Tinkering School

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Vend It! (Spring 2015)

What does "finish" mean?

Vend It! (Spring 2015)Amanda SimonsComment

We had a lot to get done on Friday. It was the last day of the nine-week after school program, and our vending machine was a long way from functional! 

Everyone wanted to finish. Over the course of this journey, we kept hearing that everyone wanted to just finish the project. Well, we started the day by articulating what "finish" meant.

In terms of this project, finishing meant that we got to vend soda and chips. That we pushed a button, or turned a mechanism, and the items fell to a place where we could retrieve them. So we made a plan, split into teams, and worked with as much focus as we could muster on a Friday afternoon. 

The photos say it better than I ever could. 

We finished! It worked.

Tinkering School After School made a functional vending machine that dispensed soda and chips!

Coolest. Project. Ever!

From "How do we do that?" to "Do that."

Vend It! (Spring 2015)Amanda SimonsComment

The Friday After School vending machine designers have completed most of the hard, hard, problem solving work. We've prototyped different vending mechanism, did and re-did components, and talked a lot about how we might do things, rather than actually doing things that would become usable components later.

This week, however, we had a shift.

I stopped asking, "So, how would we do that?"

Now I'm just saying, "Okay, let's do that!"

With confidence and comfort in full swing, the Tinkerers took a lot of time to identify and solve problems with our design. 

They worked as a team to complete tasks quickly. 

They also solved a lot of design challenges, and are slowly transforming this skeleton of a vending machine into something that we can actually USE in two weeks!

Drawing on Inspiration

Vend It! (Spring 2015)Nathan SavoyComment

Friday's vending machine is taking shape. This session we picked up right where we left off last week. The majority of the group continued to flow with the heavy construction of machine's internal shelving, ramps and catch tray.  While a few members dedicated their entire session to figuring out the complicated mechanics of the coil dispenser. The big question left over from last week related to its actuator. How will we control the coil's rotation from outside the box it sits in?

Nico works on completing the container to house the coil dispenser 

Nico works on completing the container to house the coil dispenser 

We tried a few different iterations. First feeding the end of the coil through a hole in the back of the box but this only resulted in a slow unraveling the coil as it continued to lengthen out the handle's side. Next we discussed how if the actual handle could rotate around the actuators end the coil would maintain it's length, but this rising and falling of the coil remaining inside raised concern with the "candy" droping loose into the bottom of the box.

Henri and Ethan try using the end of the coil as a handle to turn the coil inside the box. 

Henri and Ethan try using the end of the coil as a handle to turn the coil inside the box. 

We determined that what we needed we're two independent rotations.

First to control the coil resting inside the box- the second to control the handle that would remain outside the box. Then somehow connect them together. Will who was helping out with the vending machines' casement floated over to check in on how the coil teams progress was going. Henri explained the groups new objective. To which Will replied, 

"Oh, I get it. Like a pencil-sharpener."

Drawing inspiration from what works.

Drawing inspiration from what works.

Turing it into design! 

Turing it into design! 

I felt like crying, "EURIKA!"

Yes, thats exactly the type of mechanism we needed to create. Conveniently there was a pencil sharpener mounted to the wall directly in front of where the team was working. We took a moment to take it apart, appreciate it's mechanism and look for some answers. I get really excited when we draw on real life examples as inspiration for our own design challenges.

Getting so close! 

Getting so close! 


Moving Away from the Details

Vend It! (Spring 2015)Amanda SimonsComment

Until today, the Friday After School Session has been about big ideas and complicated mechanics. After all, a vending machine is pretty complicated, and since no one has really seen the internal mechanics, we've been doing a lot of trial and error building in an attempt to replicate what we can't see! That's a lot to ask for. Especially for 4 weeks in a row.

To take a short vacation from complicated problem solving, during the last session we got away from the details and started to construct the skeleton of the vending machine. I always find that not thinking about a thing helps me solve the thing later. So, that's what we did.

We took measurements, made a cut list, and then started assembling. It was actually quite refreshing to see how much we could accomplish when the "labor" was just that -- labor. Teams quickly emerged, and worked together diligently to make sure that all the holes were drilled straight, all the screws were driven in all the way, and that all the wood pieces were in the right place.

By the end of the session, we made a vending machine skeleton, ready for outer paneling, and fully equipped for internal shelving that will later support our mechanisms.

By doing this, we started to answer some of our big questions: How many different things can this machine vend? Where will the actuators go? Where will the "candy" come out?

With these answers fresh in our minds, we can start next session with a solid direction!

Exploring Different Designs and Working Together

Vend It! (Spring 2015)Nathan SavoyComment

Following a short group meeting Friday afternoon to establish some goals we broke into teams to work on the vending machine's mechanics. The group had crafted two very different designs to dispense our pre-cut candy bars. One team tackled a bolt action design while the other explored a pulley controlled lever arm. 

As the kids saw their designs taking shape everyone was so excited to use the tools to complete the next step of assemble that both ran into multiple bottle necks. A classic example of, "too many cooks in the kitchen." As collaborators we encourage tinkers to take a "divide and conquer approach" to workload when building in teams but sometimes it can be challenging to set aside our desire for individual recognition. As the afternoon continued Amanda and I tried to discourage this individualistic view by correcting for vocabulary regarding the project work such as: "I, me, mine" with "we, us, our".  I think that beyond the actual designs this was the greatest challenge for most of us today.

When we circled up at the end of the day everyone felt proud about the prototype progress even though both designs still had kinks to work out. The bolt action design was successful in dispensing the first candy bar but the stack would get jammed for subsequent tries. The alternate pulley operated lever arm design would release all the candy bars at once. With only moments before the end of the day we asked where we should continue the follow session. 

When one fearless voice said we should combining the elements of each design that worked to construct a new prototype, the suggestion received unanimous support. This spurred a dialogue where the works became the mutual property of everyone involved. We didn't prefect any vending machine prototypes this session but I believe everyone walked away with something really important.

Now, with teamwork in our tool-belts I can't wait to see what we'll accomplish!


Vending Fake Candy

Vend It! (Spring 2015)Amanda SimonsComment

Friday was project release, and we pitched an exciting, and also intimidating idea: A vending machine. During most of the session, we designed, brainstormed, and shared ideas.

We ended up with a lot of questions, and not many answers: 

  • What will our machine vend? ..candy? ...soda? ...woodshop materials?
  • How big is it?
  • It is wood or metal? Or glass?
  • How many different "products" will the machine offer?
  • Does it take real coins? Fake coins? Dollar bills? ...is it high-five activated?
  • How will we retrieve the money?
  • How will we restock the machine?
  • Will it be theft-proof?
  • More importantly, has anyone actually seen the inside of a real vending machine?
  • How does a real one even work?

Everyone had a very different idea of how the machine's internal mechanisms worked: levers, pulleys, springs, electronics, buttons, glass doors, twisty knobs.

The discussion went on! And on!

After exploring, re-exploring, re-re-exploring, and also re-re-re-exploring our options on paper and through discussion, it was definitely time to try something out with tools and materials. Fortunately, Nathan and I anticipated this brainstorming roadblock and offered up a quick solution; before the session, we cut up stacks of equally sized wood blocks -- fake candy bars -- and challenged the team.

Simply: Let's try to vend some fake candy.

Here are 8 pieces of wood. Put your theories to practice, and vend these 8 pieces. If we can make a device that can successfully dispense only 8 items of the same shape and size, then it could also vend 10, 20, or 100. And if this device can work for one shape, could we also adapt it to another shape?

The challenge continues next session!

We Agree To Learn

Vend It! (Spring 2015)Nathan SavoyComment

What a great way to end our first week at Tinkering School's After School. Friday's we open the shop up to our oldest group of builders allowing us to take on projects that really challenge us to think. Despite most being first time tinkers more than half of the group arrived with prior exposure or knowledge surrounding power tools and their use. Prepared with confidence we began our opening circle by exposing everyone to the culture of Tinkering. 

We talked about our intent: to work as a team on a cool project that will require we think critically about problems, set clear goals to be accomplished and persevere through frustration. We also acknowledged that any project we take on might be an epic fail. It took a few minutes to clarify to a few kids who came in eager to work on there own idea that here we will all be working together on one BIG project. We explained that this session we would be taking on our most ambitious project yet as after-school collaborators and how we anticipate it to be full of problems. One we explained how we are going to need all the heads, hands and help we could get everyone seemed on board.

Next moved on to tool training emphasizing the safety and operational protocols we follow in our shop and taking time to clarify how/if it differed from other places the kids may have used power tools. 

To encourage the ideas of working together to solve problems we broke into pairs. The only instruction: build a frame that didn't wobble. It was really great to see the kids working so well together, sharing ideas and solutions between groups completely on their own. 

Less sturdy..

Less sturdy..

More sturdy!

More sturdy!

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