Tinkering School

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Talking About Tinkering School: Three Awesome Things Worth Sharing

Talking About TSSean Murray

We asked the folks who run Tinkering Schools, "What are three awesome things worth sharing with other folks who build with kids?"

Their replies are below!

NAME: Mary Beth

TINKERING SCHOOL LOCATION: at reDiscover Center, Los Angeles, CA

THING WORTH SHARING 1: For early arriving campers, each morning provide a LEGO Challenge in a side room. We borrowed a 50 LB loose collection from a local Lego Club and wrote up a daily design challenge to build in LEGO that related to some of that day's planned building in the workshop. This gets the kids building and working with each other from the moment they arrive. It also keeps campers out of the main workshop, so last minute preparations can continue uninterrupted while one staff member or parents supervise the kids. And our Tinkerers loved the transition from playing with toys to "real" camp as they lined up as a group to enter the workshop.

THING WORTH SHARING 2: Slowly reveal tools through the first two days as campers train up on safe tool use. We put most of our hand tools on an island in the center of the workshop and leave sections (like the hand saws) of that island under covers for the first day so campers focus on the tools they have in hand. Same thing with the standing power tools (chop saw, band saw, and drill press), which remain covered until the afternoon of the second day, or for some groups, the third morning. 

THING WORTH SHARING 3: Make clean up fun, organized, and predictable with a chore wheel. This was a new one for us in 2014 which I tried with a little trepidation that it would kill our cooperative vibe, but it worked really, really well. I made a chore wheel with each camper and counselor's name on one wheel and an equal number of cleaning tasks on the other, including: pick up dropped hardware, return loose tools, sort unused lumber, sweep power tools, sweep tool island, etc. I think hearing that other people will be cleaning other parts of the workshop helped our campers focus on the cleaning assigned to them rather than trying to "clean the whole room" for a few minutes then giving up, frustrated and bored.

NAME: Oren


THING WORTH SHARING 1: Stealing. I don't always use the word stealing, but I do find sometimes it's a great motivator for getting tinkerers to 'borrow' or 'share' ideas with others. In the group projects I'll often whisper in a kid's ear "You know, I noticed Team Picki solved that problem, do you want to sneak over there and see how they did it? Maybe we can 'steal' it from them!" I always try to explain that this is actually sharing ideas and all ideas are 'inspired' by other work, blah, blah, blah. But I do think the excitement of 'stealing' works for some kids. 

THING WORTH SHARING 2: Hot Glue and the 3D printer. I always use "fancy hot glue gun" to describe how the extrusion based 3D printers work. I've also had success setting out a bunch of hot glue guns and having kids build something, layer by layer, with hot glue to show them how the printers work. Plus, it's more fun than having a bunch of kids standing around one 3D printer.

THING WORTH SHARING 3: Wood Strength Demo. Every time I work with the SF crew I'm reminded of the wood strength demo that they do and how awesome it is to have a 50lb kid break a 2x4 in half! Or how the orientation of wood can mean the different between strong and weak.

NAME: Sean


THING WORTH SHARING 1: Low-affordance drill storage. The absolute easiest, most satisfying way to put the drills back is also the correct way. We spend about 0 minutes/session managing this.

THING WORTH SHARING 2: "Clamp-a-ma-jig Clamp Training". We'd had a really hard time getting kids stoked on clamps during tool trainings (at the beginning of each session). This summer, we figured out a training that they really liked, that got them into using the clamps: who can build the largest structure out of scraps and just clamps (no fasteners)?

THING WORTH SHARING 3: "The Elbow Touch of Sanity". At the beginning of each session, we ask kids to ask for help by touching a person's elbow, not shouting the person's name. This makes a quieter, more focused workspace. Also, it incentivizes trying a little harder before asking for help.

NAME: Melissa


THING WORTH SHARING 1: Japanese Pull-Saws. One of the most important tools in our toolbox happens to be our Japanese saws. This type withstands all children, for all occasions. Handle is seriously durable. Love it! 

THING WORTH SHARING 2: Add quirky things to your builds. Above is a picture from one of our Tinkering Pop Up Playground events. An architect friend brought giant spools to the site, just for kicks. Kids spent hours building, sitting and jumping on them. Finally after getting very familiar with these spools a group of 6 made a car out of it. Quirky leads to innovation. 

THING WORTH SHARING 3: Wash up. An important lesson I learned during our camp is the need for an occasional washroom break. Kids get so involved with the work they are doing, they will not want to stop, even if their bodies are saying STOP!!! An occasional reminder will help alleviate any accidents.  Maddy, our four- year-old tinkerer, told me once during our workshop "First I go potty, then I learn how to saw" Smart thinking Maddy. That is our mantra. 

If you build stuff with kids and have figured out something awesome, share it to info@tinkeringschool.com !

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