Over the past few months, we've been prototyping a tinkering activity using LEGO pieces to construct balancing sculptures. We're currently putting the idea on hiatus for a while as we prepare for an upcoming LEGO event, but we thought that in lieu of posting a detailed instructable about how to do the activity, I'd write a couple blog posts to share our groups reflections so far and the questions and ideas we're excited to pursue when we return to this topic.
The first most important thing about the activity is the relationship between the LEGO parts and other real world materials. As in the other activities that we've tried with LEGO, we think that using everyday materials helps people feel more connected to the projects and lowers the barrier to entry. With making balancing objects, there's another reason, as LEGO pieces are all fairly light, adding on heavier pieces made of wood and metal provide opportunities to explore more extreme examples. We experimented with several ways to make these objects LEGO compatible and ended up settling for probably the most straightforward means of connection. We took the objects and used a #12 drill bit to make a hole in them to make them compatible with the technic pins.
We also thought a lot about what types and numbers of extra items to use with the set. As we identified parts to use in the prototyping, we were more drawn to natural materials like wood, metal and paper that had a variety of weights. We wanted to pick out geometric shapes and other aesthetically pleasing objects that contrast and mix well with the color and plastic of the LEGO parts. It felt like a good thing to have multiples of each one so that participants could test out the weights in a more systematic way. This pointed to something that we liked about this activity (as well as the other LEGO tinkering workshops), the ability to use the LEGO system to iterate on ideas, make small changes, and revert to previous versions of creations. Its a big shift from other materials that we've experimented in the past to make balancing objects like wire, corks, glue and feathers where people could easily make evocative pieces, but it was far more difficult to chance them.
Unlike the sound machines and art machines however, with balance we found out right away that because of the precise and tactile nature of the phenomena, sometimes moving one hole space felt too much. We began to experiment with alternate materials sets which emphasized sliding the weight on the axles to create minute changes. In the next post, I'll share about some of our starting points and examples in this line of prototyping that seemed to be the most generative.