Models in motion

25th June 2004 at 01:00
Bill Richmond looks at resources that will enhance lessons on the principles of movement

Cam Bird

Flying Pig, pound;13.95

Tel: 01900 814333


A Handbook of Paper Automata Mechanisms

Tarquin Books, pound;6.95

Tel: 01379 384 218


Mechanical Toys CD Rom

Focus Educational Software, pound;29.95 for single-use licence; pound;59.95 for a one-year site licence

Tel: 01872 241 672


In science and Damp;T, the national curriculum requires the coverage of the principles of movement and simple machines. One well-known internet resource for demonstrating the principles of various mechanisms is the Flying Pig site (, which uses animated images of many of their commercially available cardboard engineering kits to help demonstrate the variety of movement in automata that's obtainable.

The new Cam Bird classroom pack, containing 15 card models - pre-printed, pre-die-stamped and uncoloured, should provide materials for a useful lesson or two in which students could easily create their own personalised mechanical models. These could be made as an end in themselves or as prototype models of a more permanent item to be made later in resistant materials.

The shapes are easily "popped out" from the card and the shaded areas printed on to the surface easily identify the location of glue tabs (the layout of the nets on the A4 cards, the glue-tab marking, the guidance notes and the die-cutting process are all secondary topics that could be included in any lesson plan that might use the kit).

White school glue applied with a toothpick is suggested in the guidance for construction, although my experience suggests that Glue Stick would be a better option for students.

The joints and structure were firm and astonishingly resilient of rough handling. If careful colouring of the item before construction were to be included in the time allocation, the whole task might take two one-hour lessons for key stage 3 students. The end product of the familiar "pecking bird" theme could easily allow discussionextension of how to modify the model to change the range of movement shown by the bird.

A resource with a similar approach is A Handbook of Paper Automata Mechanisms. The book starts with a gallery of automata pictures, some from the author's own site (www.walterruffler.deindex1.html) and discusses the mechanical principles of each featured design.

It then goes on to introduce how folding significantly strengthens thin card and paper, from which his models are made, and then details the orders of levers and the speed controls available through gearing.

There are suggestions for ways in which models can be sand-driven; using the force of a stream of sand to animate simple models, as well as some useful basic guidance regarding paper-modelling techniques.

The second half of the 48-page booklet is printed on slightly thicker card and comprises detailed pre-coloured cut-outs (all marked with letter coding to join glue-tab positions) and the instructions for assembly.

Once completed the models demonstrate a cranked-action, a cam and push-rod, friction transfer, meshing gearwheels and the trip and pawl. The effects of these mechanisms (combinations of reciprocating, oscillating and turning motions) are seen operating on the simple card flag-pole, with flag used as a standard output. The combined resource of the booklet and (after a few hours of dedicated construction) the models may be useful to demonstrate the basic principles of movement in automata.

The "Focus on" range of software has become well known in recent years and the latest addition to the range, Focus on Mechanical Toys, is a worthwhile addition to the ICT resources for Damp;T or science.

There are many occasions when the variety of basic movement needs to be discussed and attractively demonstrated, and this software will accomplish that aim very well.

The screen has a toolbar with a variety of controls. There are several sections to the program, one of which features 21 designs for simple automata toys. One control-button option on the toolbar allows different pulleys or numbers of teeth on gearings to be inserted into the drive section of the automata mechanisms, while another reveals the operating device without any casing. Exposing the workings gives students a fuller understanding of the cause and effect of making design changes. The wide variety of featured mechanical toys incorporate combinations of cams and levers and linkages, and are illustrated with colourful, simply rendered, animated diagrams.

Other sections that will be of great use in demonstrating the principles of mechanisms include "what is a mechanism?", "types of motion", "cams and followers", "levers", "linkages", "pulley systems", "simple gear trains", and a technical vocabulary. Additionally, a "design-a-toy" section allows shapes from a variety of libraries (including people, animals, flowers and transport) to be placed on a design grid. This feature would be useful for KS2-3 students and, once designed, the completed files can be exported as a Windows metafile (.emf) to other computer numerical control (CNC) and computer-aided design (CAD) suites.

The three resources considered here could profitably enlarge the teaching potential of any department, whatever resources it currently uses.

* Bill Richmond runs the website at for design teachers and is head of department and AST at St John's School in Epping, Essex

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