Moving toys

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By Wesley Tillsenior lecturer, University of Central England, Birmingham

Help your class get on the move by following our practical activities to design and make a cam-operated moving toy

Unit 5C of the QCA Scheme of Work for Design and Technology involves children researching, designing and then making a moving toy. This has numerous explicit National Curriculm links, including using ICT for research. It also provides an effective activity to teach children about the D&T mechanisms aspect of cams. has a great range of do-it-yourself paper kits which involve a cam. Children will love making a nodding dog, the Mexican Peck (opposite) or a simple cam bird, designed especially for schools. The site also provides details of Flying Pig’s educational resources that include posters and activity sheets.

A cam is an off-centred or specially shaped wheel used to convert rotary motion into a reciprocating type of motion – up and down or in and out, for instance. Depending on the shape of the cam, the motion created can be simple or complex. The illustrations right show some examples of cams: (from the top) off-centre cam, peg cam, snail cam and pear-shaped cam.

The best way for children to find out more about cams – how they are made and what the different parts do – is for them to make cam mechanisms for themselves. They can then practise using the correct technical vocabulary – cam, cam follower, pivot, movement, rotary motion, linear motion, off-centre and off-set – and label the different parts of their models.

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