It's Electric! Cooper Library Brings Book Recommendations to Life with Conductive Paint

If you have recently visited Cooper Library, you may have noticed a unique, new addition. Positioned against a pillar in between the EDI classrooms is a table speckled with star figurines and connected to a set of headphones. Photos of Lower School students, each one holding a book, adorn the wall above the table.
The headphones are placed over the ears. Keeping one hand on a painted star at the front of the table, and the other on a different, numbered star, the listener will hear a Lower School student announce his or her reading selection, along with a passage from the book. Ms. Elizabeth Johnson, Director of Cooper Library, rotates the students out so more have a chance to be heard by their peers.
Amazingly, the design is brought to life through human touch. While not quite magic, it is the result of a rather remarkable invention: conductive paint. When used in this fashion, the electricity from the paint enables listeners to hear the prerecorded readings and recommendations from the selected students.
This contraption is the product of a collaboration between Ms. Johnson; Dr. John Galler, EDI Coordinator; and Mr. Afek Taragan, EDI and Lower School mathematics instructor. We asked Ms. Johnson and Dr. Galler about their project...
Explain the idea behind this activity.

Ms. Johnson: 
First, it's the year of listening at Norfolk Academy, and we wanted to find a way to incorporate the theme into the work we do in Cooper Library. Second, we wanted a way for students to interact with their peers around reading and recommendations for new books, and we wanted that process to have a little bit of magic to it.

Dr. Galler:  EDI has wanted to make an interactive display for the last two years, but without a dedicated communal space we were unable to create a public-facing display.  It was exciting that Elizabeth came to us with the idea that led to the creation of this of an interactive display. My hope is that this is just the first of several displays in the Lower School.
Who came up with the idea and what was the inspiration behind it?

Ms. Johnson
The EDI team is pretty inspiring and I like to participate in their YouTube meanderings. I was hoping they could design a version of an interactive museum display I had seen, and then they blew my mind by showing me an entire world of possibilities around Makey Makey and conductive paint.​
Dr. Galler: Elizabeth showed me a video of an interactive display that she wanted to obtain, and we started to talk about making one ourselves. (The EDI team) figured out that Elizabeth could make the display, Afek could program it, and I could wire it together.
What, exactly, is conductive paint and how does it work?

Dr. Galler: Conductive paint is water-based paint that contains a large amount of highly conductive carbon powder. Carbon conducts electricity, and since the paint has a high enough concentration of carbon, the dried paint conducts electricity too.  
What does it take to operate and what are the engineering aspects that allow this project to function?

Dr. Galler: 
For this project, Afek created a program in Scratch that plays an audio file when a key is pressed. The computer is connected to the Makey Makey (which overrides the computer keyboard), which I then wired to the display. Wires come up through the bottom of the display, and touch the pieces on the top of the display that Elizabeth coated with conductive paint.   
What are some of the reactions from the students who have used it?

Ms. Johnson: 
They love it! Some use it to hear the recommendations and others just love to try to figure out how it works.  It's also fun for them to see their peers up on the wall and hear their classmates’ voices, so I'm hoping we'll change the content at pretty regular intervals this year.​
Have you, or are there plans in place, to use this invention in any lesson plans?

Ms. Johnson: 
First grade is considering using our contraption in an upcoming project they do on famous women.  I think it could work as a concept to display student work in an interactive way, and we'd welcome anyone who would like to use it as a part of a project or lesson plans. Stop by Cooper Library and let's get creative!