Tinkering School

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Talking About TSSean Murray


It was week 2 of Tinkering School Summer Day Camp, the theme of the week was "FORTS!".

We were throwing out a bunch of ideas and as my first love is clay I threw out the idea of making a clay fort. I came in thinking it would be so easy, as I have been working in clay for 8 years.  A few things my hubris did not  consider: we would be mixing our own clay due to ordering the wrong clay, tiny coil bowls are not the same thing as a 400 times larger upside down version, and a lack of structural support and thin walls does not make a strong foundation. 


Making our own materials. We got to mix 300+ lbs of clay with the kids from scratch.

Responding to Unseen Problems by Changing Plans. The transition from our original idea--coils of clay--to bricks was a more structurally sound idea. 

Modeling engagement. As long as you are working, the kids will observe you and want to join in. Your commitment is part of the buy in. 

Perseverance. We finished the fort at the 11th hour.

Novel materials. Wood is really clean. Here, the kids got the chance to get messy and use a unique material in large quantities. 


A tad tedious. Hand mixing clay took a lot of time.

Epic (structural) fail. The fort caved in by day 2 and we had to switch to bricks. The clay was still super wet and we didn’t build an internal structure, hence the fort caved in. 

No documentation. We forgot to get a picture of the final product. It'd be cooler if those kids could have some reminder of how hard they worked.


I learned our motto by week 2 of summer camp and embraced it ever since then: “Failure is data collection.” It takes a lot of stubbornness and determination to finish a project. I learned the highlights and pitfalls of operating from a visual versus a structural perspective. It was a challenging project, but I am glad we tied it. Honestly, it was wonderful to look at myself and the kids at the end of the day and just know how happy we were to just get messy. 

--by Nikki Lau

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