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In late March, we held our fourth Educators’ Workshop. This time we chose the moving, engaging, swinging, rocking topic of automata.

DSC_0039Basically mechanical toys, a typical piece of automata produces a surprising motion with only a small hand-crank or an initial input of energy. Once set in motion, automata sometimes engage gears or springs, pulleys or other simple machines, and they can be beautifully simple or extraordinarily complex.

Mechanical toys have been made for centuries. Automata offer a fun, cheap introduction to making for students and teachers alike. We tackled two projects during the workshop: cardboard automata and Agreeable Sheep.

Exploratorium Cardboard Automata cam exampleThe first project, guided by the Exploratorium’s great instructions, allows for endless creativity (and tinkering and improvements) and uses very basic recyclable and craft materials.
The second project (found via RobIves or Instructables) is a bit more complex, with a singular goal of creating an adorable sheep that nods its head.
With videos of Rube Goldberg contraptions playing in the background and a spread of mechanical toys and automata examples on display, we dove into the cardboard automata.
Most started by creating their cardboard frames, then their cams and cam followers by cutting circles out of foam sheets. Some focused on creating a mechanism that would twirl while bobbing up and down. Others went for a simpler goal of just up-and-down movement. As we manipulated bamboo skewers, cardboard, foam, pipe cleaners, and hot glue (of course!), we discovered the need for stability, reinforcement, clearance, testing before gluing, and testing before cutting. We also started to realize the intricacies involved in even the simplest mechanical toys.

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Agreeable Sheet, from instructablesAfter carefully and iteratively manipulating our mechanisms and creations for the morning and early afternoon, the final products were awesome. Check out the gallery above! With automata on their minds, many took home the Agreeable Sheep project to do on their own time. As always, it was wonderful to have the time and space to work together and collaborate on new projects, refine old skills, and simply share our interests and knowledge.

Thank you to Lighthouse Community Charter School who graciously hosted our small group and to Jeannine Huffman of the SJCOE DaVinci Center who led the projects. We will hold our next Educators’ Workshop on April 27 on the topic of Arduino projects.

Our hands-on  programming for the day is documented in our Educators’ Workshop project guide:

Makerspace Educators Workshop: Automata

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