18 May 2007


so i figured i'd talk about mechanisms and the ways i've noticed the kids approaching them.

it seems that the kids find it easiest to grasp simple rotational motion off the bat. the fact that they can plug the motor into the gogo board and instantly see it run aids in this; it's obvious what it does. many groups have made merry-go-rounds, roundabouts, etc. from there, many groups have gotten the idea of increasing the diameter of rotation to make it look like it's going "faster"... making car chases, etc. i haven't counted all the projects, but it seems like even if this isn't the idea that ends up being used in the end, it's one of the first ideas to be had.

from there, one increase in complexity comes when using the motor as a wheel... a simple sort of rotational to linear motion, and something that is available for observation in their everyday lives.

these mechanisms (rotational and wheel) come about from a direct observation of the affordances of the motor. and maybe if the group is starting without a clear idea of precisely the motion they want, they're more likely to allow the materials to dictate their design more throughly.

more complexity comes when the kids decide to use the motor with a string as a simple winch. this is something i had not thought of, but it makes sense as a concept that is available in western society with the idea of a reel (rod and reel). this first came about with the pultneytown p7 group in wick, and after that, as their photos got introduced into the photos i showed in the beginnings, more and more groups did this.

another sort of motion that kids ask for, but don't know quite how to get, is some sort of jumping motion or rocking back and forth. i try to ask them if they have seen anything like this, but a lot of kids haven't. a couple of kids came up with a crank/single link system; they were all mechanics' kids, i found out upon questioning. usually i have to suggest this idea by suggesting that they look at some of the photos/videos of what other kids have done in hopes that they will find something useful to them. i also try to have at least one physical example of a single link system. a common mistake kids make is that they try to hold the link still at the pivot on the wheel. they then seem surprised that it doesn't work. when this happens, i never tell them they've done it wrong, but rather, i ask them questions about why they think it doesn't work. usually after one or two questions about what they think would happen if the pivot isn't a pivot, they figure out that it should move.

a couple of teams are able to use/understand two linkages, but only when the mechanism is presented to them as something to play with and build off of.

jose valente suggested that i try to be clear and aware of my effect on the kids. my effect becomes clear when i question and steer them towards certain mechanisms... or even just suggesting that they go look at other groups. my effect is also clear with the two bar mechanisms. i don't think any of the kids would've come up with that on their own in the time they had (neither the two hour workshops nor the two day ones). just from my own experience, i don't know that i would've come up with it if i hadn't have seen an example. so i think that the role of examples, providing examples, and providing a suggestion as to where to look is important.

i also think that it's important to look at the way these groups approached their projects. some grabbed a material and were like... this is cat's fur! we will make a cat! and others were like... this is the motor, we can make a wheel, we'll make a car. even others were like... we want to make this, how can we make it move like we want. so, either an idea sparked from the materials (be it the motor or the craft materials or whatever) or a goal formed from their own imaginations and finding the materials and methods to fit that. those seem to be the two ways that the groups approach things. and with those two approaches, there are different results with different mechanisms. it seems to me that the groups that have their own motion in mind are more likely to push what they can do with the motors/programming, whereas the ones who get their mechanism idea from the observable affordances of the motor/wheel seem to make machines that either drive around or spin.

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