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Trying balance activities at East Bay Mini Maker Faire!

Trying balance activities at East Bay Mini Maker Faire!

Last weekend, we participated in the 7th East Bay Mini Maker Faire at the beautiful campus of Park Day School in Oakland. It is our second time and we love this event because it is a small fair (compared to the big Maker Faire in San Mateo) with only 170+ makers but still shows a variety of creative projects including carpentry, DIY science and technology, farming, and digital fabrication. Since we had just started prototyping LEGO balance activity, we thought it would be great to bring out the prototype activity and to experiment with the ideas of balance with local community outside the museum. We quickly packed up the materials from the floor along with a couple of exhibits and participated in the faire.

> LEGO Balance activity
We were still at an early prototyping stage, so our R&D continued at the Mini Maker Faire. We knew that we would need some kind of starting points which would work as a basic structure that people could build onto, just like the three base models that we had for LEGO Art Machines, we wanted to provide the same kind of base structure for creating balance sculptures to help people get started with.

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We had come up with these two types of starting points, which are made of 1) a ball piece + beams, and 2) a ball + three way axles. We liked having a ball as an axis since it visually communicates people to build a sculpture that will be balanced on the ball.

We started the activity by having visitors place the balancing examples on their finger so that they could feel the sculpture is balancing on a single point. This introduction seemed to work very well, visitors got the idea of the activity right away and started building their own sculptures.

However, in looking back, we noticed that those starting points might have encouraged people to make symmetrical balancing sculptures. At a debrief meeting after the faire, we talked about that having non-symmetrical and more inspiring examples would be critical for this activity in order to show possibilities what you could build, since it was somewhat so easy to make something symmetry with LEGO pieces and say “Yes, it’s balanced!”

In terms of the activity design principle “Low floor, high ceiling, wide walls” we felt that this activity definitely provided the low floor, but in order to support the high ceiling and wide walls, we felt we needed to deliberatively show more surprising balancing examples to spark people's curiosities.

For the environment, we built a tree just one day before the event so that people could place their balancing sculptures to leave them there to inspire others. We added a slow moving motor on each branch so their balancing sculpture could slowly rotate while balancing on a stick. It was great to have the tree because it provided a stage for people to display their works. People looked excited that that they could add their sculptures to the tree and the tree became a collective display stand. Using slow moving motors also seemed to have impacted their feeling of accomplishment.

> Balancing rocks
We meant this activity as a small quiet activity, but interestingly it turned out to be very popular, attracting all ages, the table was always surrounded by several people trying to stack rocks as many as possible.

Rocks and sand, very simple materials, intuitive instruction (no need to explain what to do), and a social platform. It is worth while thinking the elements of this activity and why it was so popular.

By the end of the day, people figured out that sprinkling sand prevents rocks from slipping and helps them stacking more... Our record of the day was 13 rocks stacked!

> Exhibits
In the surrounding area, we placed a couple of exhibits from the Exploratorium with the theme of balance - Unstable table, Balancing Stick, and Take it from the Top.

By having these exhibits around, we were hoping that visitors will get to experiment and iterate on the same scientific principle - balance- over and over with different scales, materials, and perspectives. Logistically it was more work for us, but having various exhibits and activities with the same topic at different levels helped us to create a similar learning environment that we have in the Tinkering Studio.

Bringing an activity to the Faire at such an early prototyping stage was a little bit of a challenge for us, but over all it was a great experience. We feel that having opportunities to test out when we develop new activities is an essential step in our R&D process. We are continuing LEGO balance prototyping on the floor this week. After the faire, we started trying creating more inspiring examples, revisiting starting points which would support high ceiling and wide walls, and in general we are exploring balance activities in many ways, which we will share in upcoming posts soon.
Stay tuned!