Today’s spark (24/03/2020, by popular demand for “robots”!) is Disney’s film Big Hero 6. It is a 3D computer animated film, loosely based on the superhero team of the same name by Marvel Comics. The film tells the story of Hiro Hamada, a young robotics prodigy who forms a superhero team to combat a masked villain.
The idea is to provide a film and linked learning materials for use at home. Several parents have noted they have played the film at a quiet time (after lunch) to help them get some things done and give children a break, before launching into the activities and conversations after.
I tried to choose a film that is easily available online, either for free (hello, free trials!) or on formats people may already use (Prime Video, NowTV, Sky):
I’ve divided up potential learning opportunities by subject (e.g. geography, science, emotional skills, practical activities) – so pick and choose what interests you or what you’d like to focus on today! I also haven’t noted specific ages for each activity or question – this is because you know your child best. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but provides a springboard for conversation and activity.
MATERIALS SCIENCE, CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS
This film is a treasure trove of learning moments involving materials science. From the characters discussing the difference between a titanium skeleton and a carbon fibre skeleton, to identifying novel ways to solve identified problems – it touches the surface of real-world scientific exploration and engineering.
- Talk to children about the choices made when designing Baymax (nurse robot).
- Think about Baymax’s purpose. What problem is the inventor trying to solve?
- Ask how children would feel if they went to the hospital and Baymax treated them. Why would they feel that way?
- Why is he soft and squishy? Why does he need to be able to lift heavy things or people? What is his skin made of (vinyl) and why?
- How does Hiro fix holes in Baymax’s skin? What does he do to make Baymax tougher?
- Can you draw or make (kinetic construction toys or materials such as Lego; raid the recycling bin for junk modelling time!) your own robot or invention?
- Asking interesting, open-ended questions is key to promoting children’s critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Getting them to create their own inventions provides a lovely opportunity to talk about mathematical concepts (such as size, colour, number, shape) but also practical scientific considerations, such as whether their robot will be fit for purpose (within imaginary reason!). For example, does a “super all-terrain Mars rover” have the right tyres for the job? Does a deep-sea submarine have enough space for supplies?
- You can also link the film to health and well-being. Talk about what happens when Baymax’s battery runs low… What happens when you become low on energy?
- What does your body need to run well? What about food, rest and exercise (to keep muscles and bones strong)? Can you find out how you can help your body run at its best?
- What materials can you find around the house? For example, what sort of materials are your oven trays made from? Why aren’t they made of plastic? What about your bath sponge – why isn’t it made from metal?
- Think about the properties of different materials – if you have a magnet (fridge magnets or small toolbox magnets will do!) then it’s prime time to go on on a metal hunt around the house! Does it stick to the chair leg? What about the radiator? Magnetic materials are always made of metal, but not all metals are magnetic. Older children can explore why certain metals are or aren’t magnetic.
REAL-LIFE SCIENCE LINKS
There is plenty of real science and engineering which helped to inspire the film. Encourage children to choose their favourite inventions, talk about the reasons the technology has been developed (e.g. converting brain signals to commands to control prosthetic limbs) and have a think about a problem THEY could solve using technology. You never know, sparking an interest in science and engineering at this age could set children on the path to becoming the game-changing inventors of the future.
- 8 Real-Life Robots That Inspired Big Hero 6
- Magnetic Micro-Robots
- Bionic Hand: tying shoelaces, doing everyday tasks
- ASIMO: Honda’s robot companion who wants to “improve people’s quality of life and expand their potential”
- ASIMO dancing as a group (further videos show ASIMO playing football and doing other activities)
- US Army’s ‘Iron Man’ suit (TALOS)
- Japanese exoskeleton for older workers (to help with lifting)
- Making car parts from coffee beans
- 3D printing – turning a drawing into a toy (computer science)
- Inflatable bike helmets
- Taking inspiration from natural world: “Lobster’s underbelly is as tough as industrial rubber: membrane material’s properties guide design of flexible armour
- Building a real Baymax: inspired by the film, the CMU Robotics Institute has tried!
- RIBA-II, the next generation care-giving robot
ENGINEERING, CRAFTS & PAPER-BASED ACTIVITIES
- Engineering Challenge – Make Baymax’s Armour: you’ll need balloons, tape, aluminium foil, cereal boxes (or other thin cardboard) – and paint/pencils and pens if you want to decorate!
- Origami Baymax– also links to the Japanese cultural elements of the film – can your children find out what ‘origami’ means in Japanese?)
- Hidden Objects– can you help Baymax find the seven missing items in San Fransokyo?
- Postcards from San Fransokyo – who will you write to from this futuristic city? What things have you seen or done here?
- How to Draw Baymax– Disney Family video
- Colouring pages and activities (Disney official – free!) – including mazes, spot the difference, masks, etc.
- Use junk (recycling box!) to make your own inventions.
- Chain reactions (cause and effect) and Rube Goldberg machines: use dominoes or similar toys to create a ‘chain-reaction’. Rube Goldberg machines aren’t very practical (going against the grain of the high-tech theme) but are fun to engineer and tune! Perhaps an appropriate example for self-isolation is this way of getting salt to someone at the end of a table!
- Experiments from the film: make fantastic concoctions using chemistry like Honey-Lemon and maglev pencils like GoGo!
- An experiment to try at home! MIT mathematicians solve age-old spaghetti mystery
- Materials Science experiments at home: including ‘what materials can catch a bubble?’ and “exploring nanotechnology: fold, roll, & stack your way to super-strong materials”
BIG EMOTIONS, RESILIENCE AND PERSEVERENCE
- Talk to children about how the characters deal life’s ups and downs, as well as when their inventions or ideas go wrong.
- The film shows the main characters trying again and again until they figure something out. Can you give an example, or can your children remember a time where you/they had to do the same?
- For younger children, talk about the characters’ facial expressions and the things they do when they are frustrated, sad, happy, angry. Can they think of things that make them sad, or cross, or happy?
- The main character, Hiro experiences a significant loss, this can provide a critical opportunity to talk to older children about death in a safe (fictional) space, what it means and how it is a universal part of life. [See also: “Disney films help us prepare for death, according to science”]
- Hiro also grapples with an ethical question: should he use a peaceful robot as a weapon? Is it the right thing to do? This can spark an interesting (possibly very funny) discussion around right and wrong. For example:
- who decides what is right or wrong?
- what are rules?
- what is a law?
- do rules change depending on where you are (e.g. home or school, laws in different countries)?
- can your children think of an examples of rules or laws?
- how do they make choices about what is right or wrong day-to-day?
GEOGRAPHY, LANGUAGE, CULTURE
The film is set in fictional San Fransokyo, a lively fusion of San Francisco and Tokyo. The city is shown with old streetcars and Victorian houses as well as torii (traditional Japanese gates, usually red) and giant koi balloons. Even key landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, have been tweaked to reflect Japanese architecture.
- What can you find out about Tokyo (Japan) or San Francisco (United States of America)?
- Hiro’s pet cat is called ‘Mochi’ – can you find out what that means in Japanese?
- Japan and San Francisco are famous for technology – can you find any Japanese or American electronics in your house? What about games consoles, televisions or mobile telephones? What about your car – where was it manufactured?
- San Francisco and Tokyo are both part of the ‘pacific rim’ – what does this mean? [you can also link this to resources on earthquakes and volcanoes!]
- Can you see signs in different languages? Can you find out about the Japanese writing system?
- Can you pick out the different architectural styles? For example, torii gates and Victorian terraced houses.
- San Fransokyo
- First look at San Fransokyo
- YouTube and Amazon Video have lots of city/country tours to view!
MATERIALS SCIENCE CURRICULUMS AND OTHER LINKS
- DK Encyclopedia’s New Materials “Scientists use their knowledge of how molecules form to combine atoms in new ways. They also apply heat and pressure to existing materials to create materials with new properties. They can even create materials with SMART properties that respond to their environment.” This site explores fascinating materials such as self-healing plastic, conductive or SMART fabrics (think Batman’s cloak!) and comet-dust collecting gel (NASA)!
- What is Materials Science?
- Materials Science May Be the Most Important Technology of the Next Decade, Here’s Why
- Fantastic collection of articles from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
- If your child’s interest continues, consider visiting a local “MakerSpace” (or creating your own) in future (when normal service resumes)! A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or other facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high-tech to no-tech tools.
For older children:
- GCSE (AQA, Edexcel, Eduqas, OCR) Design and Technology content
- GCSE (AQA) Core Technical Principles:Systems approach to designingEnergy generation and storage