The toy maker who inspired me

Malavika Krishna.K, IIK Young Reporter
Thursday, June 1, 2017
Malavika Krishna
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Who among us doesn’t like to play with toys? I do, my brother does, and so is my cousin 4 year old Devu. And obviously, who doesn’t want a break from studies? I want, my brother wants, and so does Devu. Now the question is, ‘what if we get a chance to learn while playing’? That’s exactly what happened at the teachers workshop arranged by Science International Forum Kuwait, on April 1st 2017. Now, you all will be wondering what I was doing at a teachers’ workshop. Inspired by the presentation given at the SIF - Science Gala function, by Sri. Manish Jain, India’s one of the best science communicators, the toy maker with a difference, I chose to volunteer at the full day workshop which was organized for the next day.

‘Training can only be done to mules and horses. I cannot train anyone, I can only inspire.’

That was the first sentence he said to address the group of teachers attending his workshop. All through these years even though my father who is a graduate in Physics, kept on saying that Physics is interesting, it was a bit difficult for me to stomach and comprehend this subject, compared to others. But now I love learning this ‘once an alien’ subject, thanks to Manishji’s training or rather the inspiring session with lot of real life examples. His workshop kit which consisted of trivial things like couple of straws, a piece of rubber sole, ice-cream sticks, some magnets, pencil etc. proved to be a sophisticated tool for explaining the so called difficult theories in science.

Have you ever wondered what we could do with plastic straws other than using them to drink something or to make some craft items? Have you ever wondered if our fingers could count more than thirty? Well, here I am opening a complete new chapter of learning, for you, based on my experience at that unforgettable day. Narrating how simple it was to learn science with Manishji gives me the pleasure of sharing with my friends what I received.

Manishji started off with a few simple experiments with straw. First he took a plastic straw and cut them into two such that one was significantly longer than the other. He made two slits on one end of each of the straw. He first blew through the longer straw and that created a low bass sound, and then he blew through the shorter straw and this one made a shrill sound. This explained the theory that frequency is inversely proportional to the length of the air column.

Then he took another plastic straw and made V shaped slits on one end. He started blowing through this one-holed flute which made a musical sound. Suddenly while blowing he started cutting the straw continuously making the length of the straw shorter and shorter until it reached near his mouth as if he was about cut his own lips. While severing the straw we could hear all notes from SA, and RI to the next octave’s SA.

In another experiment, he kept two straws in such a way that one blocked half the path of another. When kept in water and blown through one side sound was produced and if blown through the other side of the straw, water came out creating a water spray. It did not work for me at first. But, then I understood that we had to blow heavily and it worked. I was so happy. Guess what, with that he was teaching us the Bernoulli’s Principle. The block in the path of air while blowing created a low pressure in the second straw and water rises. The low pressure formed due to high speed air is explained by Bernoulli’s principle.

We all have seen water sprinklers. He used sprinklers as a best example to explain centrifugal force. I always felt or assumed that the water droplets fall on ground from the sprinkler spreading in a circle when the reality is like this. When nozzle of a sprinkler rotates, water for sure goes into air in a circle. But it falls directly to the ground. To explain this further, he asked us to visualize something and warned not to try it at home. Imagine we are on top of a building on the terrace, and we are running in circles. While running in circle if we fall down, our body won’t fall spreading in a circle, but straight down due to gravity and of course our soul will go up.

He also taught the permutation and combination using flute made of the plastic straw in the kit. Permutation and combination was something that even my mom who love math had found hard to study while she was at school. Counting with fingers is limited to us up to a maximum of 30. But I was unable to make out till which number he counted with the combination of different positions a finger can be held. Wondering how? Check your finger now and find out the three different positions each of them can take (straight up, half bend, full bend). That means each finger can represent 3 numbers while counting. Now think of the different possible combination that can be made with 3 different positions of 2 of your fingers. Done? Yes, you are right. You can have 9 combinations with 2 fingers in 3 different positions, which can represent 9 numbers. This was just a beginning and he bombarded us with combinations and went on counting and we were all spellbound.

The next segment was even more interesting and fun. He guided us to make different types of ‘Caps’ by folding newspaper sheet. Each fold and each type of cap explained different aspects of geometry in mathematics. The last cap we made was a ‘Graduation Cap’ and when he finished explaining, he asked us to throw it high up in the air as if we are at our own graduation ceremony.

After lunch, we had lots of other experiments where we made simple electric motors, magically levitating pen stand etc. We also did a magnetic levitation experiment where a pen was horizontally hung in the air. The principle behind the working of Maglev trains was so easily understood. Some of the toys which I made turned out to be a failure. But with the help of my teachers and Manishji himself, I could successfully recreate them. Since it was a session for the teachers, some of the principles explained were beyond my grade. Even then I was able to enjoy it and could make out from the expression of the teachers that those experiments easily brought out the concerned theory behind it.
It is a real fortune that at least a few people are there in this world like Manishji who has dedicated himself for the cause of popularizing science. A new thought was introduced effectively to me by Manishji that day, “fun with toys made out of trash can make your student life much easier”. I was truly inspired and so were the teachers who attended. After the day long fun filled activities, where Manishji gifted us with so much of enthusiasm and energy, we all pretty much wished that the science classes at our schools to be interesting and fun like this. I wish that each of you who are reading me now could attend his inspiring session. It was a realization on how different experience learning could be, topping up with fun, especially subjects like Math and Science. The subjects, which we as students approach with fear, are fun with him. He strives to bring back the gleam in eyes of kids at school. He is the one who wants to make the time kids spend at school worth it.

Science has gained so much of importance in our life. India is so rich in its scientific heritage, beyond imagination and it is sad that my generation is least informed about it. We should understand the importance of science and technology to take our nation forward. In such a situation, if a student is drawn away from this subject just because of the difficulty he / she faces in understanding the basics, what will be the consequence? Students will start hating the subject and remain unaware of the hidden talent in them to think different. Keeping our foundation strong, only with good knowledge of the basic principles in science and mathematics, we will be able to have innovative thoughts giving chances for new ideas and inventions. In other words, what I feel is that, if not tackled with care, my generation will have lesser number of scientists in the community leaving behind just one option of blindly following the inventions made by others. My generation will have to live with absolutely no contribution in this field to take my nation to a higher level. At least for that cause, initiatives should be there to utilize the talents of such facilitators for the benefit of all. Let us hope for a day where we can start enjoying school and studies by making small toys and having fun.

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