Tinkering School

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2014 Session B - Seniors

Session B : Seniors - Epilog

2014 Session B - SeniorsJoshua RothhaasComment


Unsure how to even describe the problem (An Australian cattle car? a downhill trackless train?) we dove right into one of the most complicated and finicky projects we have ever worked on. This week saw Tinkering School's first simulation of rack and pinion steering. We also invented a lever based form of steering we don't know the name of. Our wheels turned like car wheels instead of wagon wheels. Behind each of these steering cars a series of complicated linkages allowed dependent cars to track behind smoothly and predictably.

However, all of these feats of cleverness and ingenuity play second fiddle to, and merely act as evidence of, the real goals of Tinkering School; Teamwork, persistence, independence, risk taking, trial and error and exposure to the unknowns of genuine problem solving (to name a few). This week kids faced major setbacks and frustrations and faced them with courage and persistence. They made space for new friends, included even the most ardent loners, and were kind and forgiving to the silliest mistakes and gaffs. They built a thing they were proud of, and loved the people they were building with.

Read the story in order.

Day 1 - Intros, Tools, The Project

Day 2 - It begins

Day 3 - A Train Takes Shape

Day 4 - Restful Exhaustion

Day 5 - Tinkering

Day 6 - Cohesion

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

P.S. - A Map of the Action

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Portrait of Two Tinkerers: Bay and Althea.

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

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Your not quite Daily Sheep.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Nooi gears up with hopes for an equally successful run.

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

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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.

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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?


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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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From there we began making S'mores.

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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.

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

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

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Proud staff members are also easy to find.

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We run demos to show off.

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

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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.

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See you next week!

Day 6 - Cohesion

2014 Session B - SeniorsJoshua RothhaasComment

Today, we had fun - riding our trains over and over again, fixing them after each run after they split on the track - enjoying our creations. Sometimes, those creations bite, but more on that later. Friday evenings are bonfire night - we built and burned the tallest, hottest bonfire Tinkering School has ever had, enjoyed each other's company, and enjoyed the bond we'd forged these past few days. Fridays always have the bittersweet feeling of the joy of the evening, coupled with sadness at having to leave so soon - it barely feels like it's been a week.

Because of how late our evening has been, we leave you with this place-holding photo. The full blog post will be up by tomorrow evening.

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Day 5 - Tinkering

2014 Session B - SeniorsJoshua RothhaasComment

A wise man by the name of Gever Tulley once said: "Tinkering is what happens between having a finished project and a project that works." Last night, we figured we'd have both trains working by noon. But it was a slow morning, with a late breakfast, games of "Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe," and early morning visits to the goats.

But once we arrive, we set to work - Althea, Nova and Josh discuss the problems the Nooi need to work through.

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Both teams have a few carts they can strap together at this point, but neither has tested their full train.

Piki gets a chance to test their engine car and one of the following carts together.

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A crowd gathers to watch the test runs - there's nothing quite like seeing a downhill train you've built ride past you.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Grace foresees future rides.

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Portrait of a Collaborator: Michael considers.

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Sometime during the morning, Gever's wisdom at the beginning of the session is cast aside. At his suggestion, we'd originally planned for the trains to travel from the top barn down a short stretch of gravel to where the chicken coops are, so that, should it fail, we'd land in hay.

Now, we disregard that to attempt the asphalt stretch from the house all the way to the end of the Elkus property. This route is surrounded by poison oak, quite the incentive to stay on.

Mike and Reid test the cart's ability to steer around the tighter corner on the new corner.

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The Piki engine team has taken pride in doodling on their cart in sharpie. Anything that comes to mind is fair game - random phrases, descriptions, bad drawings... decoration makes everything more fun and pretty.

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Your Daily Goat, the star of the blaaahhhhg.

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Naomi takes a moment to examine a wheel box on the Nooi cart.

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Eric and Bay carry the cart out for their first test run of the day.

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Mac and Reid adding rubber to their brakes, to prevent the wheel from rubbing against wood and to increase the friction and stopping power. In the last few days, the teams have come together; learned to work with each other; tinkered with their relationships until they have groups that really work.

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As the morning wears on, despite it becoming increasingly clear that we won't, in fact, be done by noon, work continues at an astounding pace all around. Test, change, fix, modify. We tinker with our projects, trying to get all the parts to work.

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Nooi takes their cart to the top of the testing run to prep for a go. Each of their long, low riding carts has been meticulously planned, and their complex steering is driven by a lever up front, which actually lifts the front end of the cart a little as it turns.

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All aboard! Imagine the sound of train whistles and a conductor's call. The Nooi clamber aboard, with Bay at the front controlling the direction of travel.

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What's wrong? The cart starts to roll, but now quite at the speed the Nooi expect - Bay remarks on it as "really slow."

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Even so, the ride down is fun!

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We gather to problem solve. It is quickly discovered that the rubber had come off a wheel. And the team, frustrated but determined, returns the cart to the barn to fix it. And so, the tinkering begins.

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Meanwhile, the Piki finish up the brakes on their second cart.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Reid being adorable.

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Portrait of Collaborator: Daniel arms up for a camera shoot-out. He's in it to win.

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The bent wheel of the Nooi's cart.

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The team sets up to replace it. Josh takes a look.

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Piki adds on and tests Sol's trailer for the first time. They've built a true train, with three carts. (The fourth cart that they plan to attach is still being worked on)

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Each of the trains has significant design differences and chooses. Particularly when we take a look at steering, we can see this difference clearly. Take a look.

A close up of the Piki's steering system, built to simulate rack and pinion.

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The Nooi's system, in contrast. Josh and Naomi try a first draft of a support structure to keep the wheels from bending up and damaging the hinges, a problem both teams are facing. Despite being based on the same four hinge basics, each system is incredibly unique.

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Your weekly pig.

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Despite their setbacks, the Nooi are the first to test their entire train - they hook all three carts together, ready to enjoy the taste of success.

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Then it's back to the barn to tinker more - another one of the Nooi wheels broke. Replacing it wouldn't solve the underlying problem, so we go in to figure out what might. Once again, the Nooi show incredible determination as they push past their disappointment. It's the tinkering- the sometimes tedious, always difficult, making-things-work phase- that's true challenge of completing a project, the difference between "cool, we have a project" and "awesome, that project works." In a way, it's the hardest part of the week.

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The Piki get out to test their full train - all three carts and the trailer. It's all smiles.

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And now, for an animal interlude.

Cuddling goats.

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The Elkus Ranch Llama, Spice.

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An adorable wood animal.

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The wisp of a beard on an old barn house goat.

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That nose.

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And the babies.

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And now, we return. Goat breaks and the chance to visit the animals is what gets us through the challenging, long days at Tinkering School, giving us a chance to take a mental break.

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Althea has been cat-ified. It is a contagious disease running rampant in our barn, spread by palate and paintbrush wielding vectors - Rachel, Althea and Miranda. Soon, almost everyone has whiskers.

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Serena's caught the disease too. "Meow!"

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Mac pulls the cart along behind the linkage he helped make. Playing with the things you've built is fun.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Bay has built a time-machine.

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And the Piki are off again- the updated cart has new seating up front. Sol surfs behind, standing upright on the the trailer/caboose.

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The excitement temporarily gives Reid and Mac the ability to levitate. This is different than, but often mistaken for, jumping for joy.

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And they're off! Journeying down the track, this is finally it. Not another test run, but the journey all the way down to the bottom. Piki takes the first run.

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And celebrate at the bottom when they make it down, successfully.

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Eric ponders.

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The Nooi load up for a test.

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And when that's successful, they take it up to the start point (the house) to get ready for launch.

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And they're off!

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Both runs were videotaped:

Sol, on the is equipped with a video camera, and takes footage of the Piki's journey down. In the intensity of a run, filled with speed, excitement and even tinges of fear, kids reach for the words that can, at those moments, express that. (i.e. excited scarred teenagers swear like sailors).

[vimeo 101053508 w=500 h=281]

DSC 0031 from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Kieran video tapes for the Nooi, including an exciting final stretch moment in which the last cart (which he and the video camera, along with Miranda and Eric were in) tipped over. They managed to right it while continuing downwards, and likewise had a successful run.

[vimeo 101053507 w=500 h=281]

DSC 0032 from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

We gather around to watch the videos, laughing an remembering.

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We toast to tinkering. A day of getting from having a train, to having a working downhill train. Today, all of us have been successful.

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Day 4 - Restful Exhaustion

2014 Session B - SeniorsJoshua RothhaasComment

Wednesday - right in the middle of the intensity of a Tinkering School week, often times just as we reach the climax of our project. And it is exactly this timing that makes Wednesday what it is - not another push, but rather a halt. Wednesday is beach day.

At breakfast, there is more play - we tell lame jokes, learn "Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe" from Daniel. Even the anticipation of beach day changes our perspective.

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Footprints in the sand, left behind as we set off in search of a place to claim as our own. We've left the confinement of the barn for the outdoors, traded the dining room for open stretches of sand. We have a chance to exhale.

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Shelters of wood fill the beach - works of art people have added to over time, functional structures that protect the inhabitants from the wind, but always temporary. Like our projects at Tinkering School, which we disassemble at the end of week, impermanent.

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We remove ourselves from the problem we've focused on - our downhill train, and play for a minute with the remnants of last session's catamaran. We saved one of the four hulls for just this scenario, fit it into the back of a truck, and worked out how to carry it the quarter-mile down the beach. Sometimes, the best way to solve a tricky problem is to stop thinking about it, and play with and explore other problems. Beach day gives us this opportunity.

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The beauty of playing in the ocean is, as Josh puts it: "If you capsize, it's like going for a swim." Beach day represents the lack of rules, as close to complete freedom as we have the ability to be.

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Beach day captures what Tinkering School is about. An open sky, a budding adventure in the background, and sheer love for the art of tinkering, and what comes with it.

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When the sky's the limit, anything is possible. Riding flat on your back on a wooden boat out into the ocean; taking up a surfboard and catching waves; beach day is about being fearless, about pushing the boundaries of possible, about reminding ourselves that we can achieve our goals, that we're here, at tinkering school, doing the impossible.

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How do we reach the sky? One foothold at a time, climbing slowly to the top.

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Beach day is about renewal - about rising from the ashes, coming up fresh for the last half of the session. Music, in particular adds to the atmosphere.

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Beach day gives us a chance to grow closer, to strengthen the bond we've formed with our fellow tinkerers. When we don't have tasks in front of us, free from the division of teams. Beach day unites us, reminds us that at heart, we're all tinkerers.

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We get a chance to sleep, too.

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Laughter - a form of renewal.

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We take a moment to learn from our first trip - to discuss, as happens so naturally at Tinkering School, what we can improve on - it's this attitude that will carry us forward through the next few days.

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Improvements come in the form of logs underneath the hull for easier transport. Ballast is added. And not willing to be defeated, the tinkerers push the boat into the water. At the beach, we are invincible.

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Confidence is high, energy is back. Beaches boost our morale.

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Tinkerers are risk-takers. We're not afraid to pick up power tools, to wield knifes, to take on the world with our creations. So what's a little water, a few waves? Somehow, our approach to the beach, in the context of being a tinkerer, is different.

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Resetting is important. We come in Sunday morning, fresh. By Tuesday evening, we're exhausted. Wednesday offers that chance - not by stopping, not by doing nothing, but instead by letting ourselves out to different challenges, to directing our energy in a different way, so that when Thursday comes, we can reel ourselves in.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Rachel gazing off into the distance.

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Even for collaborators, beach day provides a much needed change, a chance to get in touch with our inner enthusiasm, a chance to think on all that's occured.

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Tinkerers are different away from the ranch - we catch rare moments we wouldn't necessarily experience otherwise. We see each other in new lights.

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We return home with new perspectives, ready to start anew. Ready to face anything.

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Beach day is an exercise in contradiction. We stop in order to make more progress. We embrace freedom to achieve more focused control. We take a break in order to challenge ourselves. But, it works. And tomorrow, we will return to the barn; ready to work, renewed, refreshed, and reset. Today was exhausting - but that exhaustion lets us keep going.

Day 3 - A Train takes Shape

2014 Session B - SeniorsJoshua RothhaasComment

Most blogs start with the morning, and fail to catch a glimpse of the mysterious and mostly undocumented portion between the publishing of the blog and the bedtime rituals, especially when the blog gets published early. And so, an exclusive glimpse into the dining room at tinkering school after lights out yesterday evening:

Excited after our first full day of building, a group of die-hard tinkers, running on the energy tinkering school (and cups of hot chocolate) infused in them, stay up into the night. We talk, and draw to keep our hands busy - on goldfish boxes, paper, and in Althea's case, our pants.

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The morning begins more slowly today - the tinkerers trickle into breakfast just a hair off the normal pace. We start off the day with knot-tying lessons from Josh in the barn - which offers a nice break from thinking about our project, and a chance to gather as a large group.

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Josh shows Grace the bowline.

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Junior Collaborator Serena cuts lengths of rope with a hot knife - to ensure each tinkerer is well-equipped to learn the essentials. And to get a chance to play with the propane torch.

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Mike takes a minute to help Miranda out.

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And then it's off to work! Team Nooi pick up where they left off with the following cart - Eric, Bay and Kieran attach the bearing.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Naomi, fascinated by this morning's lesson, grabs the knot book and continues to work out how to tie new knots.

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Your (perhaps?) Daily Sheep.

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The proper way to inscribe your name on a project you've poured your time into, Mike tells me.

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Mac takes a moment to examine a wheel.

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How many tinkerers do you need to use a drill press? Bay, Eric and Kieran all get in on the action.

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As the morning glow floods into the barn, Team Piki heads outside to test one of their following carts for the first time.

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Superman! Sol gets a ride up the hill.

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We stop to tinker with the cart - Mac checks the connection he's been responsible for making.

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After testing, it's back to the barn to work - shoring up the back beam, attaching more braces for the wheels, and adding wheels to the second following cart.

Meanwhile, in the barn, Reid works on Piki's engine car - even though the hinge system for complex steering is in place, their are still steering details to be worked out.

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Nooi, not wanting to miss out on the action, take their cart out too. Yes, it will hold two people!

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Lucy, one of the ranch dogs, comes out to watch.

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This earns her the adoration of the tinkerers. Petting ensues.

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Rachel has rapidly become a pro with the drill press. As in all of the tinkering school projects involving wheels, the ability to produce wheel boxes must be rapidly acquired.

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The barn floor is strewn with busy tinkerers, working away.

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Even though the chop saw has worked all day today, Mike takes the extra second to use the handsaw - just because.

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Miranda and Althea talk over Nooi's steering plans with Josh.

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The Piki's engine car is destined for large wagon wheels in the back. Junior Collaborator Serena and Reid take a moment to figure out where, exactly, they should be placed.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Kieran concentrates as he screws in an eyebolt.

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Portrait of a Junior Collaborator: Rhody at work.

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Sol takes a moment to appreciate the precision steering while the Piki engine car is held upright.

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Josh and Mike (who's visiting) share a laugh.

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A Nooi cart - upright and majestic.

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Teamwork! Bay and Eric take a look at where they're planning to screw into.

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Althea gets in there to attach the screw at an angle.

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The Piki engine cart is coming together quickly enough for the confident engine team (Reid, Hannah and Mike) to pause and share a joke with the rest of the Piki.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Mac, ever busy.

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Piki's steering team pulls Josh in to discuss their ambitious goals - simulate rack and pinion steering with paracord, a caster bearing, and some 2x3.

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The weather outside is wonderful, and because of the immense amount of action inside the barn, we haven't had the chance to enjoy it. So we set up lunch outside, and tell the scenario type riddles that start with a vague statement: "A man is dead in the middle of a desert surrounded by bicycles" and where those trying to answer the riddle must first ask yes/no questions to learn more information. Laughter fills the air.

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Portrait of a Collaborator: Nova as she cleans up lunch.

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After a visit to the goats, we head back to the barn, . Rachel and Grace (not shown) grab the paint and set to work painting the Piki caboose/trailer.

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In the back of the barn, the Nooi get right back to work.

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Your Daily Goat(s).

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Piki hasn't spent a lot of time working out the detail of how the carts connect. So we stop, think, and then tinker - try things out to see what works.

Sol builds a hitch for the back of one of the carts.

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Mac and Serena try to work out the ideal distance between each cart - not too close, not too far.

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Josh acts as ballast while Kieran cuts threaded rod for axles.

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Nooi takes their steering cart out- a left/right lever controls the wheels. Everyone gathers to watch it work.

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And work it does!

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And then Piki just has to try. With a complex series of eyebolts and pulleys, they've managed to successfully mimic rack and pinion steering. Reid takes a ride.

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Success is celebrated with high-fives and a goat break.

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But then it's back to work, to fix and shore up steering and to work on the braking system. Mac has immense amounts of focus.

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Reid and Mike make changes.

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Splatter paint! Grace and Rachel's work waits to dry.

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All into the afternoon, work continues. A tinkerers day is bustle.

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Portrait of a Collaborator: Daniel explains.

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Nooi hooks two carts together. It's starting to look like a train!

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Piki plays with their engine car.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Rachel, our budding photographer.

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Camera shootout! Kieran's at the other end. Eric plays peek-a-boo.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer's Room: The Girls.

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After dinner, we spread out to enjoy the evening.

Up at the house, we play "contact" (a word game) and cards.

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Down in the garden, the tire swings are a hit. Miranda grins with the sheer joy that comes from riding through the air on top of a tire.

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Today, our train has taken shape. Carts have come together; attachment points are working; steering is up and running. Even with a bit more work on brakes, and with expectations of troubleshooting to come, we are proud of our efforts.

Day 2 - It begins

2014 Session B - SeniorsJoshua RothhaasComment

The Tinkering School day begins at a rough hour for the teenagers - up at 7:00, breakfast at 7:40. The usual set of bagels, cereal and the like are available. With some food in our bellies and a few swigs of orange juice behind us everyone is perking right up and a rousing debate about the nature of humor and its qualities ensues. Josh defends that sarcasm is the lowest form of humor, while Naomi takes the bold stance that the only measure of humor is how much it makes you laugh. The trickiest jokes to categorize the the infamous "dad joke" - the kind of jokes dads tell. They aren't funny, but they always get a reaction, sometimes even laughs. D7K 4639

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Your Daily Goat comes early today.

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First things first, we need to pick teams. Tradition dictates that we name the teams the Piki and the Nooi.

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Team Piki : Grace, Hannah, Rachael, Reid, Mac, Mike

Team Nooi : Naomi, Althea, Miranda, Nicki, Bay, Eric, Kieren

Nooi breaks into sub-teams in an attempt to get some parallel problem solving going.

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The morning is a flurry of thinking and doing. While some get right to cutting and drilling and prettying, others reach for pens, paper and others to brainstorm with.

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One of our favorite tools is the chop saw (officially a miter saw). Seen here being used heavily just moments before we lost it to a strange misalignment of an otherwise useless piece.

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Eventually Junior Collaborator Serena gets the ball rolling with Team Piki, reminding us that we could learn more from making full scale drafts than we might from a series of tiny prototypes. Immediately the benefits of thinking and feeling spatially are realized as the design of the cars strays from a perfect box to more interesting shapes that better fit our needs.

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A portrait of an inside joke between friends, i.e. I have no idea what's going on here.

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Mac contemplates what will become his obsession for the day; linkages. How our cars connect to become a true train will be one of the key factors in the success or failure of this project.

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Team Nooi puts nearly all their brains on a particularly tricky problem.

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Portrait of a bear hug.

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The barn is a hotbed of commotion all morning. The tinkerers take up the camera, teams are starting to discover important hurdles and design flaws.

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Hannah and Reid (and Mike, not shown) are tackling a particularly finicky problem of making a steering train engine that uses a complex series of hinges to emulate a rack and pinion style of steering similar to a car.

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Camera shoot off! Click! Click!

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Your not quite Daily Sheep

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Reid takes a moment to consider the problems ahead.

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One of Nooi's train cars begins to takes form. Note the caster used as a pivoting joint.

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As mentioned earlier, the chop saw broke this morning. A minor piece had fallen out of alignment. It took a while to figure out what was wrong, why it was wrong, how important and deadly such an mechanical issue might be, and how to fix it. Luckily it was simple, because of years of use, not important nor deadly, and easy but time consuming to fix. The silver lining of the event was a chance to brush up on our handsaw use.

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Rhody takes on an a simple sub-project as part of a larger more ambitious project being pursued by the Junior Collaborators. Sub-project; make a shoe rack and paint it purple. Larger project; convince both campers and staff to take shoes off in the bunk-rooms. Godspeed.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Hannah brandishes a drill.

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Grace and Mac take a second to test out the frame for one of Piki's following cars. Will it hold Mac's weight?

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We head in for lunch - sandwiches and quesadillas, made on our new grill. IMG 4127

Visiting the animals is part of Tinkering School at Elkus ranch. Miranda, Grace, and Rachel take a goat break.

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All the animals are cute, but some are overwhelmingly so.

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And what could be so cute? Are you ready? You're not. Check it out.

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Eric follows in the footsteps of hundreds of tinkerers in pursuit of a perfect pointy stick; Tinkering School's most popular project.

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The intrepid team of Sol and Serena hunt down the problem on the chop saw. It was a small metal plate that protects the rear motor. It has slipped out of place.

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Sawing through solid steel with a hand tool is one of the many great joys of any tinkering school project involving wheels.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Miranda makes faces for the camera.

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It's often hard to describe and capture how many projects are going on simultaneously in the barn. Here we have Piki in the foreground, Rhody learning some new knots, Nooi in the mid ground, a team on the chop saw in the background, and obfuscated from view a team on the drill press.

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Sol is working on a one person caboose/chariot for the end of Piki's train.

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The afternoon is filled with progress, stumbles, resets and lessons being learned.

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Team Nooi's cars are coming into shape. They are pursuing a semi-standardized approach to all the cars that aren't in the front.

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Mike puts a huge amount of energy into making sure the Piki's steering is precise.

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The hard focus of the morning pays off and just 2/3rds through the first day team Nooi is testing one of their cars.

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Immediately, repairs are needed.

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Day 1 wraps up with some pasta, meatballs and some salad and a conversation about the definition of a cookie. Seriously, try it. Write a definition for cookies that doesn't leave out any type of cookie and doesn't include any non-cookie treats. It's nearly impossible. Voices raised, passions flared and nothing was settled.

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Luckily, Junior Collaborator Rhody placated the nearly riotous group with a batch of chocolate chip cookies, home made and fresh from the oven. The definition of a cookie is apparently secondary to the joys of actually eating one.

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As if cookies weren't enough, we slipped in a little knife throwing, BMX biking and some Card Wars (not pictured).

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Today, tinkerers flew. Not just the literal air off the bike jump, but figuratively too. All of us dove in, used the tools and our disposal, and built, learned, and tried new things. The project has now truly begun.

Day 1 - Intros, Tools, The Project

2014 Session B - SeniorsJoshua RothhaasComment

Tinkerers beginning to arrive are greeted by this friendly sign in the barn - they've come from near (all over the bay area) and far - (our furthest this week is Mike from Mexico). Drop off is an exciting time- parents milling about, tinkerers exploring their new homes for the week, and building anticipation for the coming week.

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As the parents leave, we gather in a giant circle - and take a second to get to know each other. We introduce ourselves, and share our "spirit tool" with the group - the tool we most associate with.

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Two of our collaborators: Daniel and Nova are excited for the week to come.

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After introductions, we take time to make Tinkering School T-Shirts, using spray on paint that sets in the sunlight.

And then, we head for the barn - eager to get started. As Tinkering School tradition dictates, each tinkerer is bestowed with a knife. So we gather in a group, and go over the rules of knife safety: cut away from yourself, be aware of your blood bubble, make sure you have three points of contact with solid objects, use a sharp blade, and lock your blade when you're using it.

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And then we play with the big blades - after a discussion of chopsaw safety and rules, everyone takes a spin (pun intended). Rachel slices off a chunk of 2x3.

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Reid listens intently to Josh's presentation on the right way to attach 2x3's to each other.

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Mac screws boards together to help illustrate Josh's point.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Bay considers.

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After a break for dinner, we head back up to the barn to hear what this week's project is. We gather into groups to discuss each component.

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This week, we will split into two large teams, and build two trackless, downhill trains. Each train must consist of three cars (including the steering car), carry all eight tinkerers on the team, have sophisticated steering, be able to stop as it rolls down the hill.

Although we haven't broken up into the final teams of eight yet, we split into brainstorming groups to think through some of the potential problems: linkages, brakes, steering, and cart design.

The steering team talks through an idea.

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The linkage team ponders.

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The cart design team gathers.

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And, the brakes team draws.

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The barn gets busy as teams work out prototypes for some of our first ideas. Grace and Naomi cut wood for a brake prototype. Hannah (missing from the picture) helps them out by going to grab more scrap.

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Night falls, and we head back - our band of tinkerers has begun to come together. They banter as we return, take up cards and play spoons, drink hot chocolate, and head to bed, looking forward to tomorrow, when the fun begins in earnest. We've had a chance to dabble in tinkering tonight - tomorrow, we dive in.

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Thanks to my blog companions tonight: Grace, Hannah, Rachel, Reid, and Josh.

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