Tinkering School

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What Would We Like Kids to Take Away from Tinkering School, with Respect to Fabrication?

Sean MurrayComment

[Sean here. This essay contains some ideas we've been batting around, they're in no way official, formal, or codified--just food for thought.]

Our big important goals at Tinkering School are about collaboration, problem-solving, curiosity and perseverance. Fabrication is just the medium through which we explore those goals. Team problem-solving is the end, fabrication is the means.

But, sometimes it's worth thinking about the means. What, exactly, would we like kids to take away from their time at Tinkering School, with respect to fabrication? Here are some thoughts:


  • Begin with a clear project goal or problem statement. Make sure this project goal/problem statement is understood by every member of the team. 
  • Create drawings of the project. Make sure the drawings are easily accessible to every member of the team.
  • Given the choice between solutions that seem equally likely to succeed, choose the option that is simpler, faster, and cheaper.



  • Projects are made up of assemblies. (E.g. a basketball-run is made up of three assemblies: straight track, turning track, and vertical supports)
  • Assemblies are made up of parts. (E.g. straight track is made up two parts: rails and ties)
  • Parts are interchangeable, practically identical copies of one another. (I.e. all ties are 2.5"x1.5"x10")


  • Additive fabrication* consists is driven by two basic operations--part-making and assembling.
  • Jigs are used to make quality** parts. (E.g. a "stop" ensures that all ties come out 10" long)
  • Check fixtures are used to make quality assemblies. (E.g. the black plastic corner clamps ensure that two parts are assembled at 90deg)****


  • Make the project more manageable by dividing it into sub-projects. (E.g. Making rail and tie parts, assembling parts into straight track, measuring the site where the basketball run will go, prototyping turning track) 
  • Tackle sub-projects in mini-teams of 1-3.
  • Communicate w/ all team members about any progress, setbacks or changes.
  • Constantly ask yourself and one another, How does what I am doing right now address our project goal/problem statement?



  • Test projects responsibly. (I.e., use safety equipment, iterative escalation and "ready?" calls. OUR GOAL IS THAT KIDS DO THIS WHEN BUILDING ON THEIR OWN, BEYOND TINKERING SCHOOL.)
  • Test projects scientifically. Actively look for problems. Address one problem at a time.
  • Record finished projects.
  • Reflect on moments of excellence from your teammates and your self.
  • Reset resources for the next project/team.

Ie, what we do at Tinkering School--making parts and adding them together. (As opposed to reductive fabrication; carving away material, like sculpting a bust from a block of granite, or turning a baseball bat on a lathe.

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