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Dangerous (Fall 2013)

Dangerous Done Well: Falling From Great Heights

Dangerous (Fall 2013)Sean Murray

To cap our year of knife-throwing, battery-licking, blindfolded-walking, torch-lighting, microwave-exploding fun, we decided to feel what it's like to fall from a great height. Safely, of course.

Victor prepares to jump from 40

Victor prepares to jump from 40". Our final leap would be from 62"

By this, our ninth meeting, we were veterans at running our Risk Mitigation System. We built and maintained an overlapping lattice of pillows, used a silent "Ready!" call, and escalated iteratively--first jumping from the ground, then a stool, then a table, then a stool clamped firmly to the table.

For epic slow-motion video of your kid falling (and doing lots of other dangerous stuff) visit our Flickr!

Dangerous Done Well Monday: Final Sessions

Dangerous (Fall 2013)Sean Murray

For the final two meetings of Dangerous Done Well Mondays, we walked down the street blindfolded...

Guiding blindoflded walkers past the bus stop at 18th and Bryant.

...blowing stuff up in the microwave...

Irish Spring Soap expands into a really low-density solid foam. Warning to egg-microwavers--if an egg goes more than 60 seconds without exploding, STOP. Allow at least 20 minutes for the egg to cool. We learned this the hard way: an egg that took 180 seconds to explode delivered so much force that it broke the microwave.

...and learning to use power tools. For our last class, we attempted to build and climb a tower of our own design, but fell just short. So, we settled for a climb up the shop catwalk, also designed and built by 6-12 year-olds.

Pinto's first un-assisted chop saw cut!
Aidan scales the vertical ladder leading up to the catwalk.

Adventures in the Microwave

Dangerous (Fall 2013)Sean Murray

The microwave continues to fascinate us. We began the day with a talk on how the microwave actually works. Imagine--it doesn't cwarm food by exciting the molecules neighboring the food--it excites the food's molecules (and thus raises their temperature) with electromagnetic waves!

Microwaving a lightbulb.

We lived the microwave manufacturer's nightmare, microwaving plastics, metals, and trying use a grape to create an arc of incredibly hot plasma. 

We had great fun tweaking variables (does it matter if the CD is standing vertically? What happens if you crumple tinfoil before you microwave it?) and our microwave is none the worse for the wear!

Dangerous Done Well: Walking Blindfolded

Dangerous (Fall 2013)Sean Murray

Today we talk a walk down the block, blindfolded.

Nico coaches Josh down Bryant Street.

The dangers of walking down a busy, uneven, tree-and-hydrant-and-bike-ridden sidewalk blindfolded was no match for our Risk Mitigation System. We assessed the potential dangers--trip and fall, moving objects (eg cars), stationary objects (eg trees) and, of course, stepping in poop.

Then we came up with a solution: have each blindfolded person be guided by one sighted person. 

After walking blindfolded, we blew some stuff up in the microwave. This exercise showed off one of our Risk Management System's key principles: Escalate Iteratively.

Escalate in discrete iterations--before blowing up two cherries, you must blow up one cherry.

It's hard to emphasize how captivating watching things get microwaved. The window of the machine feels like a screen playing a time-lapse photography film. Changes happen at a pace we're simply not used to. It's well worth a little risk (mitigated by duct taping the dow, wearing safety glasses, and having a fire extinguisher handy) and a slightly bigger mess.


Dangerous Done Well: Exploding Eggs in Microwaves: First Steps

Dangerous (Fall 2013)Sean Murray

Today's session began by conquering our irrational fear of fatal CO poisoning from a one liter torch in a well-ventilated space, and toasting some delicious marshmallows.

Isabella gets toasty.

Cooking with fire is, now, a dangerous thing we have done well.  But what about cooking with microwaves? Today, we moved into the nuclear age.

Soren and Logan handled the strict two-marshmallow limit with aplomb.

We started by stating a new dangerous thing to do well: explode eggs in a microwave. Using our Risk Mitigation System, we guessed at problems, brainstormed solutions and began to escalate iteratively towards egg detonation. 

Our first test subject was a marshmallow. 

The microwave expands the marshmallow at captivating speeds.

Dangerous Done Well: "Playing" with Fire

Dangerous (Fall 2013)Sean Murray

"Don't play with fire, you might get burned." The old saying does a good job of identifying one risk posed by fire (personal injury), doesn't say much about how to use fire safely.

Lighting a match on the first strike requires focus and concentration. The cup of water for extinguishing the match sits just out of frame, we promise.

Fire, as every human ever to exist will attest, is quite useful. It warms us, cooks food, cracks fuels, and roasts marshmallows. It's worth knowing how to safely ignite, use and extinguish fire. 

Today (after a warm-up exercise rolling eggs down the sidewalk (see our flickr for more)) we explored two of the most common means of starting fires: matches and lighters. 

Silas escalated to this large flame in measured increments.

We practiced slow, measured escalation of fuel, and using one fire (a match) to light another (a candle).  The day ended by practicing a classic of risk mitigation: extinguishing a flame with your fingers--after dunking them in water!

Milan brings moistened fingers to the flame...
 ...and poof! It's extinguished!

Dangerous Done Well Monday : What's The Opposite of Recklessness?

Dangerous (Fall 2013)Sean Murray

The premise of Dangerous Done Well is: through disciplined practice of a Risk Mitigation System, kids can safely explore ideas that conventional wisdom has deemed "too dangerous".

The Risk Mitigation system leans heavily on reason, logic, research, and close observation of simulated dangerous simulations. Making good decisions regarding danger is, we argue, a craft and a science. The cornerstones of those good decisions are: information and reason.

We had thought that information and reason had only one enemy: recklessness. Today we met another: paranoia.

The propane, nozzle and sparker sit unused. They would remain unused for most of the session

During Stage 2 of our Risk mitigation System, we discovered a warning of of carbon monoxide poisoning on the tank. (Burning propane creates CO. If you've ever used a gas grill or stove, you've inhaled CO). 

The idea of poisoning ourselves with an invisible, odorless gas (rightly) scared the bejeesus out of some kids. So, we researched. We found that we would have plenty of warning signs (headache, dizziness) before anything more serious. We learned that it would take several hours of intense exposure to even generate a slight headache. We learned that our space was far beyond the volume and ventilation needed to safely use the torch. We shared experiences of safely using propane, and even the very torches we were researching.  

We found no reason to fear the amount of CO that would be released. But it was too late. Fear without reason--paranoia--had set in.

Paranoia and recklessness are two poles of the same spectrum (uninformed, irrational decision-making). Recklessness will always get more attention than paranoia, and rightly so--paranoia won't lead us to jump a bicycle off the roof, or jam a fork into a wall outlet.

But it's worth considering paranoia, and the experiences that this less-spectacular, more subtle form of irrationality might cost us.


The next day, we toasted marshmallows using the very same propane torch. Everyone was perfectly safe. The marshmallows were delicious.

Dangerous Done Well Tuesday: Using a Torch to Roast Marshmallows

Dangerous (Fall 2013)Sean Murray

Today we tried a slightly different flow. Starting with an exercise to flex the planning and anticipation muscles, we challenged the kids with "roll an egg for one city block without breaking it. It can't leave the concrete and you can't touch it with your hands." The results were enlightening.

Sean explains the challenge.

pushing with tools was a popular strategy.

The clamp allowed us to drag instead of roll the egg.

As a class we met varying degrees of failure, ranging from instant side-walk-mess to a tiny-but-undeniable crack right at the surface right at the end of the block. We all had strong opinions of how we might do it better next time.

Being outside the school helped start the class with focused energy

From there it was on to roasting marshmallows (and red peppers for those hoping to snack on healthier food burned on a propane torch).

Anxiety was high for the first roasting. We had the fire extinguisher on the ready

A success!

Its important to note just how hot a propane torch burns. In a number sense, it burns at over 800 degrees Fahrenheit. For comparison a lighter or candle burns at a mere 450 degrees or less. For another comparison, 800 degrees is enough to soften some metals (and even melt lead).

if we got to close, the marshmallow would ignite instantly

Eventually it felt like the tiniest hottest campfire ever. We gathered around and enjoyed roasted red peppers and toasty marshmallows for the rest of the workshop.

Georgia strives for toasty outside, gooey inside.
Sawyer, Trent, Georgia, Nico and Reuben pose with their first torch-roasted marshmallows.

Dangerous Done Well Tuesdays, Day 3: The "Ready" Call

Dangerous (Fall 2013)Sean Murray

When doing dangerous things, some threats are obvious. For example, when throwing knives, cuts and ricochets readily present themselves as risks to be mitigated.

A knife sticks in the target, handle-first.

But not all threats are so obvious. When doing dangerous things in large groups, peers can become source of chanting, urging, peer-pressuring risk (like in this video of a person being pressured into sticking a knife in a toaster).

To make sure that our group helps create a calm, sober, controlled atmosphere for the person actively doing the dangerous thing, we've developed a "Ready Call" system. 

After asking

After asking "Ready?", Georgia looks for the silent "thumbs-up" from the rest of the group.

1. The Do-er asks the group, "Ready?" 

2. If the group notices anything wrong or outside the plan, a spoken "No!" stops the activity. 

3. When the "Ready?" question is met with unanimous, silent "thumbs-up", the Do-er proceeds to do dangerous things, well. 

Dangerous Done Well Mondays, Day 3

Dangerous (Fall 2013)Sean Murray

Today our group--composed of eleven six-to-twelve year olds--threw knives. We threw them hard and fast, andeven managed to stick some in our target. Everyone was calm, focused and safe. Throwing knives is dangerous, and we did it well.

Below find video of Dexter sticking three consecutive knives, blade-first--a Tinkering School record!

For more photos and videos, check out our Flickr page

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