Tinkering School

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Hamster Maze (2018)

Hamster Maze - Day 5 - Week 6 - SF Summer Day Camp

Hamster Maze (2018), San Francisco Day CampBrendon BellComment

There's no way I could sum up this week any better than this heroic hamster...

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It's our final day of tinkering this week and it also marks the close of our epic summer day camp in San Francisco. What better way to celebrate than to build and test ride our hamster obstacle course!? The giant hamsters ended up not joining the party today, but that was fine as we wanted to test our prototypes first to make sure they were safe for our furry friends.

The hamster cart team made some final structural support additions and discovered just how bendy PVC pipe can be while making an awesome tunnel.


After lunch it was finally time to test ride the cart! One of the privileges of being a collaborator is that we get to ride/test every potentially dangerous project first to ensure its safety. And this time, I was the lucky collaborator to get the job. The excitement in the room was palpable. Would the young tinkerers hard work hold up to the gravitational forces? Or would I go crashing like a tumbling hamster??? 




I am happy to report that I am still here report to you all (with all body parts intact) that it was a GIANT success! The kids jumped and yelled and cheered as I flew down the track ramp, across the room and smashed into our stopping barrier (metal chairs – for added drama). Everyone couldn't wait to try it themselves and show their parents. Check out the video at the end to see the fun!


Meanwhile, the hamster wheel team worked hard to complete their stand, install the wheel, and test out their impressive feat of engineering!


The team did an amazing job reducing friction on the axle. It actually consisted of a metal threaded rod inside a piece of metal conduit pipe. This allowed the two metal pieces to slide against each other rather than metal on wood which can cause a lot of drag. As a result, they discovered that absence of friction can also be important to account for...the wheel could spin super fast if folks weren't careful to slow it down!

Check out the fun! The kids all got to ride in it – helmet required of course.

The obstacle cubes were also fully covered and connected by a spooky dark tunnel.  


The kids made sure to add lots of trip wires, dangling obstacles to duck under, a swing, ground barriers to walk over with stilts and more! They had a blast testing out their agility maze. I hope the hamsters are prepared.


The climbing team completed and attached ladders to their tower for yet another way to test the hamsters' and their own scrambling skills. They also had time to make some directional signs – one way only! Have you ever seen or been stuck in a hamster traffic jam? No? Be thankful you haven't if you haven't... they're worse than downtown San Francisco at rush hour...


One of the joys of Tinkering School is having the chance to build things bigger than ourselves – especially things that we can use and interact with. Whether its a mountain to climb over, a wheel to roll inside, a cart to ride in, or an obstacle course to traverse, there's nothing quite like getting to play with a huge creation that you also dreamed up and built with your own hands as part of a team.


A big thank you (and squeak) to all our hamster tinkerers this week for bringing your imaginations, and enthusiasm, and teamwork. All of our Tinkering staff look forward to hopefully seeing many of you next summer and in lots of our other camps. Till then, happy tinkering and hamsterbunga! 

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To see more photos from our hamster maze week, please visit our Flickr page!

Hamster Maze - Day 4 - Week 6 - SF Summer Day Camp

Hamster Maze (2018), San Francisco Day CampBrendon BellComment

Our team this morning was so excited to begin tinkering that they could hardly contain themselves! The high levels of enthusiasm made it more challenging though to remember our group agreement to "always walk" in the woodshop...

Luckily, we were able to spend a little more time in our morning project meetings to allow our energy levels to return again to "safe" tinkering levels, and then finally it was time to build!

The cube team continued to build their walls, fine tune their swing, build a roof, and install the first obstacles. So much activity!


The climbing challenge team installed the rock climbing wall as well as the rope pull wall. After a successful test from our staff collaborators, the tinkerers had their chance to climb up and over. Some of the youngsters were scared of the height at first, but after taking their time to slowly navigate the obstacle, their faces lit up with excitement "we did it!."

A ladder? A bridge? A collaborator catcher? When tinkering, a few sticks of wood can become anything!

A ladder? A bridge? A collaborator catcher? When tinkering, a few sticks of wood can become anything!


The crew also took advantage of the final painting day – we had to make sure everything dries before Friday when the parents arrive!


The stilts team made some nice modifications too, adding some metal handles.


They learned how to use the drill press to bore large holes for the hardware to fit into. 


The hamster cart team tested out their platform, ramp, and cart. While I walked around on the platform and ramp, the kids all watched and listened for signs of cracking, creaking, breaks, bends or any other troubling sings of structural weakness. We discovered a few spots that could use more supports. Good thing we checked!


We also tried out the cart to see how it rolled. It picked up some speed! It will be an exciting ride when its all ready to go.


The hamster wheel team is also nearly done with the wheel portion!


The floor boards are being installed and now its time to work on the support stand. Can't wait to see it rolling along!


You definitely won't want to miss tomorrow's post! We're going to have an epic maze that any hamster would love to climb through! To see more photos from the day, please be sure to visit our Flickr page :)

Hamster Maze - Day 3 - Week 6 - SF Summer Day Camp

Hamster Maze (2018), San Francisco Day CampBrendon BellComment

It's hamster time!! 

At least it is was here today at our San Francisco day camp! We had lots of fun busily tinkering and building our epic mazes and obstacle courses. 


We have a new hamster friend who just joined the team! We are not yet decided on what their name is yet... we'll keep you posted.

The huge rope climbing wall was ready to be raised. Hopefully the hamsters will be ready – this is looking like it will be a super challenging maze / obstacle course!


The rock hand holds for the climbing wall were carefully placed and bolted on to a piece of plywood. 


What will these climbing walls be attached to you might be wondering? Another group completed an impressive 7 foot tall tower, utilizing many triangle supports to make sure it was super strong. It will securely anchor both climbing walls and serve as an excellent hamster lookout post.


Our collaborators always test the structural integrity of pieces that will be holding weight. Two thumbs up - the platform was really sturdy!


I think our tinkerers are beginning to exhibit hamster like behaviors...mischievous hoarding of wood sticks...talking in squeaks and chirps...curious...

The large hamster cart received some much needed safety upgrades. Walls and bumpers!


Meanwhile, the track team worked super hard to build a launch platform and ramp.


This team demonstrated some impressive collaboration, all deciding together how to share drilling, screwing, and holding duties. There's so much we can accomplish when we work together!


One cart and track was definitely not enough. Our hamsters enjoy riding in style, so this team prototyped and built another really cool train system.


Yet another hardworking group of tinkerers made huge progress on their hamster wheel.

Cutting the axle with a hacksaw.

Cutting the axle with a hacksaw.

They learned how to use the drill press to cut out holes in the cross supports that will hold the axle.

They learned how to use the drill press to cut out holes in the cross supports that will hold the axle.


One of the obstacle cube teams made tons of progress sheathing the sides with thin plywood.


The bandsaw was another tool they learned how to use. It's great for cutting plywood. Similar to the chop saw, it also has a "blood bubble" that we keep all our fingers and out hands out of. 

Jack tested out his stilts too and they worked like a charm! Super stable and easy to control. 


We have an incredibly enthusiastic and hard working group this week. The obstacles are taking shape, the projects are growing exponentially, and the hamsters hopefully are busy prepping, because they are going to get a workout navigating this maze!

Check back soon to follow this crews progress and to see more photos from the week, please do visit our Flickr page!

Hamster Maze - Day 2 - Week 6 - SF Summer Day Camp

Hamster Maze (2018), San Francisco Day CampBrendon BellComment

The hamsters are going to be veeerry happy!

We had a full day of tinkering and building today and we saw lots of collaboration and hard work and these projects are already growing to be bigger than ourselves.

One team focused on making two giant boxes that will be connected by a rope swing and filled with obstacles. Hopefully the hamsters are super agile!


Sometimes hand tools are the right fit for the job! The kids love hand saws almost as much as they love using the chop saw. There is something so satisfying about using just your strength and a piece of metal to mold the world around you.


So many opportunities for teamwork! 


Another team worked hard on building a cart and track for our lucky hamsters.


Safety first! It was decided by the group that adding a bumper to the hamster cart would be a good idea. Xenia happily took on the task of adapting an old tire for the purpose.


What would a giant hamster week be without hamsters! Another team gleefully began work on creating some cute, huge hamsters. There were some tricky angles angle pieces to cut and attach that definitely gave these young tinkerers a chance to try harder than usual.


What would a hamster maze be without a climbing wall! This team is really excited to construct a 5 foot tall climbing wall that will lead to a platform and ramp. The hamsters are going to get some serious excercise navigating this maze!


There's even going to be a section of the obstacle course that requires stilts! We discovered the usefulness of triangles (gussets) to make really strong connections between two pieces of wood.


I never thought hamster envy could be a thing, but after seeing the creative projects this hard working group is putting together, I'm starting to think more and more how fun it would be to traverse this epic obstacle course!

Stay tuned for more tinkering and check out all the fun from the week on our Flickr page!

Hamster Maze - Day 1 - Week 6 - SF Summer Day Camp

Hamster Maze (2018), San Francisco Day CampBrendon BellComment

Have you heard the news!? Hamster pet food across the country has been found to have traces of super ginormous growth hormone accidentally added to it...and the result...???

GIANT HAMSTERS! they're still cuddly and cute, but now they're giant - roughly small human sized. Luckily our newest group of tinkerers joined us this week and we're on a mission to build some new and enlarged hamster mazes for them so they can feel at home again soon.

Before we could get started building though, we needed to create some group agreements: How do we want to treat each other? How do we plan to stay safe while we build? We came up with a great list that we all felt good about and then it was on to tool training!


Our young tinkerers learned how to efficiently clamp multiple pieces of wood together. Many multiples! They built some impressive clamp bridges with their new skills and then learned how to carefully take them all apart in reverse order.


Knowing how to use a drill is an essential skill for a tinkerer to have in their toolbelt, so we made sure that everyone had an opportunity to practice their drilling technique. 


Perfect two handed form! Placing one hand on the back of the drill isn't just a good way to provide more power, it helps direct the force down in a straight line which can prevent stripping the screws or breaking drill bits

Always a favorite, the kids learned to use the CHOP SAW!!! Its the most exciting and potentially dangerous tool we frequently use in the shop, so we have developed very specific safety protocols that each kid learns and every cut that is made through the week is supervised by one of our staff collaborators.

Manny (E-man) explaining the "thumbs up" check that the chop saw operator needs to get from everyone nearby before making a cut.

Manny (E-man) explaining the "thumbs up" check that the chop saw operator needs to get from everyone nearby before making a cut.


After our lunch break the kids discovered what the weeks' tinkering theme would be and then dove into brainstorming and designing their projects. There's some super fun ideas being developed and I have no doubt the hamsters will be deeply appreciative of their efforts!


There was even still time at the end of the day to begin building! – lots of measuring, cutting, and material gathering. It's going to be a very productive week I have a feeling.


We ended the day with a closing circle where we listened to each other describe how we tried harder than usual, collaborated with friends, and made some great mistakes that we learned from. Looking around at the projects, it was also clear that we are already well on the way to building projects bigger than ourselves.

The kids are eagerly on board with our four tinkering school goals, and it will be exciting to watch them tinker this week. Who knows what amazing creations will come from their collaborations. The hamsters can hardly wait!

To see more of the tinkering fun today, be sure to visit our Flickr page!

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