Arthur Ganson and the Excitement of Construction


I first encountered the kinetic sculptures of Arthur Ganson nearly 20 years ago at the MIT Museum. Ganson is an engineer, artist, and inventor whose machines, when set in motion, display a grace you would not expect from metal, gears, and other industrial objects.

Below is a video of one of my favorite Ganson sculptures called “Cory’s Yellow Chair.”

Ganson told The Atlantic magazine that “the exploding chair is like the current moment. It’s around long enough for you to see what it is, and suddenly it’s gone.”

When I saw “Cory’s Yellow Chair” and observed the geometric movement of the mechanical arms that perpetually assemble and disassemble the chair, I knew that I had to build my own version with Sketchpad. For simplicity, I replaced the chair with six equilateral triangles that would combine to form a hexagon. The final result is below, displayed with Web Sketchpad. Press Animate to awaken the machine.

It’s certainly enjoyable to watch my model in action, but you’ll derive greater pleasure from constructing it yourself using Sketchpad. There’s a satisfaction from saying “I built that” which you can’t obtain from passive viewing. And this is the problem, I would contend, with the majority of math apps you’ll find for tablets and smartphones. We give students  narrowly defined virtual environments for exploring math, but we don’t provide them the general-purpose tools to build something wholly unexpected that strays from the intent of the software or curriculum designer.

I know that some constructivist math software does exist (including competitors to Sketchpad), but I don’t encounter many compelling examples. Let me know what I might be missing!

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