Author Archives: graeme

Making animated GIF pictures

(Graphics Interchange Format, “GIF” is a computer image format that has become popular on the internet.)

It’s not very difficult to get children interested in computers. (What an understatement.) And if one hopes that their interest can be channeled into something useful, this is a fun way to start. Animated GIFs are a great way to create interesting web pages, blogs email attachments etc., and the ability to create them will be a useful skill in any future internet-related career.  It’s not hard to learn how to make them. I’m describing here how I have made them on the Linux operating system. I use it for two main reasons:

1) It is all freely available software, so one will not be tempted to use pirated software and set a bad example.

2) Children are rarely familiar with it so they will not be distracted by their favorite games, chat programs etc.

These were some of my students’ first attempts.

Jonathan's table tennis player

Lily wagging her tail. Made by Ariel

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Simple Magnetometer Science Project Using Water as Lens

(Click on photos to see full size image.)

Theory

A magnetometer such as this can detect small changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. It can be useful to monitor these changes as they may indicate the occurrence of natural phenomena that can influence our lives. Certain kinds of solar activity for example, have the potential to disrupt communications and power systems. Large earthquakes are also known to produce magnetic changes prior to their arrival. (This project was originally intended to work in conjunction with the search coil magnetometer project for predicting earthquakes.) Continue reading

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DIY Toy Wooden Tank

Last winter one of our students who had made practically everything, suggested making a
small wooden tank. It was basically an exercise in woodworking techniques. This is how it evolved… Continue reading

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Animations

Andy’s animation

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Joyce’s story – Be a Doctor

(PDF – Chinese text)

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Annie’s Scare the Dog story

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Jordan’s Polar Bear story

This was done in one of the winter vacation projects. The story and clay figures are Jordan’s work.

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Henna & Joanne’s broken car story

This story was put together by two students in about an hour on a previously made paper mache landscape. The two (sisters) had been having a tough time with English in school and were getting further “behind the eight ball” when their parents decided some tutoring might help. The use of clay during the lessons made it more interesting and provided plenty of opportunities to connect the English they were learning to something more real than just words on a page.

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Can earthquakes be predicted? A simple magnetometer for detecting earthquake precursors

magnetometer: n. [Magneto- + -meter]
An instrument for measuring the intensity of magnetic forces [1913 Webster]

precursor:  One who, or that which, precedes an event, and indicates its
approach; a forerunner [1913 Webster]

Scientists, particularly in Japan, have for many years been gathering evidence of electromagnetic signals that come from under the ground before earthquakes. The bigger the signal, the bigger the quake is likely to be. This can occur hours before, and in some cases, days or even weeks before the quake itself. Why it happens is not well understood but current theory is that it has to do with rocks creating large electric currents as a result of crushing or grinding under high pressure. Several methods have been used to detect these reportedly erratic, electromagnetic pulses. The method described here is one of the simplest. Technically, it’s called a “search coil magnetometer.” This does not respond to very slow magnetic changes, but it can sense short-term ones, making it suitable for detecting earthquake precursors. Continue reading

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Field Workshop in Taitung and comments on natural farming

We sometimes wondered if it would be possible to travel around, running handcraft workshops in other locations. I was skeptical because there are so many tools and materials used in our projects. Forgetting one particular sized screw or nail might ruin a whole workshop.

We had also wondered if it might be possible to assemble some of our projects into kit sets. The main concern being that if too much preparation is done beforehand, the child won’t learn as much, and one might as well buy a ready-made one from the local toy store.

Finally we had an opportunity to try these things out on a small scale…. Continue reading

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Recording Earthquakes for Beginners – The Background Story

Background

In my search for educational projects that can engage a kid’s interest, I recently began looking into seismology (from Ancient Greek, “seismos”, an earthquake and “logia”, study of.)

Being a rather high-tech subject, I was skeptical of my chances of reducing it to something kids could do, but I gave it a shot anyway, since it’s very applicable here in Taiwan, where earthquakes average a couple a day. (You can see them on this website: http://www.cwb.gov.tw/eng/index.htm )

The goal was to come up with some kind of a detector; the simplest and cheapest design possible that a student could plug into a computer and record real earthquakes. Although still in progress I wanted to share what I’ve done so far as it’s a fascinating field and full of good, observable data that will give anyone a deeper understanding of the planet we live on. Continue reading

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DIY Toy Wooden Crane with electric motor and forward/reverse switch

crane

This project is similar to the 4WD car, not only in that the student is working with wood and electrics, but also that the concept of drive ratios is involved. The crane takes this a little further: one can observe how the winch diameter affects lifting speed and power, and the very useful principle of mechanical advantage gained by the two pulleys. When this is taught in schools, it is normally not easy for kids to really get it as a concept; how the addition of pulleys increases the lifting power and reduces the speed. More often than not they only wind up memorizing formulas so they can pass the test and forget about it. But by making and playing with one themselves, they can see first-hand what actually happens when you add pulleys. They no longer need to memorize anything – they just know it.

This is also a lot of fun to play with. Continue reading

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Summer 2010 Handcraft Classes

With the summer 2010 program just about finished, the most successful project by far has been the 4WD car.

These were the first ones off the production line.

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Home made battery tester/galvanometer

A galvanometer is a device for measuring the flow of an electric current. (From Galvani, a professor of physiology at Bologna, and meter, measure.)

In this day and age, electricity has found its way into our lives in the most unexpected areas. Nobody could have imagined how useful computers and cellphones would become, but how far can it go? I thought electric toothbrushes were pushing the limit once, but then I saw a computer controlled toilet seat….. Continue reading

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DIY 4 Wheel Drive Toy Electric Car

This project gives some familiarity with electricity, motors and wiring. It also gets a child thinking about drive methods, gears/pulleys and their ratios, since the wheels are obviously turning much slower than the motor, power to the wheels being geared down in two stages. Another principle is that of friction and how rubber around the wheels results in more traction. All of these principles can be raised for discussion and further investigation if it seems appropriate for the student’s level. Continue reading

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