Tinkering School

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Mark Day / San Rafael

Moon Landing Mini Golf - Day 3 - Week 5 (Mark Day School)

Mark Day / San Rafael, Mark Day Moon Golf (2019)Tatian GreenleafComment

Today was another day of build, build, build with a good dose of design, design, design thrown in. We’re still figuring out the best way to launch a golf ball onto the moon. Is a lever a useful mechanism? What about a rubber band slingshot? Or a pinball-style method? We learn through testing and we did quite a bit of that today. Can the lunar lander platform hold enough weight? Does it wobble? How can we strengthen the things we build?

How high should a moonscape mini golf hill be? Should we have a separate platform beside the hill so that players have varied experiences and can employ strategy?

A hinge allows the lever to swing quickly and strike the golf ball inside the tube.

A hinge allows the lever to swing quickly and strike the golf ball inside the tube.

What height and angle does the tube need to be at to propel the ball far enough?

What height and angle does the tube need to be at to propel the ball far enough?

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Adding a triangular brace to the lunar lander from underneath.

Adding a triangular brace to the lunar lander from underneath.

Attaching the lunar lander feet to add stability but also aesthetic value.

Attaching the lunar lander feet to add stability but also aesthetic value.

After the ramp and the bumpy platform were finished and side rails were added, a team began work on constructing the hill. This was quite difficult as it required several angled pieces as well as angled supports.

After the ramp and the bumpy platform were finished and side rails were added, a team began work on constructing the hill. This was quite difficult as it required several angled pieces as well as angled supports.

Many of our connections for the lunar lander and the golf course consisted of angled parts. So the screws we put in were either added to slanted pieces of wood or needed to be pocket screws. One technique some of our tinkerers practiced today was drilling a starter hole perpendicular to the wood and then angling the drill and drilling a straight pilot hole using the starter hole as a guide:

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In the morning during our opening circle, David taught a lesson on how to correctly measure wood. Being the creative teacher that he is, he made giant props for the demo — a tape measure and a speed square. And he used our blue benches to stand in as 2x3 wooden blocks. Then, he demonstrated with our actual tools and wood to connect those ideas tangibly.

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After lunch, Jayson demonstrated good techniques for reinforcing structures. Particularly, he covered the difference between sheer strength (i.e. depending on screws to hold weight) — we tell kids that “screws are not magical” — and compression strength (i.e. depending on vertical pieces of wood to hold weight).

If one screw allows two pieces of wood to twist and two screws hold two pieces of wood together without twisting, how many screws are ideal? 3? 4? 7? 50? Jayson explained that adding more screws can weaken the wood because it separates the wood fibers.

If one screw allows two pieces of wood to twist and two screws hold two pieces of wood together without twisting, how many screws are ideal? 3? 4? 7? 50? Jayson explained that adding more screws can weaken the wood because it separates the wood fibers.

Jayson was able to support his full weight on several pieces of wood braced in a triangle.

Jayson was able to support his full weight on several pieces of wood braced in a triangle.

At closing circle, we asked for examples of how tinkerers had tried harder than usual today (one of our goals for the week). One way we’re doing so is to learn to use new tools.

A jig saw can be used to make straight or curved lines in plywood.

A jig saw can be used to make straight or curved lines in plywood.

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The day isn’t complete without crossing off a few more items from our design and build checklists.

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Click through the gallery below for more photos from our day. And visit our Flickr page for many more photos from throughout the week.

The Search for Sea Monsters - Day 2 - Week 4 (Mark Day School)

Mark Day / San Rafael, Mark Day Sea Monsters '19Tatian Greenleaf1 Comment

We know that math is a huge part of building and tinkering. And we know that to build our submarine and sea monster, we will need to make both octagons and hexagons from wooden 2x3s. Today’s circle started with a silly skit with a serious message: how to carry wood. An eight foot 2x3 weighs almost eight pounds and has two hard ends. So we learn how to ask a friend to carry one end while we take the other and how to communicate while moving about our spaces.

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Those eight foot 2x3s often end up at our chop saw station with a line drawn for each cut.

Those eight foot 2x3s often end up at our chop saw station with a line drawn for each cut.

Then it was time for an engineering lesson from David. He meticulously led us through an understanding of how triangles are a fundamental part of polygons (and indeed, of geometry in general) and how we can rely on a triangle’s special relationships between side lengths and angle measurements. Specifically, we all needed to know what angles to cut at the ends of our 2x3s to create an octagon and a hexagon. The formula for a regular polygon is 360° ÷ (number of sides x 2). So a hexagon would require angle cuts of 30° because 360° ÷ 12 = 30°. And since our chop saw can pivot side to side, we’re armed with everything we need to make six — or eight — of our polygon sides.

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Cutting a 30° angle on the chop saw.

Cutting a 30° angle on the chop saw.

After a busy morning building and a long break at the park for lunch, Jayson introduced another engineering concept: structural reinforcement. He posed several questions to the tinkerers: how many screws is the ideal number for connecting two pieces of wood? One? Two? Three? Seven? Twenty? And how would we know…? When Jayson pushes together two pieces of wood connected by seven screws and we all hear the creaking and then breaking of the wood, it’s evident that screws alone aren’t enough (we like to say “screws aren’t magical”). We observed what happens when wood is connected using “sheer strength” (pushing down on screws) versus compression (pushing down on another piece of wood). And once again, triangles play a big part in reinforcing large structures. The demonstration had an immediate effect as one of our tinkerers thought through how best to reinforce the body of the sea monster during our afternoon build and suggested a compression method.

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We had two long build periods today and our tinkerers definitely tried harder than usual. The chop saw line looked like the wait for a ride at Disneyland and as soon as one measured and angle-cut piece was completed and checked off of our “cut list,” a new piece of wood was grabbed out of our wood bin and a measuring tape, speed square and pencil were employed to make the next one.

By pivoting a speed square at a corner, it’s possible to draw a precise angle on the wood.

By pivoting a speed square at a corner, it’s possible to draw a precise angle on the wood.

Drills are two-handed tools. We use clamps to provide stability while we drive screws.

Drills are two-handed tools. We use clamps to provide stability while we drive screws.

A really wonderful thing happens at Tinkering School because of the age range of our tinkerers (7 to 11 years old) and also the fact that we have some folks joining us who have been through the camp in previous weeks and years: mentoring. One of our tinkerers had just assembled an octagon and a few of our other tinkerers needed to know how to put together a hexagon. The steps are similar so it made sense to have peer-to-peer instruction. There’s a great tip in this video: if you need to drill at an angle, start by drilling straight into the wood and then use the starter hole as a guide for angling the drill bit.

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We now have the outline of the front of the submarine, a section of the sea monster’s body almost complete, and the frame of the monster’s head that will support a moveable jaw. One of our tinkerers was adding hinges to it just before our “reset” cleanup clap started.

It’s going to be a busy day tomorrow for sure! I can’t wait to see what our tinkerers make next.

This submarine is going to be big… much bigger than ourselves.

This submarine is going to be big… much bigger than ourselves.

Figuring out how the jaws will work.

Figuring out how the jaws will work.

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Click through the gallery below for more photos from today. For many more from the week, visit our Flickr page.

Jungle Adventure Obstacle Course - Day 5 - Week 3 (Mark Day School)

Mark Day / San Rafael, Mark Day Jungle AdventureTatian GreenleafComment

The last day of the week at Tinkering School is a huge day. Although one of our goals is not “finishing the project,” we all feel that anxious excitement about having build something bigger than ourselves and getting to show it off to friends and family. This morning, we worked for nearly two hours straight to move the rock climbing wall into place and affix it to the entrance mountain, connect and brace the 14’ slide (the angle was steep so we added railings as well as a rope to hold onto and we tested it before everyone slid down), attach all of the pool noodles to the cave ceiling, put the trap in place, rig the pulley system to raise and lower the chair, and add a railing (unfinished but the idea was good) and cone to the volcano top.

If it seemed like we packed two days into one, that’s the thrill of Friday. Some of the more common tasks like drilling pilot holes, driving screws, measuring and cutting wood, and clamping things together take a little less focus and brainpower which means we can devote those to the final design elements.

Click through the gallery below (this is a BIG one) for many more photos from today’s project reveal. And to see the week in its entirety, visit our Flickr page.

Welcome To The County Fair - Day 5 - Week 2 (Mark Day School)

Mark Day / San Rafael, Mark Day County Fair 2019Tatian GreenleafComment

How do you measure, measure a week in the life of Tinkering School Summer Camp? 500 screws, 120 chop saw cuts, 28 drill press holes, 14 jig saw cuts, 61 feet of rollercoaster track, 21 tinkerers and 6 collaborators. But so much more than that:

  • the grit and resilience to power through the completion of the rollercoaster. We asked for a few volunteers to spend their lunch reinforcing the tracks and half the camp joined in.

  • the teamwork involved in holding wood with hands or a clamp so a friend can drive a few screws through two 2x3s.

  • asking “How can I help?” and lending a hand to someone putting the finishing touches on the “Disaprater” (sic for all you Harry Potter fans) spinning ride.

By Friday, we are a well-oiled machine and even though we stress that one of our goals is not “finishing the project,” we all really, really want to have completed the rides and have something to show off when family members arrive in the afternoon.

It was quite the moment when we released the two-person cart for the first time onto the tracks and simultaneously spun the Disaprater with tinkerers and even parents aboard!

We keep our project sharing time short after a lovely closing circle where tinkerers share a favorite moment from the week. And then it’s time for deconstruction… our tinkerers take the lead with drills in hand to remove screws and reverse-engineer our builds so that the materials can be stored away and used again next week.

For even more photos from the week, see our Flickr page.

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Click through the gallery below for more photos from today.

Welcome To The County Fair - Day 4 - Week 2 (Mark Day School)

Mark Day County Fair 2019, Mark Day / San RafaelDavid St. MartinComment
 
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With so much building to do, it might be surprising to hear that today took on a fairly relaxed feeling. Folks were floating between the projects, helping where they could. As a result, lots was accomplished on both projects. The spinning ride was named, and given a Harry Potter theme… a sign with the new name was made on the CNC router… and several students got a chance to work with another new tool, the drill press.

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Using a larger drill bit to make a hole for a PVC pipe.

Using a larger drill bit to make a hole for a PVC pipe.

Our first animal comes to life for the Disaprater.

Our first animal comes to life for the Disaprater.

 

The rollercoaster cart is ready to plunge down the platform ramp once it’s complete. Building over 30 feet of track is no easy task. Careful measuring and cutting has to happen before everything can be assembled.

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Even though our builds do not require pulleys this week, we like to introduce kids to tools and materials they might build with in other situations. Today, David gave a demo all about pulleys and how they can be used to redirect movement or to lighten the load of a heavy object. Our tinkerers learned that pulleys are used in all sorts of applications from window blinds to flag poles to elevators.

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We can’t wait to see everyone tomorrow for the project reveal. We’ll have one good build session in the morning to finish up our rides, then we’ll prepare to show off our creations to our visitors at 2pm! See you there!

Welcome To The County Fair - Day 3 - Week 2 (Mark Day School)

Mark Day / San Rafael, Mark Day County Fair 2019David St. MartinComment

A full day of building…and cupcakes! One of our tinkerers was inspired to go above and beyond and make some (truly) amazing s’more cupcakes to share with everyone this week. What a treat!

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Besides cupcakes, today was about problem solving. Our spinning ride must be able to be taken apart and re-assembled in the courtyard, so the team had to figure out how to make it easily re-assembled.

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Final details like seats can be surprisingly hard to engineer, but we had a dedicated team working on that problem as well, and they’ve made good progress.

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We took a moment for a skit about sharing drills (they are a popular tool!) and for a workshop on structural reinforcement of wood. We learned that a corner with a triangular brace can withstand much more pressure than a corner without one.

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The roller-coaster is progressing slowly, but not due to the efforts of those working on it. The ambitious ride has a car and a long section of track, but each element has taken a lot of time so far, and there’s still a lot of ramp to build! We’ll cheer them on tomorrow and hope a few more tinkerers will join the effort to bring the coaster to life by Friday!

 
How high should the “bump” be and how will we support its weight?

How high should the “bump” be and how will we support its weight?

Our tinkerers get very adept at driving screws in tight quarters. It’s not as easy to use a drill sideways but we get lots of practice during the week.

Our tinkerers get very adept at driving screws in tight quarters. It’s not as easy to use a drill sideways but we get lots of practice during the week.

We learned to use assembly squares to clamp our wood at right angles.

We learned to use assembly squares to clamp our wood at right angles.

Cutting rollercoaster rails on the chop saw

Cutting rollercoaster rails on the chop saw

Which is sharper, the jigsaw or Jayson’s mohawk? This is one of many demos that collaborators do so that tinkerers can see how to properly use tools for various purposes.

Which is sharper, the jigsaw or Jayson’s mohawk? This is one of many demos that collaborators do so that tinkerers can see how to properly use tools for various purposes.

Click through the gallery below for more photos from today. To see many more photos from throughout the week, visit our Flickr page.

Welcome To The County Fair - Day 2 - Week 2 (Mark Day School)

Mark Day / San Rafael, Mark Day County Fair 2019Tatian GreenleafComment

With our initial designs figured out, today was a big day of building. We started with some brainstorming and discussion around the questions “What is tinkering?” and “Why do we tinker?”

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The rollercoaster group worked through two projects today: building up the structure of a two-person car and forming a length of track. Beth led a discussion about potential and kinetic energy. We know gravity will play a big part in the speed of our car. There was excitement in the air when the car was lifted onto the tracks, wheels were temporarily clamped to the bottom, and the car was slowly pushed forward to see if it would roll straight on the rails. Testing is such an important part of what we do at Tinkering School. Test, evaluate, revise, build. And on it goes!

The car team and the track team had to coordinate their measurements precisely.

The car team and the track team had to coordinate their measurements precisely.

Figuring out how a monorail might keep the car straight and how best to balance the weight of riders.

Figuring out how a monorail might keep the car straight and how best to balance the weight of riders.

Sometimes a “partner push” on a drill can make all the difference, especially when needing extra power to drive a screw in sideways.

Sometimes a “partner push” on a drill can make all the difference, especially when needing extra power to drive a screw in sideways.

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The spinny ride is also taking shape nicely. Our tinkerers have been trying harder than usual as they assemble the base and arms of the ride in the hot sun. The testing phase stretched into the morning and included experiments with two different platforms, two kinds of wheels, adding beams to simulate the full size of the final ride, and spinning the ride while a couple riders balanced in the middle. Tomorrow we’ll finish the long arm beams and start a new design phase looking at ways to add fun and function to the ride. We anticipate some good conversations about levers and how mechanical forces move through our structure. Stay tuned!

Measure, cut, drill pilot hole, drive screw… repeat! A lot of work went into assembling this base.

Measure, cut, drill pilot hole, drive screw… repeat! A lot of work went into assembling this base.

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Testing a “spinny” part of the ride.

Testing a “spinny” part of the ride.

Tinkerers get familiar with our tool wall and can find what they need throughout the day. We also “reset” our spaces each morning and afternoon after we build. This lets us practice one of our goals, to collaborate and make friends.

Tinkerers get familiar with our tool wall and can find what they need throughout the day. We also “reset” our spaces each morning and afternoon after we build. This lets us practice one of our goals, to collaborate and make friends.

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After we go through tool training on Monday to learn to use the clamps, chop saw and cordless drills, we sometimes need an additional tool to shape our materials.

A scroll saw for making detailed cuts in thin wood.

A scroll saw for making detailed cuts in thin wood.

A circular saw for “ripping” long sheets of plywood.

A circular saw for “ripping” long sheets of plywood.

A jig saw for cutting out shapes from plywood.

A jig saw for cutting out shapes from plywood.

Click through the gallery below for more photos from the day. To see many more photos from throughout the week, visit our Flickr page.

Welcome To The County Fair - Day 1 - Week 2 (Mark Day School)

Mark Day / San Rafael, Mark Day County Fair 2019David St. MartinComment

We had a busy and productive first day today. After introductions and some time to develop some group agreements for the week, we talked about the goals for Tinkering School: Collaborate and make new friends, Try harder than usual, Build something bigger than ourselves and Make mistakes and learn from them. As the week progresses we’ll keep coming back to these things as our guiding principles and it will help us keep perspective and stay focused on what matters as we go.

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After that, we dove right in to tool training on the three most important tools in camp: the chop saw, the cordless drill and the clamps. There really is nothing like the sense of empowerment you feel after learning to use these tools effectively. Anything is possible!

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The much anticipated project unveiling came right after lunch with the unveiling of the theme, a nod to the Marin County event this week:

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Tatian shared a custom Mad Libs story incorporating words selected by the tinkerers:

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We’ll be building two rides this week. One will roll ('“an epic rolly ride”) and the other will spin (“an epic spinny ride”). The students finished their day sketching and prototyping ideas so we can refine our designs and come to consensus tomorrow. This process is never easy, but it is always exciting to see the final design come together.

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How big is a rollercoaster car? How many people should it hold?

How big is a rollercoaster car? How many people should it hold?

For more photos from today, click through the gallery below. To see even more photos from the entire week, visit our Flickr page.

Living Above The Sharks - Day 5 - Week 1 (Mark Day School)

Mark Day / San Rafael, Mark Day LivingAboveSharkDavid St. MartinComment

Our 24 students built a house on stilts, a zip line, a landing pad, a wobbly boat and an island this week. We took only half an hour this afternoon to celebrate the results and show off their accomplishments to friends and family, knowing the project will live on in the minds of these tinkerers. Each one of them took ownership of the project in their own way, tried harder than usual, made mistakes they learned from and so much more. Enjoy the photos from our week one project reveal, and thank you to everyone who pitched in to help in the take-apart at the end of the day!

To see more photos from the week, visit our Flickr page.

A spade bit or hole saw can be secured in a drill chuck and used to make large holes in wood.

A spade bit or hole saw can be secured in a drill chuck and used to make large holes in wood.

Making 45 degree cuts on the chop saw.

Making 45 degree cuts on the chop saw.

Click through the gallery below for more photos from today.