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A Toolkit for Tinkering with Balance

A Toolkit for Tinkering with Balance
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Building on our Tinkering At Home balance activities and online workshops, our team has been engaging in creating a playful balance tinkering experience for the Tinkering Studio. Visitors get to try their hand at creating their own precarious, whimsical, and surprising balancing sculptures while investigating counter balance and equilibrium in an intuitive way – and bracing for the often dramatic collapses of precariously balanced systems!

Our process is always focused on getting to something physical to play with as quickly as possible and frequent testing with our own team and visitors, even as we ourselves are still exploring the possibilities and discovering the concepts.

An Open Kit for Tinkering with Balance

After a rich couple of months working as a team and collaborating with Ryan Jenkins and two exhibit developers here at the Exploratorium, we arrived at set of simple materials that support the type of interaction and process we value in playful learning: Iteration, personal expression, many entry points into the topic, social interaction, and above all taking ownership and bringing your own ideas to this exploration space of "Balance and stability."

This is a set of materials that are easy to use and robust enough for our work in the tinkering studio where visitors use the materials over and over. It's also a great set of materials to quickly try out and prototype kinetic art or tinkering ideas that relate to balancing. It is a modular set designed to be expanded and used with other materials.

As always, I am hoping that sharing this set of materials with our network of educators, tinkerers and makers will inspire some of you to create your own version and come up with ideas of how to use, expand and improve it: 

  • Seesaw: 1/4" square dowel, 36" long for the seesaw. Attach the seesaw to the fulcrum.
  • Fulcrum as the balancing point: a triangular prism (1.5" tall) or wooden ball (1.5" D) with a 5/16 drill hole for long or short dowels. For a simpler construction, you can also glue a dowel to a triangular block or use a clothespin (see simple fulcrum example).
  • Weights to add drama: golf balls (50 gram) or something similarly heavy that can be attached with an embedded hook. You can also attach spoons or heavy washers
  • Extender to construct your sculpture: 8.5” long  3/16” square dowel, hexagonal pencil, or skewer stick with a metal clip or wooden clothespin glued to it.  
  • Narrative elements: How can you add a story or aesthetic appeal to your sculpture? We laser-cut out balancing acrobats (8" tall) out of ⅛” ply and cardstock, but maybe you’ll create other characters or even abstract shapes like an Alexander Calder sculpture. 
  • Balancing base:  1” round dowel, 1’ tall or higher, or anything that can serve as a perch, for example a broom stick. 

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Tip: Construct a Simple Fulcrum

For a simple way to construct a fulcrum for your balance kit, you can use a clothespin to clip the long seesaw dowel piece. 

Tune in for a follow-up blog post about how we got here! I will be sharing about discoveries during this collaborative exploration of balance with WICO and Exploratorium exhibit developers, how we discovered key design elements by trying everything from PVC tubes to gardening supplies as materials, and share about the open R&D process we went through over 5 months of exploring balance together.  

In the meantime, follow us on Twitter @tinkeringstudio #ExploringBalance to see frequent updates about our ongoing R&D and visitor testing with this material set. 


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The LEGO Playful Learning Museum Network initiative is made possible through generous support from the LEGO Group.