Tinkering School

come make amazing things with us

Day 6 & 7 - Improvements, Hubris, Destruction and Deconstruction

2014 Session B - SeniorsJoshua RothhaasComment

The day starts sluggishly. With two great successful runs behind us, today is a day of improvements, decorations and maybe even a Collaborator run. Most of the kids have a feeling of accomplishment and many can't wait to ride their cars again. Some repairs and tweaking is in order. It's worth taking a moment to look closely at the individual solutions engineered into each train. Team Piki went with a steering wheel. One of the trickiest parts of a steering wheel is binding to round stock. It tricky, hard to get something strong enough and hard to attach to things that are hard and round. Piki skipped by all of this by using a square 2x3 and simply rounding it right where they needed it. This then let them hook up to a caster at the base.

D7K 5946

In the middle of it they rounded out one section and created a a cradle out of plywood. This allows for simple smooth turning. Attached to the wood are screws around which string is tied. The string runs through a pulley and across the cart to an eyebolt that it tugs on when it turns.

IMG 7215

The whole thing ends with another piece of ply rounded to mimic a real steering wheel. The whole thing is startlingly responsive and stable.

D7K 5987

Nooi went with a different approach. A large lever feels like steering a classic red wagon. A complex series of attachments make everything more intuitive (slamming the lever to the left actually turns you left). A series of hinges simulate car steering gives the whole thing excellent and predictable handling.

[vimeo 101343364 w=500 h=281]

Nooi Steering 1 from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

[vimeo 101343365 w=500 h=281]

Nooi Steering 2 from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Here is a close up of the joint hidden underneath the car.

IMG 7159

Once we are fueled up and ready to go, things shift from sluggish to playful. Nova tries her hand at steering the Piki's engine car.

D7K 5964

Team Nooi gets some better break pads on. Yesterday their breaks where sufficient, but today is wet and foggy and we are all worried about slipping.

IMG 7180

Portrait of Two Tinkerers: Bay and Althea.

D7K 6000

Nooi's new breaks are creating lots of headaches. No one is arguing they aren't worth it, but we are all getting frustrated.

IMG 7270

Your not quite Daily Sheep.

D7K 6010

In the middle of the night stray tinkerers and sleepless collaborators installed a swing. It was the source of quite a bit of fun this morning.

D7K 6031

D7K 6056

IMG 7347

Team Nooi hits a wall with their break reinstallation. The previously mentioned sleepless tinkerers and staff had hidden the marshmallows we need tonight for the bon fire and had created a scavenger hunt to find them. Team Nooi uses the scavenger hunt to let their brains wander and their hands rest.

IMG 7387

With a sweet new chair on the caboose Piki is ready for another successful run.

D7K 6145

D7K 6149

IMG 7476

And successful it is. Three successful runs behind them and the confidence builds. Each run is faster than the previous but each one in total control. They are brimming with confidence teetering on hubris. Though none of us know it yet, the ramifications of this will be painful and destructive.

With a custom tow-hitch made by some of the collaborators, we drag the Piki Team back up the hill.

IMG 7512

A slight over acceleration rips one of their bolts out sending one cart to the shop and leaving a smaller train to be dragged to the starting line.

D7K 6223

Nooi gears up with hopes for an equally successful run.

D7K 6264

Eric gets ready to bravely attempt to record the event with his camera while also handling the breaks for the rear car.

D7K 6276

Another fully functional run with only minor rear wheel damage! A slow ride up tied to the car is the reward for a solid run.

D7K 6300

After the carts are repaired it's the moment the staff has been waiting for; The Collaborator Run. Can these carts handle the weight and intensity of the staff?


D7K 6375

D7K 6385

Except not quite.

One of the wheels sheers of on the very final turn and we have to stack one cart on another and tow it back up. The entire camps seems to come along for the ride.

D7K 6430

Minor repairs quickly become major rebuilds and downtime shifts into decorating time.

D7K 6525

D7K 6537

D7K 6561

Portrait of a Hood Ornament: Dr. Sebastian keeps an ever vigilant eye on the road ahead.

D7K 6573

It dawns on the tinkerers that the carts aren't the only thing that might benefit from a fresh coat of paint.

D7K 6584

D7K 6595

At long last the Nooi cart is ready for a collaborator run. Josh is pretty excited.

D7K 6696

Team Nooi's car preforms admirably and only requires minor repairs after the staff takes it for a wild and fishtailing ride.

IMG 7672

With several fantastic runs behind both teams, Piki gears up for their last run of the day. Everything is going as planned. Collectively they are brimming with excitement and decide this is the run to ease up on the breaks and really see what this thing is capable of. It's the most natural urge in the world and nearly inescapable for teenagers. If nothing went wrong last time, let's try a little harder and a little faster. It's this urge that drives progress, that feeds bravery, fuels learning and feeds engagement.

At Tinkering School we talk a lot about dangerous done well. How to ramp slowly up to something dangerous, figure out its perimeters and risks and how to mitigate against those risks. Iterative escalation is how we find the faults in our systems. It is this same process that leads to something going wrong. When done right, what goes wrong is very minor. Luckily what went wrong was pretty minor.

Some were between these two photos team Piki crashed.

D7K 6745

IMG 7712

It was a hard sight to see as the cart began to fishtail and swerve as the momentum of nearly 900 lb. of kids and cart traveling at nearly 17 mph overwhelmed their brakes. Miranda and Reid where shaken from the second to last car. They came out of it with minor scrapes, a little road rash, and that special kind of exhaustion that comes from spiked adrenaline.

The cart suffered a far worse fate.

D7K 6773

Moments like these really bring out the best in the campers. Sol was driving at the time and the weight of the crash felt heavy on his shoulders. But team member after team member consoled him reminding him that it was a collective decision to go so fast. They let him know that anyone could have been driving and that no one faulted him. Hanna was particularly affected by the intensity of the incident and her friends gathered around her. Other campers tended to the basic needs of Miranda and Reid (getting them snacks and water) while Josh and Nova applied ruthless amounts of sanitizing alcohol to the wounds before bandaging them. Both riders would eventually, bravely, get right back on the cart.

We all agreed that given the setting sun, and in deference to the intensity of the incident, team Nooi's next run would be postponed until tomorrow.

We deconstructed the busted cart, placed the pieces in the fire pit and held a special vigil; saying goodbye to a friend that had treated us well. With over exaggerated symbolism Josh had Miranda and Reid light the first matches.

IMG 7860

And thus began camp fire night. In his own form of iterative escalation Josh attempted the biggest fire Tinkering school has yet seen. In the spirit of caution, it was only a little bit bigger and right next to the fire pit was a wheelbarrow and a 5 gallon bucket full of water.

IMG 7880

And then we got to enjoy one of Tinkering School most tried and true traditions. Playing with fire. Over the week we created a lot of sawdust. With just the right flick of the wrist at just the right angle one can get the sawdust to spread out to just the right density to ignite like flash paper.

D7K 6991

Everyone takes a go and with a little of the excited energy dissipated we gather in a circle to say nice things about each other. The prompt is, "Tell us about a moment where you saw someone else being excellent." It's an exercise in empathy and outward thinking and specific praise. What followed was a nearly half an hour of campers telling fantastic stories about other campers doing things both big and small to help others, work hard, follow through, support each other, and making each other laugh.

D7K 7089

From there we began making S'mores.

D7K 7190

Playing dramatic games where kids would write something funny or serious on a piece of wood, a staff member (or Mike who had a great dramatic radio voice) would read it allowed in some accent, then toss the wood into the fire.

D7K 7450

Eventually the calming energy of a warm fire works its magic on the crowd and we grow quieter and fall into small groups.

D7K 7514

D7K 7640

Day 7 is a half day. Its a day about saying goodbye and showing off to parents. Proud mamas and papas are found everywhere.

IMG 7978

Proud staff members are also easy to find.

IMG 7979

We run demos to show off.

D7K 8224

We take a cheesy group photo (check the flickr for a higher resolution copy if you want one)

IMG 7996

We repeat a common refrain, "Tinkering School is not about having a downhill train, it's about having built a downhill train." And with that we say goodbye to our creation and deconstruct it.

D7K 8277

See you next week!

Tinkering School is a trademark registered in the US Patent and Trademark Office.