Tinkering School

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Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving Break Camp, Day 3 - When it all worked.

Thanksgiving 2013Josh Rothhaas

The video of the machine in operation

And another view.

It worked.

There is a buzz in the air as we wrap up our last day of Thanksgiving Break Camps. Today we used an all new strategy. All day, one team, called the Finishing Team, focused exclusively on making sure the whole system worked. Our youngest created a complex series of bowling ball tracks. Another group spent all day working on a bowling ball pendulum. A third group created a sweet series of triggers and spinners that helped connect other parts of the machine. And the finishing crew helped connect the dots between these great ideas.

We started the day with a collection of machine parts from previous camps.

And went right into tool use and safety training.

After getting aquatinted with the tools available to us, we began considering the project ahead. A chain reaction machine ending with a catapult of paint, creating art.

We got right to our designs. The idea's flowed like water.

Then it was down to work. We had ideas from yesterday we wanted to perfect and new ideas to try out and make mistakes on.

There where bowling ball tracks to make. Even some that took 90 degree turns.

There were spiny things. We needed so many spiny things.

And of course, the elevator.

Today's exotic tool we got to pull out was the hand held circular saw. A mainstay in any builders repertoire but a bit tricky in our age range. The circular saw requires strength, a sure hand, a keen eye, and the ability to think and physically control a tool in 3 dimensions. It was a simple cut, but it garnered a patient and quite audience.

In a Rube Goldberg machine, precision matters. The very best way to draw a perfectly straight line is with a speed square.

One of the best moments of any project is when the hands hit the chin, the thinking get tough and real tinkering begins. The system works, but not all of the time. Consistency is key; really hard, sometimes boring, but always key.

In the end, we decorate. We stamp it as ours. A meditative practice that both helps us focus on the final few problems, and lets us feel like this isn't just a collection of pieces and parts, but rather that this is truly our creation.

As we ran the fully decorated machine of our making, the anticipation built at every juncture.

Until the very moment everything came together and our chain reaction machine worked. It really worked.

And only then, could we take a moment to appreciate the hard work and problems-solved of our co-creators. Each team dove so deeply into their own section that there we plenty of surprises to see when we looked closely enough.

Thanksgiving Break Camp, Day 2

Thanksgiving 2013Josh Rothhaas

Chain Reaction machines are on our mind. Today we set out to extend, expand and blow out our chain reaction machine and make it even more complicated and exciting. It was bigger, longer and had more moving parts.

As always we start the day with safety training. Learning our two most empowering tools, the chop-saw and the power drill, and our most important procedure, the ready call. Over the years we've finely honed it to this. The person doing the dangerous thing (whether that is using the chop saw, or throwing knives) says "ready?" and the only two answers are a visual but silent thumbs up for yes, and a loud and verbal "no!". It both makes sure we hear the "nos" and those who are ready are calm and in control.

Then the plans went wild. Bouncing balls. Zip-lines 25 feet in the air. Elevators. Teater totters. Dominos on Hinges. Marble Runs. Our dreams were big.

Precarious Potential Energy is the inverse of how much energy it takes to knock something over. Rube Goldberg machines are all about this. The easier it is to knock something over, push something, get something rolling, the more likely thing are to work. Our system could have used a little more precarious potential energy, as much of it needed pushes and pulls from the builders themselves. But in the end, it was spectacular.

Her is a video of the final run. Watch it in higher definition on our flickr page.

Thanksgiving Break Camps, Day 1

Thanksgiving 2013Josh Rothhaas

Today was full of starts and stops, mistakes and errors, prototypes and re-makes. It was a day full of excellent problem solving that ended in a splash. You can see all of the days best photos and video over on our flickr.

Today we crafted a chain reaction machine. Starting with a marble Run, colliding into trolly on a zip-line, tipping a block and releasing a ball bearing down a track, which hit a stand for a baseball, then knocked over some custom made 2x4 dominos which in turn set off a paint catapult.

It started at the end. A crude, not very interesting, but functional paint launcher was already built when the day started.

The goals for the day where to improve the paint launcher, and build as many things as possible to create a complex chain reaction full of twists, turns, ups and downs.

We got right down to tool use and safety training.

Then it was down to building. We had marble runs to start.

And dominos to shape.

One of the great joys of Tinkering School is the use of real tools. Almost everyone uses the drills and a chopsaw, but sometimes things get more exotic and we use rarer tools like the router.

Our machine went way up high.

And everywhere else.

It had a lot of tiny details.

Then we ran the thing. And it mostly worked!

At no point did all the pieces work together. But this run was pretty great.

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