Fusion of Art + CT

Screen Shot 2016-09-22 at 7.04.50 PMMarja Miller & Steven Wojnarski

Marja Miller (mgbertra@uwo.ca) is a graduate student in Western’s MA program and is working with Dr. Immaculate Namukasa as a research assistant.

Steven Wojnarski (steven.wojnarski@gmail.com) is a graduate student in Western’s MPED program.

How do we help students become creative math problem solvers? How can computational thinking help? And how does art fit in all of this?

As society progresses further into the information era, arming our students with computational thinking skills is a sure way of preparing them for almost any future field of work or study by helping envision virtual and real solutions to a variety of problems (Barr & Stephenson, 2011). Computational thinking allows students to think recursively, to use abstract thinking to solve a problems in logical and algorithmic ways (Wing, 2006). Like a computer, students are better equipped to solve a problem if they can decompose it into discrete, finite parts, and develop creative solutions in a series of steps that will ultimately solve a variety of human inquiries (Wing, 2006).

One way to create rich and engaging activities to improve computational thinking skills is to blend coding with creative thinking (Miller et al., 2014).   The goal then becomes to not only change education policy in support of computation practices, but to promote teachers’ use of coding in a way that is engaging, and nurtures their students’ creative thinking.  There are several coding manipulatives that promote the fusion of the arts and computational thinking. In this article we focus specifically on LilyPad Arduino, which can be used to teach mathematical concepts.


The Arduino digital making platform was originally made as an educational tool for programming and learning computational thinking skills.  Gibb (2010) adds that the Arduino was created to encourage creativity and design-oriented minds.  This manipulative device is a microcontroller which can be used in “art and design as an open source programmable tool to create interactive works” (p.1). Arduino has an immense amount of potential to create cross-curricular activities and provide a common language for engineers, artists and designers to collaborate. Leah Buechley designed LilyPad, by modifying the original Arduino to be more aesthetically appealing to artists and designers (Delgado, 2009).  LilyPad was developed for electronic-textiles (e-textiles) and wearable technologies (Delgado, 2009). LilyPad’s electronic components were made smaller and sleeker so that it could be easily “sewn to fabric with electronically conductive thread” (Delgado, 2009, p. 41).  LilyPad creates the perfect blend of sewing and coding, which naturally embodies creativity.

The LilyPad Arduino can be used to teach mathematical concepts, such as algorithms, cryptography, patterns, functions, input and output, and geometry while creating a work of art. A specific example of how math can be taught with the LilyPad is making a secret decoder wristband (see Fig. 1).  A unit called the Secret Decoder activity where students begin by learning about the history of cryptography and participate in an activity called “Information Hiding” can be found at http://csunplugged.org/information-hiding/#Sharing_Secrets. Students learn how to create and decipher a code, as well as about algorithms and computational thinking skills. They can also learn how to do a simple coding program with the Arduino software for LilyPad called blink at http://sewelectric.org/diy-projects/3-programming-your-lilypad/basic-programming-steps/.  The final phase is to create the secret decoder wristband, program the LilyPad with an encrypted message (i.e. three blinks in a row represents a specific letter) and design a key that can be used to decode it.

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Screen Shot 2016-09-22 at 7.03.19 PMConclusion

Artistic expression through computational thinking inquiries is attainable in the math classroom. The use of coding in the classroom to teach these problem solving skills used in mathematics can seem daunting. By incorporating an artistic component into recursive problem solving, the process of learning becomes much more engaging and approachable.  The use of the LilyPad Arduino can teach students that computational/logical problem solving aligned with artistic creation allows for a more well-rounded and coherent learning experience. These skills are essential and they promote the learning of mathematical concepts.  The fusion of the arts can make more abstract concepts tangible and the creative thinking provide students with the opportunity to reflect on the process.


Barr, V., & Stephenson, C. (2011). Bringing computational thinking to K-12. ACM Inroads, 2(1), 48-54.

Basic Programming Steps (n.d.).  Retrieved from http://sewelectric.org/diy-projects/3-programming-your-lilypad/basic-programming-steps

Delgado, Lisa (2009, March/April). Crafts and code: How young craftspeople and artists are giving old media a reboot. Crafts, 217, 40-43.

Gibb, A. M. (2010). New media art, design, and the Arduino microcontroller: A malleable tool (Doctoral dissertation, Pratt Institute).

Lesson 4: Color (LEDs) (2013, September 4).  Retrieved from http://lilypadarduino.org/?page_id=548

Miller, L. D., Soh, L. K., Chiriacescu, V., Ingraham, E., Shell, D. F., & Hazley, M. P. (2014,

March). Integrating computational and creative thinking to improve learning and performance in CS1. In Proceedings of the 45th ACM technical symposium on Computer science education, 475-480. ACM.

Sester, Marie. (2011, December 2).  Lilypad, Bluetooth and first lectures.  Retrieved from http://www.sester.net/lilypad-bluetooth-and-first-lectures

Wing, J. M. (2006). Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 49(3), 33-35.