Tinkering School

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2014 Session E - Middles

Day 5 - A Tale of Two Projects

2014 Session E - MiddlesJoshua RothhaasComment

The morning begins with a pep talk and a rush. These next three hours are all we have on the Speed Amplification project. With a new deadline looming a fire lights for many kids and they fly into action. We pull out the carts and get to work.


Eventually Kablooi gets their gears interacting.

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Gear Ratios from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

The mechanism is a giant spindle with 2x3 posts to keep the radius nice and wide. Tied to that is some parachord that runs out the the hub of a bike tired. Around he hub duct tape is wrapped to increase friction. The idea then would be to attach more parachord to the bike wheel and pull a cart with the mechanism. Without the weight of the cart, the whole thing works great. When the weight of the cart is added to the problem, we saw challenges we didn't have time to fix.



Team Nooi gets some advice from out Visiting Consultant, Sean, from the Tinkering School Day Camp.


Team piki gets their launching hub stabilized and ready for testing. They are pursuing amplification through a sort of reverse elevator. Instead of pulling on one string over a long period of time to raid the elevator slowly, they are going to pull the on the elevator really hard to pull the cart quickly. It's pretty neat. We will try and get a video of it working.


Nova and Peyton don't want to give up on their beautiful gear. For a few moments they contemplate carrying on, but eventually decide on repurposing the whole thing to make a Phenakistoscope.


Lee and Rahul adjust the seat of their cart.

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Piki prepares for a test of their pulley based speed amplifier.


but a tangle slows their progress.


Test 1 demonstrates that they are on the path towards a fully functional mechanism!


Your Daily* Goat.


Right before lunch, the pieces all come together for team Nooi and their giant lever arm. It feel like a carnival ride! We got it from every angle! (and there are a few more on our vimeo.

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More Centrifuge 2 from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

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Centrifuge Close Up from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

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Centrifuge View From Center from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Everyone who wants a turn gets one, and the centrifuge just keeps on working!

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The thing with all of these systems is that they are technically a mechanical disadvantage. We are trading distance for work. Because of that, to push one person on the centrifuge requires 3 people plus one for moral support.

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Kablooi sticks with their idea right up to the deadline.

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Piki gives their project the full test!

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This is all before lunch. We eat a hearty lunch of sandwiches, hotdogs and veggie burgers. Then sit down to announce the next project that will fill thursday and friday.

We are excited to announce Tinkering School Overnight Camp's first ever attempt at a permanent structure. The staff of Elkus Ranch have asked us to make play structures for the goats. The kids love the goats, so we are happy to oblige. The next two days are going to be about designing, making and testing goat playing and climbing structures, and if they are good enough, at the end of the week we won't take them down. This also marks the first time we have ever made anything for any other reason than the experience of working hard. There are longevity issues to address, strength and safety to think about, and an eye for good looks (goats are notoriously picky about their aesthetics).

We talk it over and the kids have several questions.

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After we head to the barn, the kids get sketching.

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The energy in their air is palpable. Kids are stoaked to be working for the goats and have lots of ideas.

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David and Eli work on a ramp.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: David

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Ray

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Griffon

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In just a few hours platforms are taking shape and the ramps are getting strong.

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D7K 2681 Sophie and Emma decide to spin off from the main idea and make toys for the goats.

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As the day wraps up we head to the house for some cheesy lasagna and hanging with friends. After dinner the last (and hidden) jar of Nutella comes out with 2 baskets of strawberries. If you haven't tried strawberries with Nutella on them, I highly recommend it. We play a camp favorite, the trivia game. To get dessert you must answer a question correctly, the crew will keep asking you questions until you get one right. The questions ranged from obscure facts about the roman empire, to geography and out into space. Did you know the Oreo was invented the same year the Titanic sank? I didn't.

Dessert in our bellies and exciting thoughts of goat platforms in our heads, we head to bed sleepy and excited for the last full day of Tinkering School.

Day 4 - Beach Day

2014 Session E - MiddlesJoshua RothhaasComment

Updated! Beach Day is a different day. Most days we wake up, eat, work on the project, eat, work on the project, eat, play by the creek or in the playground, go to sleep. Toss in some chicken or goat breaks and that's life at Tinkering School. Wednesday's however look more like, wake up, eat, play on the beach, eat, play on the beach, rest, play on the beach, eat, watch a movie and head to bed.

So much of tinkering school is mental challenges about spatial problems, but beach day lets the mind rest and the body do the work.

The beach calls for us to wander, and the water seems to be whispering "come on, I dare you!"


With a quick assessment to see if the waves are big and scary and dangerous, or just big and scary we decide they are just big and scary and head in.


Some of us head for the big breaks.


Others play in the shallows.


Some dive face first.


Others wait for the fight to come to them.


Some of us aim to ride on top!



Others brandish silly sticks, pretending we might scare the water.


Only to find that the water is very very big and very hard to intimidate.


We have 1000 photos of moments like this; kids getting hit by waves. The photos look painful, but if this post had an audio track it would be full of laughter and screens of joy and excitement.




Another contingency of kids are content to wander the beach and read, basking in freedom, discovery and their own imagination.





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Gus is seen here with a shortboard turned boogie board. He spends hours trying to catch waves, falling and missing and paddling, and getting carried down the beach only to reset and try again. It was a model of persistence on unforgiving waves. Eventually josh got in and gave him a few nudges leading to some epic rides.

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By the day's end we are all sitting. The sun and the ocean have beat us down. Rest is the best option we have and most of us take it.

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With our brains rested and our bodies exhausted we head back for dinner and bedtime. Tomorrow a new deadline appears. The current project must be done by lunch, and a new project will be announced for the last 2 days of camp. We are going to need all the brain power we can get.

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Day 3 - Things Get Finicky

2014 Session E - MiddlesJoshua RothhaasComment

Updated! You can check out the photos that are uploading to the flickr page right now.

The morning starts with not-quite-a-pep-talk from josh, warning that today is going to be a tricky day. They easy problems are nearly gone, today will be finicky.

Josh: "Raise your hand if you've already had to take something apart and start over because you realized how it had to be different?"

Nearly everyone raises their hand.

Josh: "Good. That's essential to a real and interesting problem. I am glad you've all experienced already because there is more to come"

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There are gears to fix, pulleys to align and connections to re-make from scratch. We get right to it.

Eli moves team Kablooi's cart outside for testing. The kids are facing issues from every angle. When their carts are working their contraption isn't, and while testing their contraption, they keep discovering that they need to fix their cart.

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Team Piki thinks their outside wheels are not needed so they try taking them off.

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Just outside the door of the barn three separate teams work busily with late morning focus.

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Team Nooi's long lever isn't nearly strong enough. Small cracking and popping can be heard every test round. They decide to reinforce the whole thing. Lee and Rahul drill pilot holes.

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Stephanie makes some adjustment to Team Nooi's chair shaped cart.

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Cassia, Ray and Griffin start working on their custom upside down casters on top of which they are going to rest a giant spindle which will act as a make-shift giant gear.

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Gus and Parker work on team Panda's custom gear set. The teams pursuing a mechanical advantage via gears are beginning to feel both how exciting the idea is, and how difficult.


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Things like alignment are essential.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Aiden

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Kablooi mounts their spindle and prepare to use a giant piece of eucalyptus as the pivot.

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Then they test it!


Piki aims to keep their cart going straight via tracks.

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After lunch things get really interesting for a few hours.

Althea tests Nooi's new reinforcements.

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Peyton and Parker of Team Panda try a longer bigger axel for their large gear.

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Aiden, Harry and Oren test pull to test Team Piki's idea of tracks.

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Max and Aiden admire Panda's handy work. Parker points out the finer details.

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The later the afternoon gets, the farther from completion we all feel. Pow-wows start to become more common.

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Testing is a great way to spend the time.



Team panda hasn't figured out how to lock their launching system to the ground, but having their heavy Team mates stand on the posts should work for now.


Minor repairs from testing are a constant source or stopping and starting.

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Harry shortens the ankle biters on team Piki's cart.


One strategy for dealing with frustration is to let the problem simmer in the background while doing something else. Braiding parachord is a great way to let the brain keep doing work.

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More pow-wows. More frustration.

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Tinkering School has a distinct lack couches to lounge around on. Griffin, David, Ray and Parker improvise.

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Technical Close-up of a Project: Team Kablooi

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Tonight is movie night. As always the movie is a surprise. This week is our first week doing movie night in the barn. We gather 10 bed-mats, a projector and some speakers. We cook some popcorn, snag some bowls of cereal. We string up a giant 12 by 16 ft canvas tarp and go over the rules of movie watching.

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Hook, a classic, captures us all.

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The day ends by packing up and headed to bed. Today was frustrating but important. Tomorrow is our solution to the usual mid-week headaches. Beach day is a day to get away from the problem, be free, get exhausted physically instead of mentally, sleep a great night sleep and ready us for thursday.

Day 2 - Carts Are Not Actually The Project

2014 Session E - MiddlesJoshua RothhaasComment

Each evening has a little magic that often goes undocumented because the cameras are often being unloaded and the blog is being written. Yesterday evening ended with some beautiful jams and many side projects in the barn.


And today starts with a flurry of activity. Whittling fills the awkward time between breakfast and getting into the barn.

Portrait of a Tinkerer : Rahul


We take a moments pause, gather together, and announce the project.

This week we are making speed amplifiers based on a mechanical advantage. A little technical and maybe initially difficult to conceptualize, but these kids are taking it magical places. The idea is simple in practice but hard to explain. Instead of using a simple machine to trade distance for effort (think seesaw or pulley based elevator), we want to trade effort for distance. What if 3 members of the team exerted a ton of force on the short end of a teeter-totter? Imagine how high and fast the last team member would go! We want to use this mentality to push a cart faster than we could otherwise push or pull it alone.

Again, hard to explain, but the kids get it and it will become clearer as the day goes on.

Team Panda pursues a gear based advantage. They talk through the options.


Their first step becomes clear, start making the custom gears.


Team Piki makes their cart so fast it's done before we can get a photo.


By 10am the barn is humming with tool use and great ideas. Ray uses the drill press.


Parker uses the jig saw.


And before we know it, it's time for lunch.


We eat outside these days as we can't all fit in the dinning room anymore. Peyton and Sophie enjoy a change of scenery.

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Portrait of a junior collaborator: Max

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After lunch we go on an impromptu animal tour and learn about how to pick up chickens safely, what the goats can eat, and not to go in with the pigs (they are cute, but a little too friendly). We learn about spice the llama's tragic history, that goats can kick really hard (but usually don't), and that rabbits can bite really hard and almost always do.

Josh talks about chickens and then shows how to pick them up without chasing them.

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We visit the goats, sheep, and donkeys, snap a few photos, and brush the animals.


And immediately get back to work.


Gus and Ray use the jigsaw.



The custom gear set is starting to come together.


Rahul and Lee test out their cart.


David, Eli, and Griffin work on their cart.


Nova, Gus, and Peyton also work on their cart


Ray and Cassia also work on their cart.


But believe it or not, carts are not actually the project. The goal to to push or pull those carts with some ingenious mechanical interaction.

For example- Althea, Stephanie, and Sophie are going to use a giant lever arm. The team will push on the short end and the long end will push the cart. Trading force (they will have to push really hard) for speed (the long end of the lever will be moving several times faster then they are). A sort of person-powered centrifuge.


In just one day initial tests begin.


As dinner heats up in the oven, the crew heads down to the creek to play and let the progress of the day fade to the background.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer : Griffin


Portrait of Tinkerer : Eli


As the light fades a crew decides that moving a chunk of tree is essential to their good times.





Eventually we leave the creek. The scene is peaceful as everyone gathers and a little bit of good-summer-vibes works its magic on the crew.

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Afterwards, we head up for dinner, eat a ton of delicious food, play silly games and eventually head to bed. Today was a day of tackling the easy and first problems. Tomorrow will be full of figuring out how to get the disparate solutions to play well together; a vastly finickier proposition.

Day 1 - Slow, Steady Beginnings

2014 Session E - MiddlesJoshua Rothhaas1 Comment

The start of every Tinkering School session is a mix of rules, training, and tone setting. The staff is trying to figure out what this group is like, and the group is trying to figure out what this camp is about. Being an attentive group with solid listening skills we opt for a nonchalant start to the day. Sitting at the tables, Josh sets expectations. Be excellent to each other. Treat others as they would like to be treated. Don't be a jerk.


We talk about the three primary rules of Tinkering School: Don't hurt yourself or anybody else; If you see a piece of fruit and want it, you must eat it; and Reasonable disputes are settled by ro-sham-bo (rock paper scissors)

From there we talk about knife safety. Tinkering School is proud to have been handing kids razor sharp knives with our names on them. The key tenets are having a sharp blade (sharp is always safer than dull) that locks, always be sitting while using a knife, check your blood bubble (the bubble around you in which someone might get hurt if you slip), and cut away from yourself. After having the kids recite these rules about 6 times, out come the stainless steel knives. They are gifts to the kids that we hope they take home and keep for a long time. With knives in hand, we head out to whittle.



Along the way we meet the goats.


From there it's on to tool training on the drills and chop saw. (you can see photo of most of the kids using the chop saw on our flickr)


We learn to drill holes, drive screws and connect two pieces of wood together.


And we end training with a demo about how strong wood is.



After that it was a scrumptious dinner of chicken and vegetarian stir fry, a ton of fun building in the barn, an evening of music, and an atmosphere of comradery. A smooth, exciting beginning to our final week of Tinkering School!

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