This fall, I’m running the Autumnal Maker School (AMS). What’s required to be in the school, and to graduate? Make ten things between September 21 and December 21. Preferably useful things, but artistic things work too. I have made a 1) Volvelle, a 2) computer program that calculates the area of a hexagon, a 3) graphic design sample that shows how to make an Egyptian god, a 4) braiding disk, and 5) picture IDs for my school; there was also an 6) art exhibit in there, and guiding a group of students into 7) designing a manufacturing process.  The other day was 8) The Pulley Spinner.  And here’s 9) The mechanism (working!) for a Ratchet (along with some shelves for a pegboard) and the ratchet parts

I wasn’t planning on finishing today. Really I wasn’t. But the students in Morning Care on Fridays have been playing with tops — kinda ugly tops that do battle with one another, and are activated by a plastic pull-mechanism.  And I’m teaching a class on Thursdays that begins tomorrow, called “Vehicles.” Several of the students who play with tops also are in that class.  So I had to build one — as a model, you understand, of course, really —  so that they have one to compare with and work from its design.  That was really the point.


10. String-powered Top

On the other hand, it’s kind of cute.  Isn’t it?  All wood, much better than those plastic things.  Simple construction — three or four cuts, two drilled holes, and voila!  Historically attested spinning-top toy.

A group of Jewish parents asked me if I could make the spinner-top bodies square, so they could use it at Hanukkah.  I said that I thought so (I think I can, I think I can…).

I like the design. I’m thinking that I’ll make a few to give away as Christmas/Solstice/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah presents on my own recognizance.  I think some children would be annoyed to receive such a present, while others would be thrilled.  Maybe I need to figure out a way of coating or varnishing them, though.  A problem for another day, I think.  In the meantime, this is certainly enough for a group of students to build them tomorrow.

IMG_9060More pleasing to me, though, was the teacher who saw it, and immediately said that he knew that his grade could make such toys, and wanted his grade to make them, or have some involvement in making them.

This means taking this particular project, and considering the ways in which I could adapt it so that many kids could build them at once.  If the seventh grade created blanks of 5.5″ length with the handle already rough-cut, and cut the spinner-disk shape out….  then the fourth graders could drill the two holes, and assemble the top, and decide on a length of cord and decorate it.  But this strikes me as taking too much agency from the fourth grade.

It would be better if the seventh grade cut the blanks, left the handle uncut, and drilled the big hole; and cut circles.  Circles are incredibly difficult to cut without power tools; and getting them the right thickness is challenging: this one was cut from a 3/4″ board, and then sawn in half. That way I got a braiding disk and a spinning top out of it.

But maybe that’s the solution. If the students are getting both the spinning top and the braiding disk, then the fourth graders (and the seventh) are learning how to make this toy and they’re learning a braiding technique.  More friendship bracelets, more decorative elements on clothing, more awareness that you can make your own gear… I like it.  I think I’ll do that.

And, of course, students could paint or decorate them in some fashion, either on the disk (decorating the top) or on the handle.  And we can keep plans and templates for this on file for the future — although do we need a plan for something so simple? I don’t know.  I know that increasingly, we need to keep a collection of exemplars for future wrangling.