This Prototyping Puppets project is a collaboration with the Center for Puppetry Arts, that combines craft and performance art to teach early middle school students basic prototyping skills.

We are developing informal STEM workshops that are aimed to counter any blackboxing of technology and attract new audiences to STEM.

This key approach combines craft, performative self-expression, and basic hardware prototyping into workshops that encourage students to grasp the technology, make up a shared story, build puppets for that story, and ultimately perform their puppet show together.

Researchers at Georgia Tech and at the Center for Puppetry Arts develop and test this approach through multiple puppet-building workshops aimed at informal education for middle-schoolers.

Our approach follows three main steps:


1) narrative framing

2) craft-inspired building

3) validation through performance.



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number #1612686.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.



We develop simple puppet designs to help students explore basic prototyping. All of our designs are freely available below. If you have any questions or find errors, please contact the research team.

Rod Puppet

This is our main puppet design. It is a double-sided puppet controlled by a popsicle stick as a rod. It includes a circuit and a LED that can be turned on and off while holding the rod.


Click here for how to build file.


Click here for more documentation.

Clothespin Puppet

This design uses two interdependent objects, such as a puppet and a prop. When one connects to the other, the circuit closes and the LED will light up.


Click here for how to build file for the base prop.

Click here for the how to build file for the main puppet.


Click here for more documentation.

Cloud Puppet

The cloud is a modified sock puppet requiring two hands to control: one to control the mouth of the puppet, and the other to turn on the light through an embedded circuit using conductive thread.


Click here for how to build file.


Click here for more documentation.

Modular Puppet

This is our most complex design, involving multiple pieces and materials. It requires two hands to control: one to stabilize and move the puppet, the other to control the wings and the light using conductive thread.


Click here for how to build page.


Click here for more documentation.

Taking the Next Steps: Variation Puppets

Our rod puppet can be modified slightly to create puppets with different outputs. We have made two examples below, one for a puppet involving a motor, and another for a puppet involving a speaker.


Click here for the Motor Rod Puppet instructions


Click here for the Beeping Rod Puppet instructions

Taking the Next Steps:

Interfacing with Existing Technology

The circuits we create in the rod puppet can be easily altered to work with technology you may already use in your classroom. We have developed solutions for this using micro:bit and LEGO NXT.


Click here for the micro:bit build your own output instructions

Click here for the micro:bit build your own input instructions


Click here for LEGO NXT interfacing instructions


This section is to help you bring this program into your classroom.

Past Workshop Photos:


Q: Where can I find a printable packet of all the information and tutorials I will need?

A: The comprehensive packet including materials, timeline and other supporting documents can be found here. If you go to the section called "Puppet Designs", you can find step by steps for each of those puppets in the page.


Q: Where can I buy supplies for this?

A: The supplies list with links can be found in the comprehensive packet.


Q: How long does this take?

A; In total time, a full workshop takes about 3.5 hours, however, it can be broken up into different class periods.


Q: What grades is this meant for?

This is meant for grades 6-8. However, these same materials can be used to interface with existing STEM technology such as LEGO Mindstorms and micro:bit, meant for older grade levels, 9-10. The documentation for those are currently being developed and will be on the webpage when they are complete.


Q: Do I need some sort of official permission to run this in the classroom?

A: Nope, our curriculum is freely available. If you have any questions about the curriculum, feel free to reach out to the research team.





Nitsche, Michael and Crystal Gillett. "Framing Craft and Performance in hybrid Puppetry Workshops." Design and Technology: An International Journal (TBP Feb 2019) (journal page)



Nitsche, Michael and Anna Weisling. "When is it not Craft? Materiality and Mediation when Craft and Computing Meet." (full paper accected at:) 13th International Conference on Tangible,Embedded and Embodied Interaction (TEI 2019) (March 17-20, 2019 Tempe, AZ) (896 KB)



Nitsche. Michael and Crystal Eng. "Making Puppet Circuits." In: Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Design, Learning and Innovation (DLI 2018) (Oct 24-26, 2018 Braga, Portugal) London: Springer, 2018. 418-428(223 KB)



Nitsche, Michael, Crystal Eng, Firaz Peer. “Ownership in Making Puppets.” (paper presented at:)

First Co-Creation Workshop at International Conference on Computational Creativity (ICCC 2017)

(June 19, 2017 Atlanta, GA). (246 KB)



Restrepo, Isabel, Michael Nitsche, Crystal Eng. “Prototyping Puppets beyond Borders.” In:

Proceedings of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA 2017) (June 11-18, 2017

Manizales, Colombia) Bogota, ISEA International, 2017. 87-94. (347 KB)



Peer, Firaz, Michael Nitsche, Lauren Schaffer. "Power Puppet: Science and Technology Education

through Puppet building." In: Proceedings of the IDC  '14 (June 17-20, Aarhus, DK) New York:

ACM, 2014. 221-224 (1.2MB)



Michael Nitsche


Principal Investigator


Georgia Institute of Technology


Crystal Gillett


Graduate Researcher


Georgia Institute of Technology


Ben Sugar


Graduate Researcher


Georgia Institute of Technology


Aretta Baumgartner



Center for Puppetry Arts

Education Director


Jeff Domke



Center for Puppetry Arts

Education Coordinator


Tom McKlin



The Findings Group

External Evaluator


Isabel Restrepo



Universidad de Antioquia, Colombia

Associate Professor



Thom Stanley



Puppeteer / Director


Melissa Foulger



Georgia Institute of Technology

DramaTech Director


Kylie Peppler



Indiana University

Associate Professor