A Playful Beginners Guide to Engineering and Physics Basics

In the Beginning . . .

Very early on I was indoctrinated into the magic of Making. As an apprentice to my Father, I would watch in wonder as this self-taught Master Maker would effortlessly reshape our house at my Mothers whim . . . adding/removing rooms, installing electricity and plumbing. So many tools, so many possibilities. He taught himself these things way before YouTube or Google! There is strong creative DNA in my family and my Making was always approached from my love of Art. When I was in school, it was not cool for a girl to be interested in the Sciences too.

Talking the Leap and Going Rogue

Let’s be honest, for those not naturally hypnotized by the wonders of the Sciences, using Engineering and Physics in the same sentence can send many running. That’s how I felt until recently. Over six years ago, I was invited to Singapore to head up the International ArtScience Prize Competition Program and as an Art Ed Teacher at a local school. I quickly went rogue and transformed my Art Room into a STEAM multidisciplinary Maker Zone. I created the perfect opportunity to include many disciplines into my Art Ed Teaching practice. I wanted my students’ Art to move, make sounds, be responsive, be alive and immersed with personal meaning.

Step 1: Meet Rob Ives, Mechanical Design Engineer + Funster

There were many technologies I experimented with, but my epiphany happened when I landed on the robives.com website. Rob Ives is a masterful Mechanical Design Engineer that is gifted with simplifying the most complicated concepts, often with humor. Rob designs templates that create Automatons (self-winding mechanical robots) for projects that explore individual mechanisms like gears and cranks or combines them into impressive moving art. His site is a resource overflowing with golden nuggets.

Step 2: Discovery for Makers, Schools, Teachers, Learners and Parents

Projects span from simple mechanisms to the incrementally more challenging. He makes it all very accessible with templates and step by step instructions you can download. It’s all up to you which materials you choose, including paper, recycled materials, wood or "junk". I love using scrap book double-sided pattern papers. I've been known to modify his parts and replaced them with my own wood or 3D printed components.

You can print and cut the templates with good old scissors, a digital die cutter (e.g. Cameo or Cricket) or Laser cutter. It just depends what tools you have in the shed. I have used all three methods. If you are a Maker, School or Parent in the time of COVID home-schooling, scissors work perfectly. With middle school kids or older, an Exacto blade and ruler is great for learning skillful precision cutting.

You can make your own objects move or choose from Rob’s toy template collection.

Step 3: How to Use robives.com Projects in School or Home School Curriculum

There is plenty of Math, Science and Aesthetics inherent in these projects, such as motion, gravity, integrating color, texture and 3D kinetic sculpture. Really, you can add an object through the lens of any subject you want. Let’s say you are teaching Geography, History or a Language, Students can add a found or created object that reflects researching a time period or culture. By combining more than one Automaton, can you invent a new musical instrument? Don’t get me started . . . or maybe you should. Then of course there's making them for the pure joy of self-expression and Thinkering for fun.

Check out a few Automatons created by my Students >> Student Makers Automatons

Step 4: Resources for you to Jump in and Be Inspired!

• The robives.com site offers a yearly membership for USD $31 for unlimited access to downloads from the template library. Anyone, including Educators are allowed to use these materials to teach others without any restrictions! You can also find Rob on Instagram, Youtube, and Pinterest.

Want to know more about Automatons? Here are some resources:

Step 5: Have Mind Blown! Marbles + Music Meet Mechanical Engineering