Tinkering Thursday: 4th December

This week Think Lab has been playing host to a delegation of Chinese architects – hey, it’s all go here – so we set to work in our office instead. We already have a hundred snow globes strewn around the place, what harm is there in adding a little craft mess?

Joe’s masterpiece started as a large and very powerful ring magnet, some tape, a coil of enamelled wire, and a jack plug cable. It ended up as those things all piled on top of each other, then plugged into a tone generator running on his phone. Frankly, I wasn’t hopeful. But then, this:

Sweet. “It’s lacking a little bass,” Joe sniffed. Huh. Some people are never satisfied.

Meanwhile I’ve been exploring simple mechanisms, partly because we want to head towards making cardboard automata. The Exploratorium’s Tinkering School have some terrific resources here, but I wanted to start very, very simply. Partly because I want an activity which reaches something pleasing in the minimum possible time (and then invites exploration and extension), and partly because I’d seen something that looked just right on the desk of Duncan Yellowlees, Public Engagement Officer at Think Physics‘ partner the Centre for Life.

The swinging arrow on the left is my version of Duncan’s Wobbler, a gloriously simple affair of a paper cup, lollipop stick, section of drinking straw, and a 2p coin to add some pendulum mass. That only took about ten minutes, so I next whipped up the crank arrangement you see to the right of the clip above. There’s only one glued joint in there, so again: quick to explore and quite satisfying.

My concern about mechanisms (and automata made this way) is that you really need to use a scalpel. Which isn’t necessarily a problem, but we do need to think about how and when we introduce their use with groups of children of different ages.

Time for me to make the tools safe, put them away, and do some reading around how others manage that. What sort of received wisdom is there about staffing ratios, ages, group size, environment…


Tune in next week for more — same tinkering time, same tinkering Thursday.

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