All a-board

17th November 2000 at 00:00
You have all seen the little figures furiously pedalling through the streets, intent on missions impossible: getting to the shops without colliding with anyone's legs, zipping past big sister, cornering sharply without falling off. And you've read the scare stories in the press, seen gory items on the television news of fingers trapped or sliced, rash venturings out from behind parked cars.

Before scooters become enmeshed in the kind of safety panic that seems to envelop all new products, teachers can get a fair bit of mileage from them. There is good science in these fashionable "boards": how does a rider stay on a skateboard as it lifts and turns, for instance (objects fall at the same rate, says Newton). As well as science - the lightness of the material (hollow steel tubes weigh so much less than solid ones) the sleek design of the footrest (narrow platforms are more aerodynamic) - scooters also offer a chance for much more fun in technology than the old motorcar made out of cardboard.

Take the collapsing hand-stem, almost a mast in construction. This provides super-sensitive steering control, so even a little twist is effectiv. When added to the construction and positioning of the two small wheels, this allows for much investigation of the merits of steering, axles and ball-bearings. If you take the wheels to pieces they are finely calibrated. Safety devices on the folding and unfolding mechanisms vary and it would be a great evaluation exercise to get children to bring in a range of models and examine these features.

There are other, less tangible aspects to the scooter craze, too. Why are they all so silver and shiny, when scooters in days gone by were brightly coloured? This is a product aimed at grown-up kids, of course, meant to symbolise forward-thinking, not the cosy primary-coloured world of childhood toys of the 1960s. And what about that moral panic? Get the class to debate issues surrounding modern life- one side pretending to be old, and denouncing change ("They keep changing the names of sweets, what's the use of all this change, where will it end?"), the other standing up for consumer fun ("Not only are people crying out for scooters, but they create jobs!"). That might open a window of choice between pester-power and finger-wagging.

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