Balanced, Netted Rock, Unintended Consequences, and Relearning

Balanced rock.

Originally uploaded by anselm23

I’m kind of appalled with myself tonight.

A few days ago, I hung up this netted rock in the design lab. It’s a kind of net such as Isaac Newton used to make, or at least the sort of netted rock that Neal Stephenson says that Newton used to make, before that near-fatal alchemical explosion in his rooms at Cambridge. I made this one after a comment on Andrew Carle’s blog led to him reminding me of these, and then trying to make one for myself. My first one didn’t turn out too well, but this second one isn’t bad.

I hung it in the Design Lab, swinging from underneath one of the rolling whiteboards. And then promptly forgot about it, this miniature, three-dimensional hymn to Gravitas, that forgotten muse of the curve of binding energy.

And today, during a study hall in the design lab, there was a ringing sound from a metal bar struck forcefully with a hammer.

A pair of kids had discovered the rock. And had discovered that it turned the whiteboard frame into a musical instrument. The first note was immediately succeeded by a second note, as they proceeded to swing the stone against the metal frame. And again.

“Stop that, please,” I said. “It’s not a toy.”


“Ok,” said one of the kids, “but what is it?”

And I didn’t have an answer to that. At all. I mean, what would you answer? It’s a netted stone, like Isaac Newton used to make, to test gravity.

“It’s just art,” I said. “And a sculpture, of sorts. Don’t play with it.”

I am an idiot.

The whole purpose of the stuff in the design lab is that it’s supposed to be played with, right? I mean, this is a learning lab. So, why did I make something not to be played with, and put it up in the Design Lab? Why did I make it, if it’s not to be played with? What lessons are going to be learned from it, if it’s not played with? Are there any lessons to be learned from it?

I have no idea. I mean, I learned one set of lessons when I made the thing, but the kids playing with it are learning some other lessons. By hanging it in the design lab, I was trying to give kids permission to make and see weird stuff, and think about the world differently because it had such things in it.

But permission and rule-breaking run deep in education; I have a feeling I’ll be paying for this remark for a long, long time. I still don’t know whether the stone should come down or stay up.

But I definitely need to acknowledge that a loud pinging sound from a rock banging on metal during a study hall in the Design Lab is normal. And I shouldn’t say, “no, that’s not for playing with,” about anything in that room. Unless it really is not for playing with.

And that’s a line to be drawn with things like the 3D printer. Not a rock on a string.

Via Flickr:
This is sort of like the rocks that Isaac Newton made. I hung this one in the design lab as a reminder of something that Andrew Carle said to me.


  1. just tell them, “ok, it is a toy. i was suffering from constipated thinking.” tomorrow. and then “don’t break anything.” i recall not being allowed to play with sticks and rocks at recess though….. but youd students are high school, so i guess you can’t plead safety. !#)

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