students in LAUSD (upper row) Greeting card, Detail from a collaborative mural, Wristbands, T-shirt with interactive patch (lower row) Letters from a collaborative mural, Interactive toy in Human Sensor Project

To make e-textiles, students first imagine the project they wish to make, then design circuits that connect a programmable Arduino-based microcontroller with sensors and actuators such as lights and speakers. After stitching the circuits with conductive thread, students program their microcontrollers to read sensor data, blink their lights or play music.

Materials and Controllers used in Unit 6: Electronic Textiles (left) A simple circuit using LEDs,conductive thread and coin cell battery and holder (image by Sparkfun) (right) The sewable microcontroller Circuit Playground (image by AdaFruit)

Unit 6: Electronic Textiles consists of four open-ended, hands-on projects requiring students to create artifacts with increasingly challenging computational concepts, use high and low-tech materials hone their crafting and designing skills, and troubleshoot malfunctioning projects.


Description of Electronic Textiles

Key Concepts and Materials

#1: Paper Circuit (1-2 hrs)

Single circuit project design: Create a simple paper circuit greeting card that includes one LED. Introduce the concept of aesthetic design and personalization.

  • Simple circuit
  • Understanding polarity
  • Materials: LEDs, copper tape (wire), paper
#2 Wristband (5-6 hours)

Simple wearable project: Create a wristband with three LEDs in parallel and a switch that turns on the project when the ends of the wristband are snapped together.

  • Parallel circuit, switch
  • Designing and reading circuit diagrams
  • Three-dimensional project
  • Deconstruction
  • Materials: Conductive thread, LEDs, battery and holder, fabric
#3 Collaborative Mural Project (10 hrs)

Collaborative project: As a class create a mural, with each panel made by two students. Each panel must have five independently programmable LEDs and two switches, allowing for four blinking light patterns.

  • Programming for digital input: Sequences, conditionals, embedded conditionals or Boolean statements
  • Collaborative work & division of labor
  • Materials: Conductive thread, LEDs, fabric, microcontroller
#4 Human Sensor Project (10-14 hrs)

Capstone project: Create a project with two aluminum foil patches that act as a sensor when both are touched by a person. Program four+ lighting patterns based on different sensor readings.

  • Sensor design (handcrafted)
  • Programming for analog input: operators, sensor range, Boolean statements
  • Materials: Conductive aluminum foil, human body, LEDs, microcontroller, fabric

Unit 6: Electronic Textiles will include a curriculum guide outlining all project activities with detailed information on: how computational concepts and practices are introduced through making e-textile projects, how students can document and reflect on their learning by creating digital portfolios, how the e-textiles unit builds on other units within ECS, and how e-textiles as a topic connects to CS standards. In addition, we will provide a technical guide for teachers containing tips for constructing and troubleshooting e-textiles projects and a resource guide with shopping lists and retail sources for purchasing materials needed for the unit.

For more information on the research behind the design and classroom implementation of Electronic Textiles, please check out this link.




Unit 6 Electronic Textiles was developed by Deborah Fields, John Landa, Yasmin Kafai, Tomoko Nakajima and ECS teachers.

Research on various aspects of the curriculum design, classroom implementation and teaching was conducted by Yasmin Kafai, Deborah Fields, Joanna Goode, Tomoko Nakajima, Jane Margolis, Debora Lui, Breanne Litts, Justice Walker, Gayithri Jayathirtha, Mia Shaw, Sari Widman, and Janell Amely.

Funding for developing the e-textiles curriculum and classroom implementations was provided through a collaborative grant #1509245/1510725/1512760 by the National Science Foundation to Yasmin Kafai, Joanna Goode and Jane Margolis. Any opinions, findings, or conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the University of Pennsylvania, University of Oregon, UCLA, or Utah State University and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.