crossbeams, building, making, maker

Building Fun with Crossbeams

Crossbeams – Building Made Easy (and Fun!)

We caught up with Charles Sharman, creator of the most-excellent building toy, Crossbeams. His story is exactly what we’re all about at Maker Bolder – seeing an opportunity and making something to meet the need.  Here’s his story.

The Aim of Crossbeams

“Dad, can we make a maglev train?” This question, posed by my five-year-old son, sparked the beginning of Crossbeams.  Whether it’s a spaceship, a skyscraper, an animal, or a maglev train, all of us want to make and create.  It’s in our blood.  But when it comes to actually doing it, the task can be overwhelming.  You may have to know trigonometry, algebra, mechanics, thermodynamics, electronics, art, drafting, machining, and more.  I designed Crossbeams to simplify the building task.  You dream, and Crossbeams helps you create.

Many creative platforms exist for younger ages.  Yet many younger active creators become passive consumers as they age, immersed in video games, social media, smart phones, and television.  I designed Crossbeams to hold the interest of older and advanced creators.

Dreams to Reality

Making Crossbeams’ a reality wasn’t easy, particularly with a full-time job and family.  First, I had to enhance my knowledge. During late nights and early mornings, I taught myself mechanics, gear design, and machining.  I studied the limitations of current building systems and identified enhancements.  A plethora of piece-types limits some building systems.  According to Mark Changizi and others building system’s creativity is enhanced by minimizing piece-types an maximizing the ways pieces connect.  Delicacy limits some building systems.  I wanted a model car that could crash into the wall without disintegrating.  Finally, straight lines and boxiness limits some building systems.  I wanted to accurately replicate lines and surfaces.

Next, I needed a way to try out pieces in a complete model without blowing the bank on prototyping costs.  I wanted to ensure models
looked appealing and the piece-types were minimal.  I created the Crossbeams Modeller, a software tool to virtually connect Crossbeams pieces.
I started with three core models:

I believed a building toy that could closely replicate these models could closely replicate many more.  Initially, the models took more than 160 piece-types.  After much work, I narrowed it to the 47 piece-types used today.

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Crossbeams can be assembled to support great weights and pressures.

Finally, I needed a sturdy joint that locks pieces much more strongly than the joints in children’s building toys.  Children’s building toys use friction-based joints; the force to connect is equal to the force to disconnect.  That causes an inherent trade-off.  If you make it stronger, you make it harder to assemble.  Instead, I based my joint on a cotter pin two-motion joint.  A two-motion joint unrelates the join force and separation force.  I started with a cotter pin, and it evolved into our patented, simple slide-and-twist joint.

The Future of Crossbeams

While Crossbeams has captured much of its original intent, we still have far to go.  Ages 10-12 and 20+ make our largest customer base. We haven’t captured the hearts of young adults, for whom the system was intended.

We designed Crossbeams from the ground up to handle electronics but later tabled electronics to maintain our debt-free principle.  Most of the electronics package is designed and ready.  Once sales grow, we can make my son’s maglev.

Success won’t be judged by money in the bank but by a sampling of society.  Whether it’s Crossbeams, musical compositions, stories, or painting, once young adults are known for their creating instead of their consuming, our work is done.

water, kids activities

Teach Your Children to Conserve Water with Fun Science Activities

Connect kids with Water Conservation

When you get hot and thirsty playing outside, a cold glass water can really cool you down. But your child may not know that kids in other parts of the world don’t always have clean drinking water. This summer, teach your child the importance of conserving precious resources. You can start by learning more about fresh water scarcity. With 97 percent of the world’s supply being salt water, conservation is a great way to make a global impact.

One route to freshwater sustainability is desalination, or removing the salt from salt water. There are more than 16,000 desalination plants(1) across the globe, and that number is growing. To begin learning how desalination occurs, try Connections Academy’s educational activity with your child– and create freshwater from salt water using a few household items!

water, conservation, child, activities, science

Water is essential to life – and is increasingly scarce.

Why is Fresh Water Important?

Fresh water is an essential part of life. Water helps nutrients and oxygen in the bloodstream move around the body. Humans are generally made up of about 50 to 65 percent water.

Fresh water is a key to good health. When your body doesn’t have enough water, it is dehydrated. Dehydration can keep you from doing your best at sports, school, and whatever else the day may throw your way.

Fresh water keeps crops growing. About 70 percent of the available freshwater on earth is used to feed crops, which, in turn, feed us.

How to Conserve Water

Have your child help you check for leaks around the house.

Let the lawn grow a little longer than you normally would. This will promote retention of freshwater (from rain or sprinklers) in the soil.

Help your child plant native plants. Plant species that are native to your area which should thrive with the amount of rainfall your garden will receive and need little additional watering.

plant, garden, water, conservation, kids

Use plants that thrive naturally in your environment and don’t require a lot of additional water.

Encourage your child to cut his or her shower time by two minutes each day. Two minutes every day is 730 minutes per year. That’s a little change that can make a big difference!

Visit the Connections Academy blog to find more fun learning activities.

Colorado Connections Academy is a network of tuition-free online public schools for students in grades K-12.

 

1 David Talbot, “Desalination out of Desperation,” MIT Technology Review (December 2014), accessed March 25, 2015, http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/533446/desalination-out- of-desperation/.