October 03, 2019

NSK Workshops for Children: Learning about Rotation and a "Mysterious Force" while Having Fun Making Things

NSK Workshops for Children: Learning about Rotation and a "Mysterious Force" while Having Fun Making Things

NSK regularly holds workshops for children, giving them the chance to learn about rotation and friction. At the most recent workshop, about 20 kids make a kit using bearings that allows them to feel a "mysterious force."

Making the Kit and Learning about a "Mysterious Force"

The workshop started with a question from an NSK staff member who served as the teacher: "Why do your hands get warm when you rub them together?" Starting from this friction phenomena that everyone can easily experience, the workshop went on to help the children learn about, experience, and think about friction.

The first thing put out on the kids' desks was the Tribo Bearing Kit 1, a unique item developed by NSK for learning about rotation and friction. At the center of the kit is a shaft with weights attached. The kit is designed to show the relationship between rotation and friction when the shaft is spun.

Just pull the string, and the shaft starts to spin quickly. The gyro effect produced by the spinning creates a mysterious force that acts to hold the body of the kit in place. In amazement, the children placed the kit on their palms or held it and tried turning it round and round, fascinated by the gyroscopic force, which many of them had never experienced before.

Next, the children assembled Kit 1s themselves. With help from staff members, they finished their kits, which are designed so that children can make them by assembling die-cut materials. For some reason, though, the shaft didn't spin as powerfully as it had a little while ago when demonstrated by the NSK employee.

Actually, the Kit 1s distributed to the children were a little bit rigged.

The Kit 1 that the staff member had made beforehand had an NSK bearing set into it as a part supporting the rotating shaft. But the kits handed out to the children used a part made from polystyrene board instead of a bearing. The reason the shaft would not spin as fast was the strong friction between the shaft and the part supporting it.

When asked what was different between the first Kit 1 and the Kit 1s they assembled, the children shouted out, "The weights!" "The shaft!" Although they were looking in the right place, they didn't quite get to the correct answer.

How Did People Move Heavy Objects in the Old Days?

Before revealing the trick of the bearing, the staff member asked one more question: "How did people in the old days move heavy objects?" To explain that, out came the Tribo Bearing Kit 2, also made by NSK.

Kit 2 is a simple structure: a box big enough for one child to ride in, under which are laid rails in which small balls are lined up. It is designed to show how balls allow heavy objects to be moved smoothly.

Seeing the box holding a person moving smoothly atop the rails, the children let out a collective, "Wow!" Now that they understood the relationship between rotation and friction, the trick behind Kit 1 was finally exposed.

What Kind of Better Future Could Bearings Create?

The moment the NSK team handed out bearings, the children took them out of the bags and started touching them. As they touched and spun the bearings, you could hear "these bearings are like a fidget spinner."

They set the bearings in the Kit 1s that they had made and once again experienced the mysterious force. Asked for their impressions, the children explained their experience of the mysterious force in their own words: "It feel like it's going to the outside." "It's like it's being pulled down."

The children not only made and experienced the kits; they also had to put what they felt into words. As they put their thoughts and feelings into words, they realized that each person's experience is different, even though all were observing the same phenomenon.

Now, the staff members asked the children one more thing: "Think about the better future that bearings could create!" What kind of future did the children imagine in response to this challenging question?

Little hands went up immediately. There were a range of proposals: "Put bearings on the bottom of plates so that when you do plate-spinning they will spin even better." "Put bearings into the classroom floor so that we can run away quickly when the teacher comes."

The children were filled with all kinds of dreams. One child even said, "Bearings could be used in power plants to make lots of electricity with less fuel."

When the NSK instructor mentioned that bearings are already used in power stations, the student had a response, "But if you improve the performance of the bearings, it still might be possible to make more electricity with less power."

The workshop came to a close with the children and teachers dreaming together about the future. After the workshop was over, the children had a chance to see and touch real bearings made by NSK. They picked up bearings of various sizes and tried spinning them. Their curiosity about bearings is only just beginning.

NSK provides opportunities across Japan for children to have meaningful experiences at workshops for learning about rotation, friction, and the power of bearings by assembling kits themselves, putting their experience into words, and sharing that with everyone.