Published on March 6th, 2012 | by Glenn Meyers2
Strokes of Genius: Building Low-cost Scientific Toys from Trash
Not only should waste materials be reclaimed and put to other good uses, they can be made into fun and inexpensive scientific toys, contends Arvind Grupta, the man behind Toys from Trash.
In the developing world, where science-based learning toys are either too expensive or hard to find, Gupta shows kids how to make engaging scientific toys from trash. Gupta studied engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, where he volunteered to teach the children of the mess staff who had no formal education.
Upon graduation as an engineer he went on to work at Tata Motors to help build trucks. But after two years at Tata, he took a one-year leave from his job, participating in the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Program. “In 1970 I was a young engineer, and I thought this was so much better than making trucks,” he said in a TED video presentation very much worth seeing.
Since that decision, Gupta has been designing toys that feature scientific principles, items that children can build themselves using cheap or free parts. He’s written numerous instructional books on the subject, starting with Matchstick Models and other Science Experiments, which has been reprinted in 12 languages.
Today, he helps run the Children’s Science Centre at India’s Pune University. He and his team have designed some 800 trash-based educational toys. Not only are materials inexpensive, copyright-free instructions and explanations for all toys are available at the Toys-from-Trash website, including all of their books and YouTube videos.
“Every time I go to a school. I see a gleam in the eyes of children, I see hope. I see happiness in their faces. Children want to make things, to do things,” Grupta says.
Out of all of the toys, there are a few that have proven particularly popular. One of those is Matchstick Mecanno, in which little bits of rubber bicycle valve tube and match sticks are used to make 2D and 3D shapes (shown on the TED video). Other favorites include theSimple Electric Motor and the Levitating Pencil, in which ring magnets are used to keep a spinning pencil floating in the air.
“Every child is born a scientist,” Grupta said in an post by gizmag writer, Ben Coxworth. “We kill this innate curiosity by rote learning and boring state texts. If we just remove some of the authoritarian structures in schools, children will naturally gravitate to science – simply because science is fun and exciting.”
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