Tinkering School

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TSO-D Day 1- 2: Tour de Tinkering

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How does one get from point A to point B when it’s not a straight line? Add point C and D and what you get is a Tour de Tinkering, a rough and curvy course that takes one to every corner of the Tinkerer’s world at UC Elkus Ranch.

Collaborator, Sam, introduces the Tinkerers’ theme for the week before teams break out for brainstorming their vehicle designs.

Collaborator, Sam, introduces the Tinkerers’ theme for the week before teams break out for brainstorming their vehicle designs.

Some teams will build four-wheel cars, another a tricycle, and still another a six-foot-high ramp to gear up vehicles that will move their way along an interconnected path from the junior build site, through the senior build site, down a curvy, dusty and bumpy dirt road toward the ranch, and to the finish line at Yurt Village.

Senior Tinkerers, Marshall and Katherine, plan a six-foot-high ramp build their team is building to propel their tricycle.

Senior Tinkerers, Marshall and Katherine, plan a six-foot-high ramp build their team is building to propel their tricycle.

Challenges are bound to jump out along the Tinkerers’ path, but with a collaborative mindset and the will to build the best buggies the Tinkerers can imagine, it is certain they will proceed creatively.

Check out the photo slideshow of our Tinkerers’ first day of collaborative project building.




TSO-C Day 6: Storm Hits Mars Build Sites, Tinkerers Survive

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Tinkerers were safe from a 400 mph windstorm that hit Mars Friday due to their successful collaboration in building shelters, gondola transportation lines, rovers, and a living green wall needed to survive. Despite some mechanical setbacks with their builds, Tinkerers were able to sleep peacefully through the night inside their shelters and awoke to find their build sites intact. Once again mankind was able to prevail in the fight for galactic survival.

Check out the photo slideshow and video of our Tinkerers’ successes.

TSO-C Day 5: Return To Base, Keep Building

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With a 400 mph Mars wind storm scheduled for Friday and foggy skies rolling over the Tinkerers’ build sites, crews worked through the day to secure adequate shelter, rover transportation, and gondola people movers.

The junior shelter team works together to secure a safe haven during the forecast 400 mph Mars storm.

The junior shelter team works together to secure a safe haven during the forecast 400 mph Mars storm.

The junior shelter team secured more support beams, partially enclosed their shelter with tarps, and installed a hatch door.

“This feels so good,” Zander said as he finalized a pulley system to open the newly installed hatch door. “It’s so simple, but I feel so accomplished.”

Zander tests his newly installed door.

Zander tests his newly installed door.

His crew mates, Kate, Riley and Emily, also admired their contributions as they worked with collaborator, Julie, on securing tarp walls to the shelter structure.

“It looks so good. Doesn’t it look good, Kate?” Riley exclaimed.

“It’s the Warriors colors,” Kate responded as she stapled more edges around the blue and gold covered perimeter.

So the day went with much success for other teams. The junior rover team installed wheels on their vehicle and began constructing the steering column. The junior gondola team secured the rope that would guide them to and from shelter, ran a few test runs, secured seating for safety, and began decorating with paint and windowed curtains.

Wesley and Evan work together to motorize their team’s gondola.

Wesley and Evan work together to motorize their team’s gondola.

The senior teams also made great strides. The shelter team added more support beams ensuring the safety of future dwellers. The gondola team devised a plan to motorize their vehicle, and the rover team continued working on their wheels and steering mechanisms.

Having accomplished so much, some Tinkerers gave themselves a short break to visit their neighboring farm animals. Surely, the Tinkerers will be ready for the impending storm.

Check out our photo slideshow and video of our Tinkerers’ progress.

TSO-C Day 4: The Eye of the Storm is Like a Beach Day

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Tinkerers experienced a reprieve Wednesday as Mars storm conditions improved, likely due to being in the eye of a small storm. Given an opportunity to escape the pressure of finding shelter, oxygen and water, the crews took to the beach to test some of their man-made vehicles and to relax in the eye of the storm.

Please enjoy the photos of their day of calm before the big storm forecast to hit Friday.


TSO-C Day 3: Storm Hits Base Site, Spacecraft Destroyed

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Tinkerers arrived at their build sites Tuesday morning only to find that their spacecraft had been destroyed by a sneaker storm the night before. More now than ever, Tinkerers knew they had to build their shelters, gondolas and rovers in anticipation of a more severe storm due Friday.

Collaborators, Julie and Max, assess the storm damage that decimated the TSO space shuttle while Tinkerer, Brody, works to clean up the mess.

Collaborators, Julie and Max, assess the storm damage that decimated the TSO space shuttle while Tinkerer, Brody, works to clean up the mess.

In the junior camp, the rover team worked to fine tune their rover bodies enough to support the wheels they will eventually install. The shelter team added support bracing, installed a skylight and a partial door, and began enclosing the space with heavy duty plastic walls and tarp for the floor.

Collaborator, Maddy, and Tinkerer, Emily, hold up a skylight for their shelter while their teammates work to secure it by rope.

Collaborator, Maddy, and Tinkerer, Emily, hold up a skylight for their shelter while their teammates work to secure it by rope.

In leaps and bounds of progress, the junior team’s gondola builders had a tremendous day. Equipped with four working tires, two benches to seat four, improved alignment, and additional structural support, the crew tested their work by day’s end.

“It works!” the team cheered in celebration.

“I’m happy… and tired… and tired,” Annibeth said. “Hashtag wrists are asleep don’t wake them or else.”

Tinkerers, Bob, Cookie, Joe and Annibeth enjoy a celebratory moment in their gondola after test driving the gondola wheels successfully.

Tinkerers, Bob, Cookie, Joe and Annibeth enjoy a celebratory moment in their gondola after test driving the gondola wheels successfully.

At the senior camp, Tinkerers plugged along with improvements to their respective builds. The gondola team added a door that moves horizontally along a track, added more structural support and installed floor joists and a landing.

“We were awesome the whole time,” Evan said as he sat back looking over their work.

“We really braced ourselves for a storm,” added Ally.

The senior rover team progressed as well. They added more structure to their rover’s hatch framing, installed wheels, added steering mechanisms and built their own seating for the rover. Inspired by their advancements, the rover team regrouped to discuss some improvements they could tackle next. They discovered that they will need to improve their steering and resolve the low clearance of the rover if they are going to travel the unforgiving Mars terrain.

Tinkerers, Cole, Max, Daniel and Tom test the compartment spacing of their rover while sitting on chairs they installed for themselves.

Tinkerers, Cole, Max, Daniel and Tom test the compartment spacing of their rover while sitting on chairs they installed for themselves.

Lastly, as if a win for all Tinkerers and mankind, the seniors’ shelter team was assisted by all other hands on deck as they raised their two story shelter to it’s upright position. With a roof, flooring and a ladder, Tinkerers knew they would soon have a safe haven to call home on Mars.

Senior Tinkerers and collaborators worked together to raise a two-story shelter frame.

Senior Tinkerers and collaborators worked together to raise a two-story shelter frame.

Check out our photo slideshow of our Tinkerers’ progress.





TSO-C Day 2: Brainstorming to Weather the Storm

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Mars, currently an uninhabitable terrain, is threatening the Tinkerers’ very survival at UC Elkus Ranch. What else can they do but build proper shelter for the Tinkering masses, a gondola for transporting our Tinkerers safely to and fro shelter and more rovers to cross the terrain in search of other life, oxygen, food and water.

To the drawing boards they went, tossing ideas back and forth, designing the structures to support their very existence. Plans turned to actions as they cut board after board, knowing that they must ensure complete construction by Friday when a 400 mph dust storm is forecast to hit at the very heart of the Mars UC Elkus terrain.

Team Mars Shelter works at securing the joints on The Underrated Rad Turtle Loco Extraterrestrial (TURTLE,) their hexagonal Mars home.

Team Mars Shelter works at securing the joints on The Underrated Rad Turtle Loco Extraterrestrial (TURTLE,) their hexagonal Mars home.

The seniors’ shelter team built The Underrated Rad Turtle Loco Extraterrestrial (TURTLE,) a hexagonal home, while the gondola team built a one-story housing unit that would hopefully be mobile and possibly allow for extra floors for would-be penthouse dwellers.

“We’re hoping it’s going to be mobile, maybe add a second floor,” Evan said adding, “The only problem with making it mobile is making it mobile.”

Claire works with Ally to build a gondola door.

Claire works with Ally to build a gondola door.

The rover team was quick in their construction, building a solid foundation for their rover which is currently scheduled to have a removable top shell and a body rolling on six wheels.

“We haven’t really done a lot of mechanisms yet. We are just constructing the frame and still need to test weight,” Max said. They are planning a garage build if his crew finishes early.

Finally, one junior team set a hexagonal foundation for more shelter, and their gondola team counterparts built a slightly marquis diamond shaped capsule to be moved along one or two or more ropes maybe.

Collaborator, Anna, helps the junior gondola team build their mobile Mars housing frame.

Collaborator, Anna, helps the junior gondola team build their mobile Mars housing frame.

Asked why they designed such an oddly shaped gondola, Bob responded, “We did it so it wouldn’t capsize.” They might even build a second gondola if her team has time she adds.

With such early progress underway, it seems safe to say that Tinkerers will likely survive the looming storm.

Check out our photo slideshow of our Tinkerers’ progress.





TSO-C Day 1: Welcome to Mars

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As campers arrive, they grab cookies and claim top bunks. We say goodbye to parents and circle up to learn about our fellow campers and collaborators. Knowing the names and pronouns of the people we live with is key to a respectful camp culture.

Then, we get our gears spinning by discussing the three rules of Tinkering School: 1) Don’t hurt yourself or anyone else, 2) If you see a piece of fruit and you want it, you must eat it, and 3) Settle all conflicts with Ro-Sham-Bo.

Cookie (Amalie) wondered if Rule #2 meant that we only eat fruit. We eat plenty more than fruit, she was assured.

After settling into our yurt village, the group ventures up the hill to practice using the chop saw, clamps, and drills.

Riley does a ready call to check that everyone in the shop is wearing ear and eye protection before powering up the chop saw.

Riley does a ready call to check that everyone in the shop is wearing ear and eye protection before powering up the chop saw.

Max makes an angled cut on the chop saw.

Max makes an angled cut on the chop saw.

Clamps, we learn, are useful to free up our hands - we only have so many hands!

Annabeth (Eden) practices using a twisty clamp.

Annabeth (Eden) practices using a twisty clamp.

Clamps can be fun to use - especially with a friend.

Clamps can be fun to use - especially with a friend.

Drills are the tool that will land in our hands most this week. Understanding how to use them and feeling their torque and speed with our own hands is crucial to our future projects.

How do I get the battery out of the drill!?

How do I get the battery out of the drill!?

Emily applies her drill skills to the construction of a box.

Emily applies her drill skills to the construction of a box.

Behind the build site is an enchanted forest of swings and climbing trees. The forest stays enchanted, as long as we know what poison oak and hemlock look like :)

Kirin pushes a laughing Brody on the swing.

Kirin pushes a laughing Brody on the swing.

Kate reaches for her friend on the next swing over.

Kate reaches for her friend on the next swing over.

To put new tool skills to the test, campers are challenged to recreate a wooden gremlin in small groups. Here’s the catch: the single group-member who has seen the gremlin is blind-folded.

It has arms  where ? Does it have legs? And eyes?

It has arms where? Does it have legs? And eyes?

After a clan of gremlins is birthed, we head down the hill for a burger dinner. Anticipation for the project reveal builds as we all sit quiet to hear what on earth we’ll be doing this week. It turns out that we won’t be on earth! Elkus ranch has transformed into Mars. An intense storm is brewing and weather reports say that it will hit our yurt village on Friday.

This constitutes a need for transportation to and shelter at the build site. How will we get our necessities up the hill and how will we stay safe up there, considering the conditions on Mars? There’s so much to think about and so many ideas to share.

We close out the evening with blackberry picking (and eating!), card games, and quiet reading. Until tomorrow!

TSO-B Day 6: Launching Debut, Campfire Closeout

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Tinkerers finalized their Mars missions Friday, successfully building gravity challenging training modules, transportation rover, water and oxygen space factory and a roughly 24’ spacecraft to reach to Mars and back.

After a day of hard work, final touches, and demos of each team’s build, the Tinkerers gathered around a fire made of scrap wood produced throughout the week. In true Tinkering fashion, the juniors and seniors played (safely, of course!) with a little fire before roasting a few marshmallows and some ears of corn.

Check out our photo slideshow and videos below to see a glimpse of our Tinkerers’ creations.

TSO-B Day 5: Nearing Liftoff

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Fully rested from a day at the beach, Tinkerers resumed work on their various space flight modules Thursday, preparing for launch the following day. For some, the looming Friday deadline was a tad daunting.

“We should’ve skipped beach day,” Akash said as he looked upon the spacecraft shell his team had constructed.

For other teams, Thursday was an opportunity to repair mishaps that had taken place the previous Tuesday. Team mars rover repaired a cracked steering and suspension system and the gyroscope team refined their framing to improve weight support. The day clearly presented an opportunity to improve upon existing projects.

“Considering we were the ones to design the control panel in the first place, we have to upgrade it,” River, of the spacecraft team, said.

Still, much progress was made. The gyroscope team installed a seat belt to their gyroscope chair and constructed the third rotating frame, an octagon to fit in the center of their existing rotating square frames. The gravity challenge teams were able to stand their large constructed frames upright with pulleys and bungees installed for testing. The space factory was able to send their first five-gallon bottle of water down their space factory’s conveyor belt.

Finally, in what seemed unlikely to Akash at the start of the day, the spacecraft team was able to use a repaired mars rover to transport their spacecraft to the launch pad site before it was raised to an upright position.

Check out our photo slideshow and videos below to see some of our Tinkerers’ creations.


TSO-B Day 4: Beach Day

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Tinkerers and collaborators took to Pescadero Beach Wednesday for a day of pure fun that included walks along the beach, gathering of driftwood to build forts and an unusual ladder, reading and napping. Please enjoy their photo and video highlights of the outing.



TSO-B Day 3: To Mars and Beyond!

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Tinkerers pushed ahead with their space station Mission to Mars Tuesday as the juniors’ plans for a space rover, space factory and space shuttle inched their way toward first flight. Proper training for such a mission is essential, and the seniors continued building their gravity defying simulation modules for the upcoming lift off.

Working all day on the mission didn’t deter Tinkerers from enjoying a little ukulele or the farm animals just below their launch pad site.

Please enjoy the photo slideshow and videos of our Tinkerers in action as they continue construction on their builds.


TSO-B Day 1-2: Launching Ideas Into Orbit

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Tinkerers arrived at UC Elkus Sunday to commence a week of wild ideas, collaboration, and building during the Tinkering School Overnight (TSO) camp. Little did they know that when they embarked on their journey, they would also embark on a Mission to Mars.

Ella, Ronan, Kandan, Zoltan, Reid and Torres discuss various Mars Factory design concepts.

Ella, Ronan, Kandan, Zoltan, Reid and Torres discuss various Mars Factory design concepts.

Veteran Tinkerer, Jacob, said the TSO experience is special because “[He likes] to just build, be able to collaborate with people who are interested in the same things that I am.”

For first timers like Kai, the choice to come to TSO was a second attempt to get involved with the challenging projects like the ones he saw online.

“I tried to get in last year but couldn’t get in,” Kai said. “It sounded interesting, really cool.”

The project theme was revealed Sunday night, allowing everyone to sleep on possible ideas. Monday morning rolled around, and Tinkerers headed out to their build sites to commence planning for a space launch mission to Mars. The group pondered questions like, “How do we train astronauts to live in space?” “What will we need on Mars?”

Mia works with collaborator, Kevin, to brainstorm a pulley and bungee cord setup while Aaliyah walks by.

Mia works with collaborator, Kevin, to brainstorm a pulley and bungee cord setup while Aaliyah walks by.

The juniors decided to build a Mars Factory, a rover, and a spaceship while the seniors developed plans that defy one’s sense of normal gravity. Plans are in motion for a Merry-go-round, trampoline suspension mechanism, and a gyroscope.

Zoltan’s biggest concern about the mission to Mars was potable water while his teammate, Kandan, commented that Zoltan’s idea sounded like a non-profit.

“We’re not trying to make money. We’re trying to stay alive,” Zoltan responded. It’s simple but essential for survival.

Akash, collaborator, P.K., Hunter, River, Tanna, Lev and Langley work on the body of their space ship.

Akash, collaborator, P.K., Hunter, River, Tanna, Lev and Langley work on the body of their space ship.

Meanwhile, the gyroscope team chose to name their build Napoleon III. “We’re calling it Napoleon III because it’s the size of Napoleon, the tallest of all of us,” Siana, a senior, said.

The group had a productive day in which they transitioned from concepts on whiteboards to full scale projects. With their ideas as vast as the extraterrestrial heavens, the Mission to Mars seems plausible.

TSO-A Day 6: Putting on the Final Touches

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An extra screw here, a small piece of wood there, perhaps a bit a paint on this and that. Whatever minor and major changes Tinkerers could make on their last build day was made up to the final moments before revealing their mini golf course masterpieces.

Zachary, Lars, Miller and Charlie discuss possible solutions to safely operating the catapult obstacle.

Zachary, Lars, Miller and Charlie discuss possible solutions to safely operating the catapult obstacle.

Zachary, builder of a catapult, works to safely launch his creation by tethering a release pin to his construction.

“Wait, is that going to catapult to there,” Lev asks, as he points to the obstacle table below. “Y’all’s is fancy!”

Another Tinkerer asks how far the catapult can launch a golf ball.

“I actually don’t know,” Zachary says. It’s an answer works to find as he fine tunes his project.

In the juniors’ build site, the water wheel team builds stairs to ascend to the top of their platform tee, painting areas of their obstacle blue to mimic water. Mt. Certain Doom undergoes a third name change, becoming an Egyptian pyramid and theme following the painting yellow of each mountain side. Finally, the California Adventure team paints the Golden Gate Bridge a rusty red, the obstacle cars various colors and the signs denoting each California-themed piece, Escape from Alcatraz, Caltrain and so on, with bold black type.

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At the seniors’ site, the windmill team adds canvas to their blades and a bucket to catch the golf ball that is caught in the adjacent cupping mechanisms, subsequently sending it down a track to the next hole. The skee golf team works until the last minutes to perfect their added hammer which will activate another ball to drop through the Plinko portion of their obstacle.

Team Skee Golf works to integrate the various mechanisms of their obstacle.

Team Skee Golf works to integrate the various mechanisms of their obstacle.

“I’m surprised any of it works,” Charlie says as he stands back to watch the ball wind through the entire obstacle.

The table team finished, as well, in the final minutes of the build time by adding more obstacles to the platform including a spring loaded, ball-popping hole. By the end of the mini golf course demonstrations, Tinkerers were excitedly moving hole to hole to try a putt or two.

Check out our photo slideshow and videos below to see how some of our Tinkerers’ creations.