prototype machine made of recycled objects with LED light powered by and apple and a banana

Mellers Primary in Christ Church Gardens

On Tuesday 10th March 2020 I was welcomed into Miss Bird’s class at Mellers Primary in Nottingham to talk to the class about the meeting under the cherry trees when they blossom in Christ Church Gardens in Nottingham (around the corner from the school) and the Future Machine that is due to appear at this meeting in the gardens.

I talked about the gardens, showed them pictures of the machine and explained how it worked and what it did and talked a little about climate change, CO2, how trees are important for us to turn CO2 into oxygen so that we can breathe. We also talked about the seasons, how early Spring started this year and what blossoms and flowers we could see.

Miss Bird’s class has a wonderful atmosphere and the children responded imaginatively when I asked them all to build their own Future Machines from recycled things (cardboard and plastic bottles) that they brought from home and felt, string and masking tape I brought along with me.

First the class drew their plans for the machines based on the questions I asked them:
– What does it do?
– What does it look like?
– What does it see?
– What does it protect?

The class came up with amazing things to protect in the future including pandas, the moon, friends, other animals and trees. Each machine had wheels and a small LED light.

A Future Machine made by children from Mellers Primary out of cardboard and bottle tops

Once the designs were drawn the class started making the prototypes, quite a bit of focused and excited chaos ensued as they found the materials they had brought in, stuck things together (with a larger demand than expected on masking and sellotape) and the machines took shape. Towards the end it appeared that some children had excess materials and some not enough so we worked out a barter system where everyone stopped working to listen, and those who were missing things asked the class if there were any spare and the class very generously shared amongst each other (adults could learn something from the thoughtful and open way the children did this).

At the end we managed to get one of the LED lights working with the machine (see top photo), powered by an apple and a banana. You can hardly see the light but a small red glow appeared at the front of the machine once the fruit was connected through the electric circuit, showing the children how we need to think differently about energy and also how difficult it is to power more than a light or a small clock!

Finally nearly 28 machines were created, each with their own unique vision of how to look after and protect the world in the future.

Ongoing conversations are taking place about how Mellers Primary can continue to work with us in Christ Church Gardens and follow the trees as they go into blossom each Spring, help the council decide how to improve the gardens and learn more about the species, plants and seasonal changes happening right around the corner from the school and where they live.

Sadly due to the Coronvirus it is unlikely that the class will be able to meet under the trees when the they blossom this bizarre and uncertain Spring in 2020, but plans are underway to meet in the garden in the future and hopefully when the trees blossom next Spring.

Watch the blossoms in Christ Church Gardens as they go into blossom, and the unfolding and uncertain story so far this Spring here:

Visiting Christ Church Gardens 2021

Last year, in the week before lockdown Rachel Jacobs visited the school and worked with her class to design and build model Future Machines out of recycled stuff that the children brought into the class, and felt and wood that Rachel contributed.

This year we have been working with Lila’s new class since they returned from lockdown, as a sort of reverse from last year. First the whole class visited Christ Church Gardens and explored the plants, shrubs and trees in the gardens. Frank, Iain and Rachel worked together to find all the plants and shrubs that Frank had photographed in the summer. Frank created a treasure trail of the photos of the plants in summer, hanging on the actual plants in all the wintery bareness. It sounds like they had even more fun than we did discovering the plants!

They also discovered the history of the gardens – memorial gardens that were once part of a Church that was demolished in the 1950s. The children were fascinated by the graves left against the walls surrounding the gardens. They also thought about the future and started to imagine what they would do to change the gardens and make them better.

Back in the class they made 30 light boxes to give to us to hang in the tree when the tree blossoms. Sadly they wont be able to come to the tree this year when the Future Machine appears to witness the blossom as due to the Covid-19 pandemic we are still limited to meetings of 6 people. Instead their light boxes will represent the children of the class. Each lightbox has a bird shape cut out and is powered by hand generated power. The class were given sets of wind up lights and fruit and vegetable powered lights to experiment with, to begin to learn about sustainable forms of electricity.

As the sun goes down on the fully blossomed tree 6 people will turn the handles and generate the lights in each of the boxes to light up the tree. Rachel will turn the handle of the Future Machine and play the sounds of the machine that represent the weather, which if it continues to be as extreme as it is predicted may sound like freezing snow or a heatwave! Frank will record the moment the tree lights up and it will be broadcast live here.

Meeting Future Machine 2022

In Spring 2022 62 children from both classes in Year 3 at Mellers Primary School were finally able to meet with us under the blossom trees in Christ Church Gardens, see their light boxes hung up in the blossoms tree – and meet Future Machine.

This year the class had made lightboxes with words for different types of weather to start to think about how the weather effects when the trees blossom. We also explained how Future Machine finds out what the weather is using the weather sensors attached to it’s back and turns that into music. The musicians Alex and Dave who created ths sounds of the weather that plays on the Future Machine also came to Christ Church Gardens for the meeting under the blossom trees (from London).

When we met we showed the children their lightboxes in the trees and showed how the weather made the sounds change on the Future Machine, we then made our own weather sounds in reaction to the breezy, sunny day with Alex and Dave playing along with the children’s sounds.

Then the children were split into groups of 5 to decide what messages they wanted to leave for the future with the Future Machine. Each group took it in turns to meet Future Machine, turn the handle, receive a printed story about the world as it is now and each child had a chance to speak to the future.

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