Technology and computer skills are increasingly important in this interconnected world. Makerspaces provide a creative environment perfect for inspiring interest in activities like coding and computer programming. It is a common misconception that maker activities have to be expensive and complicated. Not every Makerspace requires 3D printers or pricey electronic components. Simple maker activities can be inexpensive and still foster “the spirit of DIY creation and discovery.” (Peterson, 2013). One easy and inexpensive maker project is creating a binary code necklace (using the ASCII encoding scheme). It doesn’t take a coding expert to introduce binary basics to provide a foundational framework for understanding computer science. This maker activity is simple enough for kids but interesting enough to provide coding basics for adults as well.
For this maker activity, it is necessary to provide background on the need for computers to translate data and instructions into their own encoded language. There are a number of resources available online to provide background in basic coding concepts. Everything inside the brain of the computer is made up of numbers. A series of numbers can be interpreted a number of ways. It is the software or encoding scheme (in this case ASCII) that provides meaning to the 0s and 1s. Each letter is made up of 8 bits and separating markers are called delimiters. Thinkersmith provides visual resources that depict the ASCII alphabet in binary. Worksheets show the letters of the alphabet alongside their corresponding binary code.
After providing Makers with some binary background, it is important to provide examples of how to spell things out using the binary code they’ve just been introduced to. It is the hands on playing with code that solidifies understanding. In the image below, white squares represent 1 and black squares represent 0.
Handouts can be provided with a number of words alongside blank squares. Together the Facilitator and the Makers can go over the words and color the squares to spell the words in binary.
“FUN” (F) 01000110 (U) 01010101 (N) 01001110
Thinkersmith also provides the worksheets that Makers can use to spell their names in binary. After spelling the names out on paper, makers can pick out two colors of beads to represent the 0s and 1s for their bracelets or necklaces. The names are then spelled out with the beads (they can be separated by a colored bead chosen to act as a delimiter) then strung to create the jewelry.
This is a great starting activity for a library looking to start a Makerspace on a budget. Funding for this activity is minimal. Necessary supplies include colored beads, string, jewelry clasps, and free online binary worksheets that can be printed as take home handouts. Books from the library’s collection containing information about computers, programming, coding, and jewelry making can be displayed for check out after the Maker activity. With proper advertising and social media documentation, this activity could strike up community interest in the library’s Makerspace. Promoting this program could lead to future funding opportunities from community members and local businesses (especially businesses with interests in computers and programming). Crafty activities such as this can also be funded by hosting a supply drive to develop Maker craft boxes.
Other notable resources to help with this project:
Peterson, K. M. (2013). Low tech, high gains: Starting a maker program is easier than you think. School Library Journal.
(Thinkersmith makes their materials available under a Creative Commons license. They can be used with proper credit.)