Worth Watching

This is a simply astounding display of cutting edge computer graphics at SIGGRAPH 2017.

How to paint like...

How to paint like...

Want a summer holiday project?

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA to it's friends, has a truly exceptional series of videos presented by Corey D'Augustine.

Each video is a breakdown of the methods used by various abstract artists. The one below is about Willem de Kooning.

I love how understanding the techniques involved really brings the art to life. Abstract Expressionism isn't always the easiest movement to get but watch a few of these and the ideas begin to come through.

Also note that these videos are often packed full of scientific concepts, solutions, solvents, emulsions, etc. The engineering/craft side of fine art is under appreciated in science education.

History of the Biro

Yes the Biro was invented by Lazlo Biro. Want to know why the company is called Bic?  Watch the video below.

The biro you hold in your hand today matches one made in 1950 down to the micrometer. 

Working with your hands

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Working with your hands

"The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy does, because he has no real effect in the world."   Matthew Crawford

I'm reading Matthew Crawford's book The Case for Working with your Hands: or Why Office Work is Bad for us and Fixing Things Feels Good.

Crawford has followed an interesting career path; after getting his Ph.D from Chicago he went to work for a think tank, dissatisfied he quit in under a year to open a motorcycle repair shop. The book is his account of the value of working with your hands. The above paragraph stood out.

The sense of agency and control that comes with hand-on activities is the reason we do what we do.

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Festival

Just a quick note to say we will be at the Imperial Festival this Saturday and Sunday.

We're really excited, it should be a fun weekend. Inspired Minds will be there doing hands-on activities with some of our favourite robotics kit. So do come and say hi. There's a map below showing where we'll be.

Also... we're running a robot competition!  Test your movie robot knowledge for a chance to win a place at one of our workshops for your favourite 7-12 year old!

Hope to see you there!

 

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Escape Rooms

On Friday we took a trip to Dalston to try out the escape room by clockwork dog.

Neither Frank, Amy nor I had ever done an escape room before but man! It was fun!

I won't give anything away but I have to say the attention to detail was stunning. Fun imaginative puzzles and all very neatly coordinated. It was 9 o' clock on a Friday evening, my brain wasn't exactly feeling on top form but the game just sucks you in.

 

Left to right: Alex and Eyal from Clockwork Dog.  James and Amy, Inspired Minds.

Left to right: Alex and Eyal from Clockwork Dog.  James and Amy, Inspired Minds.

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farming on mars

One of the games we play at the robotics workshop is the farming-on-mars game. The robots drive about, always keeping within a field thanks to their line sensors. The children have to design a scooping device to attach to their robot so that it can sweep up as many potatoes (sweets) as possible in 1 minute, anything it sweeps out of the field (black tape in the picture below) is theirs.

Sweets are pretty light so the best strategy is something like this

A variation of this game is to make the potatoes heavier. If the scoop is too big the robot will catch too many in one go and get stuck.

This isn't a super complex game but it introduces loads of stuff to think about, the idea of trade-offs in engineering, suitable materials. Also the design of the scoops has many variables aside from width: Should they touch the floor to catch the small objects? what about friction? How do you attach the scoop to the buggy? Be careful not to obscure the line sensors!

It gets harder though! When the buggy gets to the edge of the field it will stop and turn around; the rules say you get to keep anything it pushes out. How should you program the robot so that it doesn't drag its catch back into the field?

That's why we love these games at Inspired Minds, they're all about conceptually simple games with many solutions. They encourage teamwork, creativity, improvisation and of course, they're fun.

 

 

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The April Workshop

The dust finally settles!

On Saturday we held a robotics workshop at Imperial College. It's such a blast watching people figure out puzzles and seeing how everyone thinks so differently. One example stands out to me: We asked the kids to design a scooping mechanism to fit to the front of their robots using only simple construction materials (card, blu-tack, lollypop sticks etc) the level of ingenuity is wonderful. I'm genuinely sure they do these challenges far better than I could. 

This was the first of our robotics series, more are scheduled Saturdays in May, June and July. They  follow our belief that what children learn in school must be motivated and qualified by their experiences outside it. Hands-on learning like this doesn't touch a syllabus but plants plenty of happy memories and rich experiences which feed in to a child's learning.

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Our first app

We're so proud!

Smartphones have a lot to answer for, they hog kids' attention, ruin motor skills and kill conversation. It's time they gave something back.

Our first app addresses a few areas kids often struggle with. The fractions, decimals, percentages trilogy of doom and the challenge of correctly reading out numbers, i.e 2,360,104 = "two million three hundred and sixty thousand one hundred and four".

These things are a constant source of frustration for many children and we felt an animated, snappy interface might communicate more than scribbled pictures and words can.

Here's a link to the app.

Let us know what you think!

 

 

Light Painting and Robots

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Light Painting and Robots

Our robotics workshop is only 2 months away and we're really excited.

One of my favorite things about playing with robots is how quickly you get drawn into their own quirks and oddities.

One of the programs we're playing with right now is a way to keep a buggy inside an area marked with tape. A neat way to compare different programs is to use light painting to trace the path the robot takes.

They look pretty too. Enjoy!

We will be covering this and more in April. Hopefully see you (or your kids really) there.

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Robots!

Robots!

We're really excited to announce a robotics workshop for children aged 9-12. It will be on 8th April at Imperial College. More details here.

The workshop is going to have a strong emphasis on exploration and fun. We're going to get the kids to take toys apart and wire them back up to do their bidding. We've been really impressed by the Crumble micro-controller. It can control 2 motors and handle a number of different inputs so robots can react to their environment. Crumble is programmed using a visual language so its a great introduction to programming, too.

Children's education is often severely underserved for hands-on tactile learning which is a shame. Not only is making stuff really fun but it puts so much of what we study in school in context.

Many of the concepts in science sound laughably abstract if you don't have a good amount of making/doing experience. Friction for example: why would anyone care that the coefficient of friction differs between materials? Well if you're trying to stop your robot buggy from skidding around the floor you'll realise you want back wheels with plenty of friction and perhaps a caster at the front that slides nicely.

Think back to science lessons when you were at school I'll guarantee you're not remembering writing notes, you're remembering a practical you did. For me it's chromatography to separate the pigments in grass when I was 12. Melting glass rods to make fibre optics for GCSE physics. Dissecting rats for A-Level biology.

Something I've noticed as a tutor is the very poor motor skills of many children. As an experiment ask a 12 year old to draw a circle with a pair of compasses. I've yet to find one that doesn't struggle to do this. They tend to resort to holding both legs and/or press the pin really hard into the paper with often messy results. My point is that children aren't getting the tactile learning they need.

Come to the workshop. Do something with your hands!