Science Playwiths

Something new: STEAM activities for the Covid-19 lockdown!

Yes, the Playwiths have been converted into a book.

The Playwiths began in about 1995, and a couple of years back, I was urged to make a book of them.

I did, and my friends liked what they saw, but the publishers didn't. Frightening economic times, they said.

Well, I went ahead and did it in three forms:

  • a lo-res freeby PDF with very relaxed copyright;
  • a high-res low-price commercial PDF for the Kindle;
  • a paper and ink book from Amazon (tax laws won't let it into Australia);
  • did I say three? I lied. The paper version is half-tone, but soon there'll be a full colour version.
But don't worry, this web version stays here anyhow.

Full details of Playwiths, the book here

A small advertisement for me:
I also write books from time to time, and my 2002 story of sugar and its effects on the world, Bittersweet: the story of sugar (also in Russian), is now available from Amazon. My 2003 book, Rockets: sulfur, Sputnik and scramjets, is also out on Amazon, and my new book for 2004, a history of poisons and poisoners, The Killer Bean of Calabar is now out in Australia. Arcade Publishing in the USA brought out a US edition of Killer Bean under the title Poisons, in May 2005. Translations into Russian, Polish and Slovak are complete, Korean may or may not be under way. My 2006 book was It's True: You Eat Poisons Every Day now translated into Chinese), and my 2007 book Kokoda Track: 101 Days. In recent years, I have been writing serious science for lay readers. These include Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools, Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World (also available in Jorean), The Speed of Nearly Everything, 100 Discoveries. In the third quarter of 2009: The Lawn, Australian Backyard Explorer, The Monster Maintenance Manual and coming soon, Australian Backyard Naturalist and for adult readers, Curious Minds, a history of the natural historians and natural history painters who starred in Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries. You can always get the latest here.

Note added in 2018: this is about to become Playwiths the book, so I don't plan to add in all the stuff in the interim. Check at the home page of my writing site for more.

To find out more about my books, use this link and follow your nose.

Teachers! You may be interested in the Science Splats as a way of packaging the principles of science.

The first man of science was he who looked into a thing, not to learn whether it furnished him with food, or shelter, or weapons, or tools, or playwiths, but who sought to know it for the gratification of knowing.
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, (1772-1834)

A quick overview of this site
A general menu with page descriptions
Work in progress
Microscopy ideas
Creative science
Espionage science
UPDATES: new bits
See also
Science project ideas
AWARDS and stuff
links to similar sites
Australian science timeline
The Ugly Islands
The SPLATS, a new way of organising science learning
About the Playwiths -- a note from the author.
This is my play space. Simple science things will appear here when I think of them or find them: you are free to share them. Simple science is often done with junk, and it involves using everyday things to pose interesting questions. To find out what I am up to, check out my progress report. Click here to find out why I am doing this.

There are five parts to this site, three of them about simple science, and two less simple. The first is a completed set of small experiments, simple everyday science, selected from a number of sources to demonstrate some techniques of quick and dirty assembly to K-6 teachers. The second part grew out of that: it is a set of more complex experiments, methods and enquiries which is still growing. The third is mainly applicable within Australia: it is an Australian science and technology (plus inventions) timeline. The fourth is a bit of a monster, a set of ideas for science projects and some help.

Last is The Ugly Islands. This simulation exercise offers problems for people to play with. It started in June 1996, and I am still working on it -- essentially, it is a site for teachers to use creatively. There's enough there to get you started, and maybe YOU will be the one who takes this project and runs with it. I am always happy to field requests and to run with wild ideas.

This file is, last revised January 18, 2007.
Note: if you are copying this site or part of it, all of the illustrations are in the same directory as the HTML files, to facilitate purloining. Please don't mirror this site on the Web, as I am always working on bits and pieces and adding them on a regular basis. Just use it off-line, and point to here.

Why am I doing this?

I believe that there is a lack of activity and active things to do on the Web. Yes, sure, everybody is providing information about this, that or the other, but where are the things that will capture young minds? Where are the things that will take young people away from the keyboard and monitor, out to get their hands dirty?

Barry Jones, the only intellectual ever to hold the portfolio of Minister for Science in Australia, says the problem with science and technology today stems from the fact that we no longer have clockwork clocks to pull apart. That is certainly part of it, but having a computer that will simulate all sorts of activities is part of the coming problem as well. Especially when the simulation comes as a nice neat package, with no bits left over to require old-fashioned hacking and creative computing. It is with some disgust that I noted the total lack of BASIC in Windows 95 as it installs (it is hidden on the CD, but not easy to find, dunno about later versions) -- BASIC may be kludgey and teach bad habits, but at least you can get a quick and dirty result from it. No matter, I shall continue to offer playwiths like a method of reaching the phrase "methinks 'tis like a weasel" by random mutation (with a bit of help), and other such toys.

dinn My aim is to set down a few of the methods, a few of the questions that might help people to explore science more thoroughly, to do some creative exploring. I hope other people will follow this lead, either creating their own pages for me to point to, or sending me extra ideas to add in here, or telling me about other links that I can add. (And yes, I will clean the links up one day soon.)

The fine print This is not me, it is my stunt doubletalk to me by clicking here and adding my first name to the email address

All warranties are void if images are adjusted with tools other than those approved by the supplier. The images and text may be borrowed, bent, purloined, stolen, pointed at, used, rented, borrowed, loaned, chewed, folded, spindled, mutilated, stapled, harangued, traded (though not in any derivatives market) coloured (only with organically-grown and non-clashing colours, please!), set to music other than that of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, sent to the coal mines, taken to the opera, rolled down small hills on fine days, or up medium-sized mountains irrespective of weather conditions, whirled, swirled, or sent anonymously to spammers, amoebae, economic rationalists or other low forms of life. They may also be taken for a walk, granted, or Marlene Dietrich in a bad light without fear of reprisal (although the manufacturer is not authorised to offer any assurance which may be deemed to emanate from Miss Dietrich). They may be sent to Coventry, to sea or to know for whom the bell tolls.

These works should never be placed in a device designed to dry clothes or wash dogs unless the lint collector has first been cleaned with liquid oxygen, and all warranties are void if the works are shaken or stirred when there is an R in the month, a disc in the drive or a hole in the bit bucket of your computer. At all times avoid wearing, displaying, or even thinking of the colour emerald green while using these works.

The works herein described by the party of the first part may be run over on level surfaces by non-articulated vehicles of less than ten tonnes, but only during daylight hours (and preferably after being separated from the computer), rinsed in distilled water or butyl alcohol, read to, shouted at, electrified, heated by gas, cooled by appropriately qualified punkah wallahs, treated with mild levels of ionising radiation, dilute acid, or complete indifference. They may be used to swat flies, encourage horses, shade gondoliers in tropical climates, or line boxes of emergency rations for lost mountaineers. They should, however, be kept away from cattle, wombats and funicular railways, especially just after a heavy meal. Under no circumstances should they be used as reinforcing in any situation where ferro-cement or musique concrète may be encountered.

Note: no batteries are included, and any damage or mental harm you or your tractor may incur by the use of the pictures either in accordance with these instructions or otherwise shall be solely your fault. If you are struck by lightning while looking at the text, you should get your computer out of the rain. All disputes will be dealt with by me, and the judge's decision shall be ludicrous. If you do not like these conditions, why are you reading them? Still with me? Well done, 10/10 for persistence. You may use anything you find here -- though people who want to do that, I would probably like to hear from. Click on my nose, especially if you want to suggest some corrections, additions, or links.

Being serious for a moment, the copyright claims on this site are intended to prevent commercial exploitation by those too lazy to do their own work. Teachers and learners of all ages have an open go, so long as they are sharing in the spirit in which this is shared. I persecute thieves who do no more than steal the content, chop my name off and put their own name on it.

This site has had visitors since 1999.

Please note that I have moved the links and awards sections to separate pages.