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The quest for cheap AWE has given us a modular engineering language based on tensile force. Of the endless applications education is basic. Many an engineer enjoyed early intellectual stimulation form mechanical systems like Tinker Toys, Erector Sets, or Lego Robotics. Sadly such "rich-kid" resources are often out of reach to the economically disadvantaged, but as low cost tensile engineering drives revolutionary invention, a cheap modular system of tensile elements is potentially an educational super-toy for all.
The fundamental element of this curriculum is string, already a highly developed resource in folk toy traditions that nurture spatial perception and dexterity. The study of string structures and knots stimulates mathematical intelligence, from geometry to topology and even, well, knot theory.
Kiting and fishing are quintessential string tech. An key tool is the larkshead knot, a loop mated to a stopper knot, allowing strings to connect and disconnect at will, without added parts. A few powerful knots enable infinitely varied tensile devices.
An educational kit suitable for a child or class room is possible at a cost of pennies to a dollar or two. Assorted string and elastomer, a few swivels, membrane material, micro pulleys, adhesive, and a few spars is enough for amazing feats even exceeding the expensive kits. Kites, string instruments, and endless contraptions are core activities. One major advantage of Tensile Toys is how large scale structures are possible "for a song."
Inspired instructions and examples are essential to unleash the creative potential of these simple materials. The latest understanding of tensile engineering, of tensegrity, tensarity, and so on, is needed to properly imagine this new educational tool. The string must be specified within safe breaking strengths and is best biodegradable. A continuum of string tools from a toy "micro" scale to the largest engineering scales is a fantastic toolbox.
Primary compressive structures for Tensile Toys are borrowed from ambient structures like trees, buildings, and terrain. Anchors such as ribbon/belting, simple hooks, etc., are used to interface the tensile elements to the world. String spider connectors serve as hub pieces much like Tinker Toys. Complex 3D lattices of string can do wonders as yet unimagined. Let the children play.
[larkshead knot, larks head knot, lark's head knot]