Recording Earthquakes for Beginners – The Background Story


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: )

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


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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Morse Code Practice Key

This project utilizes a wide variety of materials and technologies: woodwork, electronics, computer software if desired, and the code itself.

Morse code is still used by many amateur radio operators. One can also still find military, maritime and aviation applications for it. Pilots, for example, need to know it so they can recognize the location code sent out by radio beacons. Continue reading

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Cardboard Periscope

This project is easy to make. Apart from the fun kids can have, spying on others from around corners etc., it’s also quite educational. For example, the relative angles at which light arrives at and reflects off a surface will likely become clear without the child having to be told. Also, the dimensions of the mirror, if you are cutting it yourself, can be worked out by mathematics. At least it’s one practical use they can see for the formulas they’ll learn in school. Continue reading

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Paper-maché Landscapes

paper-maché (“paper mash-ay“) comes from the french word papier-mâché, meaning ‘chewed-up paper’)

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TV or not TV

It seems there’s a growing trend to get rid of “the box.” And a good thing it is, too. I’m firmly convinced that the last thing you want in your house is a TV.

As a child in the 60’s, before we got a TV, our living room at night was normally a hive of activity. We weren’t a noisy family, in spite of there being seven kids, but there was a lot going on: cooking experiments, model planes, playing cards or board games, lots of pets to play with and a hundred and one other things. Continue reading

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