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2016 Session E - Middles

Session E: Day 7 - Transformed by Turning Things

2016 Session E - MiddlesSerena G-HComment

Written by Gever and Serena, with help from Ana.

Parents are coming, parents are coming! Saturday morning means a lot of things at Tinkering School, from yurt cleaning to dining hall mopping, from shop knolling to build-site reset, but the one that is on our minds from the moment we wake up is the simultaneously thrilling and dreaded arrival of the parents. Thrilling because there's so much to share and show, dreaded because none of us want to say goodbye yet - or ever. And, the windmill needs love!

With Nik, Gever, and Elijah up on top of the tower diagnosing the problem with the shaft, Johnny is the designated stepandfetchit. He runs to the shop for critical tools a couple of times and then realizes that he could take advantage of the nice railroad system.

Swapping the shaft and re-mounting the blades does the trick - it's turning! And it sings! (from Gever's Instagram feed)

We were, in all senses of the word, happy campers. Friendships were forged, enormous things were built, stories were made and told, and in the end we became a real community of tinkerers.

Gever, in his usual way, thanked the parents for lending us their children. Then he got choked up, and tried to hug everyone. It was embarrassing and nice at the same time.

Next the teams demonstrate their projects, explained their process, setbacks, and iterations. Nothing significant broke (until after the parents left).

The train turntable turned a train perfectly.

The flying swings flew perfectly (powered by the delightful squeals of the riders).

Midway Station entranced people with it's amusements and distractions.


Katherine and Nik just enjoy the tower.

We don't build out of necessity, we build from desire. The motivation is intrinsic, and fueled by the joy of learning and doing great things together. And ultimately, these sometimes clumsy things we build, become beautiful and written indelibly on our memories.

Session E: Day 6 - Sneak Peek

2016 Session E - MiddlesSerena G-HComment

Well, as seems to happen on Friday nights around here, the build went late (we worked until 7, paused for dinner, then worked again until 8:40 when we ran out of light), and the fire was so nice, we stayed until we ran out of wood.

It goes without saying, that none of us want this week to end. There's so much to tell about today that we're going to tell you in the morning when we can write coherently. Love, Serena and Gever.

Session E: Day 5 - Build, Beach, Birthday

2016 Session E - MiddlesSerena G-H3 Comments

We do breakfast at 7:45 every morning with this crew. What is odd, is that every group gets to pick a breakfast time, but none of them actually settle on the time that they pick. This group, after some discussion and voting, picked "get up" at 7:30, and breakfast at 8 - but they made it clear on day one, that breakfast needed to be sooner. We adapt, and harmony reigns.

We assemble (ha!) at the shop for one of Gever's Structural Engineering 101 talks.

This one is about how the wood in a structure transfers weight to the core of the earth...

...and what happens when that fails.

There's camp friends, and there's best bud's.

Then, like Trinity, we all get back to work. After all, it's Thursday, and we've got a lot to do before Friday night.

The Squiki have built a massive structure for their swirly swings (not their name for it, but they haven't settled on a name yet) that is too heavy and awkward to transport easily, so, naturally, they modify a train car from last week and turn it into a cargo carrier and walk their structure to Tinker City.

Shoshi and Katherine waste no time and when the structure is parked near the area where it will be installed, they start adding the feet that will prevent it from digging itself into the ground and tipping over.

Meanwhile, at Midway station, the new spiral staircase takes shape.

Allison is fascinated by the production process and the by-products - blocks with peculiar angles.

Portrait of a Tinkerer (card shark): Thomas

Here's just one of the many many pictures the tinkerers take of their peers through the shop hatch. Tinkerers take almost 80% of the pictures at Tinkering School these days.

Mia and Aime have been plugging away at the train turntable and have told us multiple times that they are "this close" to being ready to install the deck and the turn-y parts.

The merry-go-round team is also getting close to working on the turn-y bits, so they throw a dance party on the deck they have built.

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Henry (aka Bob)

Lee has an opinion about the possibility of not building a pedestrian overpass for the train, and it's not a positive one.

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Trinity

Tools and extra materials are brought back to the shop for the morning reset. We reset twice every day to keep the mess from getting the better of us.

The windmill team needs to make their cloth propeller sails, so the Tinkering School sewing machine is unpacked and practice parts are made, but the machine is proving finicky, Johnny recruits Collaborator Nicole to help diagnose the problem.

In the afternoon break, kickball has become popular.

Elijah and Gever decided to make a replacement for the funky old drill press table. It looks pretty sweet.

Thomas loves the tools in the shop, as evidenced by the 30+ shots of the chopsaw we got to sort through tonight, which would be tedious if we didn't love Thomas and the chopsaw ourselves.

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Beckett

Gever ran the shop for the afternoon. It's one of his favorite activities because it offers plenty of opportunities to chat and understand how the tinkerers are thinking about the problems they are working on.

Meanwhile, Junior Collaborator Mac and Robert work on the rotating arms of the swirly-swings.

Once you start using Forstner bits for making large holes, you will never go back to paddle bits.

Sometimes, helping tinkerers make something can be exhausting. Serena layed down for a moment today and found herself lying there much longer than she meant to. "It wasn't ever a nap!" she clarified.

Try as we might, we all felt a bit of a slump this afternoon; there is a reason we usually do Beach Day on Wednesday, so we packed in to the cars and went to the beach.

A sandy mini-cliff proved to be a wonderful thing to jump off of, and in no time at all, even the tinkerers that wanted to stay and work were running and leaping as far and high as they could manage.

This beach is only ten minutes from the ranch, and it is so rejuvenating for everyone.

Then it's back to the ranch for dinner and birthday cookies for Johnny.

And then free-build until it gets dark.

Or a trip to the goats.

The days are long, and we sometimes run out of words to say or write in the blog, but never stop loving the kids we get to work with and the adventures we have with them.

Session E: Day 4 - Hard Work is Hard, Soft Kitties are Soft

2016 Session E - MiddlesSerena G-HComment

(written by Serena, edited by Gever) 

Today it's Wednesday, and for the first time in a long while, it is not beach day. We're fresh off our early beach day yesterday, and now it's time to get back out there and regain our momentum. Tuesday is generally a big day for the project - kids are starting to get into the rhythm of the project. Our goal is to capture this same spirit on our second full day of build, even though it just so happens to be a Wednesday. 

So we fuel up for a big push today with waffles for breakfast. 

The kids discover the blog from the last two days, and laugh at the pictures of themselves frolicking in the waves. 

The weather's on our side this morning - it's the rare warm and sunny morning out at the ranch - normally we wake up to fog, and it burns off by noon. 

Team Nooi has decided their goal for the week is to renovate Midway with a skywalk and game show. But they're starting with the spiral staircase. Lee and Ethan work together to get it clamped up. 

Ewon works on the trench Team Panda is digging to level their platform into. He's getting good with the pick-axe. 

Piki is repurposing the stage platform from Session B into the base for their merry-go-round. Before they use it, they have to rethink the support bracing design. Nicole works with Trinity on adding in a crossbeam. 

Aimee and Mia work together to level the platform for the Panda turntable. It's a finicky process, where one wrong move can force us into starting from scratch again. 

An ongoing project this week is the development of our Junior Collaborator program. It's leading to a lot of discussions about what different qualities make a good collaborator. We're working on an effective plotting method. 

The Windmill team is building the center piece which will hold the blades. They're working on getting the spacing right, so that it will fit together and the pipes can socket in tightly. 

Charlotte hangs from the newly refurbished deck. 


At the beach yesterday, a raised flag symbolized "come in to base camp." The symbolism of the flag rings true again today - we're calling the tinkerers back to their projects, reminding them of the work that stretches before us, and encouraging them to engage more deeply. 

Miles lends a hand to the windmill team by helping to mount the telltale. The hope is to eventually mount the windmill itself to the Sky Tower, but they are looking to work out which orientation will enable them to generate the most power. 

Ewon and Mia are demonstrating their tenacity as they continue to make progress on the platform. 

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Thomas 

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When the first telltale doesn't give an obvious enough reading of the wind, we try something different. 

Hard work is tiring. Sometimes, it requires nap breaks. 

By the time snack break rolls around, the tinkerers are hungry again. We're doing snack inside now, because taking fruit outside seems to attract the yellow jackets. It's a great moment to decompress, take a pause from the work we're doing, and goof off a little. 

Then it's back down, for our final push this afternoon. Ethan's eager to get started. 

Johnny's got you covered. 

Nooi's got a plan in place for everything, and their own set of naming conventions. This is the steps for building a "Flatso," which Ethan tells me is the name for the flat, bottom rung. They're also planning their "Angeles," the angled pieces that make up the staircase as it spirals.  

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Robert 

Team Piki, confident in the structural integrity of the base now that they have replaced the supports, puts the deck back on. 

Bob (aka Henry) works on coupling two track segments with some thick plywood. This 16' piece of track will be the rotating piece on the turntable. 

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Team Panda has taken huge strides today. With a lot of work and patience, they've leveled and mounted their deck. 

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Portrait of a Collaborator: Amanda observes. 

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Bob, his track segment coupling complete. 

Ethan works out the math for the "Angeles" (pronounced: angel - EEs). His experience lead to two different results - one which translated perfectly to the real world, another where the math just didn't quite pan out the way he anticipated, and where he ultimately had to rework the parts on the fly. 

Team Sqiki can do anything they set their minds too. Since this morning, they've assembled the tower their lazy-susan will rest on top of. 

Ethan cuts a piece for the Panda Platform using the circular saw. Serena supervises and his teammates, Mia and Aimee, lend their hands. 

Throughout meal times, we've been collecting "Goat-Post," a goat-suitable compost bin. Tonight, Daniel and Nik lead an animal adventure trek. 

On the way, they stop at the playground to repair a tire swing. It's been riding particularly low to the ground, and is hard to push because it keeps rubbing. Their goal is to replace and shorten the rope. 

Then they visit the chickens...

Feed orange peels to the goats...

Check in with the bunnies... 

And meet the kittens who live in the barn. 

There's nothing quite like visiting cute animals after a long days work. When the sun sets, they return to the conference center for a showing of "Duck Soup," complete with popcorn and hot chocolate. All in all, returning to the project and refocusing has been a success. It's back to work tomorrow. 

Session E: Day 3 - Suddenly, We Went to the Beach

2016 Session E - MiddlesSerena G-H3 Comments

(written by Gever, Serena, and Zach)

There are a handful of foundational principles that we operate on at Tinkering School, one, formed out of necessity, is so ingrained that we hardly mention it these days: Make it Work With What You Have. It's a credo of sorts, that keeps us working within the set of constraints we are given: materials, location, time, and team. It also keeps us from running to the hardware store for a specialized part that, with just a bit more effort, we can design ourselves out of needing.

In securing the Conference Center at Elkus Ranch as our site, we had to accommodate a couple of already booked events. Of course we said, "sure, no problem, we can work around that," and then promptly forgot to write down the specific date. As a result, we had to decamp from the main hall yesterday, and move everyone off-campus from 8:45 till 16:30. We decided to treat it as an early beach day... knowing that the rhythm of the week would get skewed. No problem, make it work with what you have. Embrace the perturbation and see what new perspectives open up. We'll have a solid 3.5 day run to the end of the week where we can build like the obsessed and relentless inventors we all seem to be this session.

Everybody is up for breakfast an hour earlier than normal, then food is packed, vehicles are packed, and we are off to San Gregorio Beach - one of our favorites because there is so much driftwood. Now we just have to schlepp our supplies to the beach.

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We decide to put base camp on the other side of the lagoon...

Definitely a longer schlepp, but we're going to be at the beach for the whole day so it seems like it will be worth it. Right?

Walking in sand is good for the brain. Something about how you can't really run, combined with the sounds of the surf and the wind; it all adds up calming down the brain. Tinkering School might open a chain of mental and physical health spas called TRUDGE - we'll figure out how to make loose sand treadmills.

We don't make a pretty camp. The average age of our group, staff included, is about 12, so we just stop walking and plop down our stuff. Schlepp & Plop - in case TRUDGE doesn't catch on.

Lee realizes he's got three points of contact - time to whittle!

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Beckett

On a huge beach, with endless sand and driftwood, a huge hole is an anomaly that cannot be left unexplored.

Since we can't go back to the ranch until 4:30, and with the weather being very indecisive, we impose a "no swimming until noon" rule that limits immersion to ankle-deep only. Katherine and Shoshi immediately embrace the ankle limit ("make it work with what you have") and engage in some foam jumping.

While Ewon takes a rather more stately engagement with the water.

Meanwhile, back at the big hole, there's a whole lot of silliness.

And Gever and Elijah get into a long conversation. The fog played with us all day, sometimes seeming to appear simultaneously everywhere and other times licking around the corners of the lagoon.

Caroline's working at Day Camp this week and next, but her kite gets to go to the beach with us.

We came to TINKER, please send tools and materials.

For some reason, we've got a lot of lost heads today.

For those that care to pay attention, the beach offers many fine details and textures.

Mid-morning, the cards come out and the staff all experience a moment of "ah, not on the sand!" before deciding that it was going to happen anyway. Cards, whittling, and a hatful of Cheezits - does it get any better?

Collaborator Miles decides that it's time for the gang to learn how to play Hearts (which is the gateway to Bridge, as we all know). Allison, Beckett, and David are excited to learn.

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Collaborators Brian and Nicole set to work on an assemblage of sticks and stones.

Thomas grabs some twine and starts experimenting with kinetic fidget appliances.

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Ewon

Then, in what seems like the blink of an eye, it's back to the truck for lunch. Collaborator Daniel takes over the PB&J assembly line.

The textures and contrasts are breathtaking.

With lunch concluded and a quick review of the rules of engagement, it's time to get into the water!

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Meanwhile, over by the lagoon, Gever has found some old rope and with a little help from Elijah and some tinkerers, he's started to build a raft. Make it work with what you have.

The tinkerers soon discover that the lagoon is much, much, warmer than the ocean. Trinity moves to the calmer shore with a chunk of wood she's taken a liking to.

Serena contributes to the raft project with some excellent lashing.

The whole purpose of beach day is to de-complexify life. Nik lays down for a moment that turns into a nice long nap. Teenagers need sleep the way that whales need krill.

Lee and Bob (aka Henry) have decided to spend the afternoon throwing wet sand at things. They float a log, play with it for a moment, and then step back and start throwing wet sand at it. This confuddles Gever, who is pretty sure that the reason to float a log is to so that you can paddle it - but sure, whatever floats your boat.

He appreciates when they pitch in with Zach to get the raft launched.

And they try floating about a bit, but not too much - because there's wet sand to be thrown at things.

Which gives Gever a chance to take the raft out for a paddle.

Robert makes himself a complicated stick and twine contraption, and then spends a long time figuring out how it behaves and learning to make it do tricks.

David takes the raft out for a spin, ends up drifting out into the deep part of the lagoon, and spends almost 40 minutes figuring out how to get back to shore. We were prepared to go get him, but the need never arose as we watched him perform an endless series of experiments to figure out how to get the raft to move in a direction and not just spin.

After a lovely, long, day at the beach we head back to the ranch for showers and start supper. A trip to the creek is mounted and the adventures begin in the pre-dinner down-time.

There's a skill to catching crawdads, and this group is figuring it out early in the week.

We have played in three bodies of water today; ocean, lagoon, and creek. A remarkable set of circumstances has created a unique moment in all of our lives, and we are grateful. These are the days that make being on this planet, at this moment, with these fine folks, seem like some miracle has occurred. Make it work with what you have, indeed.

Session E: Day 2 - "Things that Turn"

2016 Session E - MiddlesSerena G-H1 Comment

It's our first full work day, which is always a thrill. Gever opens the morning with two important discussion points - first, we'll talk about what we've built so far, and then, we'll introduce our theme for the week. 

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Welcome to Terminus Station! Gever introduces us to the station at the end of the line closest to our workshop. Terminus Station was put up more than four weeks ago, during Session A. 

Then we stop at Midway. The platform here used to be it's own destination, but it's been reduced to a way stop that the express trains just whiz past on the way to Tinker City. Gever poses as the mayor of an old western town, and challenges the group to dream up improvements which will make Midway a destination once again. 

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Then it's onwards towards Tinker City. 

This too, Gever explains, could be a much more fascinating vacation destination, be it for a few minutes or a few hours. He challenges tinkerers to think about how to improve it. 

And then it's time to reveal the theme for the week. Instead of a clear project, it's more of a guiding idea, which we'll let the tinkerers toy with and then decide what they want to build.

This week's theme is "Things that Turn."

We head up to the conference center to work out together what that means. We open a giant group brainstorming session - right now, every idea is valid. Write down as many as you can, in silence, as you think. Ready, go!  

Up on the luan "cork-board", the ideas are starting to pile up, and categories are starting to emerge. 

We gather the tables into a cluster, and work together to flesh out the categories. Ali and Freddie read off the ideas we've gathered so far - everything from rotating restaurants to fans, carts and helicopters to giant hamster wheels. 

And those at the tables work to assign them to categories and group them. It's the largest group brainstorm any of us at Tinkering School can remember trying.  

Then it's time to announce the teams for the week. 

On Piki - Charlotte, Beckett, David, and Trinity, with Collaborators Amanda & Nicole.

On Nooi - Lee, Allison, Ethan, and Zara with Collaborators Lindsay and Brian.  

On Kablooi - Johnny, Freddie, Dave, and Robert with Collaborator Nik and Junior Collaborator Mac

On Sqiki - Katherine, Shoshi, and Thomas, with Collaborator Miles. 

On Panda - Henry, Mia, Ewon, and Aime, with Collaborator Serena and Junior Collaborator Zach.

We take a much needed snack break. 

After snack, we split into groups. Now that we had our group brainstorm, each team will get to decide what they want to build. Team Sqiki has decided to build a "Flying Scooters" type amusement ride - where two swing seats suspended in the air rotate around a tower. 

Team Panda has decided to make a train turn table out by Tinker City. Aimee draws out the plans. 

Team Piki has decided to build a Merry-Go-Round. They're staring with the base. David holds as Beckett screws the frame together. 

It's great for photos, too!

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Gever works on modifying some train wheels into pulley wheels for the windmill Team Kablooi is assembling. 

A pulley wheel in profile. 

Elijah helps Robert out. 

Shoshi learns to use the jigsaw cutting parts for the Sqiki turntable. 

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The merry-go-round frame is together- they test it out. 

We remove the backdrop from the stage, so that we can repurpose it as a merry-go-round. It's a many-handed job. 

The Sqiki Lazy Susan, complete. 

And the seats are coming together too. 

Portrait of a Tinkerer: Freddie.

And for our evening activity, we reach for another Tinkering School tradition - knife training.  After reviewing the rules, Serena helps Lee learn to lock his knife. 

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Katherine whittles. 

Henry is the last tinkerer to receive his knife. He's been patiently reading while others demonstrate their whittling. Gever gives him a high-five once he's proven his knowledge of knife safety. 

And then it's time to head to bed. We have an early day tomorrow. It's cool to see things that turn beginning to emerge. Each group has set off on a path and is hyped about their ideas. 

Session E: Day 1 - Explorations

2016 Session E - MiddlesSerena G-H1 Comment

We're at the start of Session E. With four weeks of sessions behind us, Tinker City is officially at it's halfway mark. As campers arrive, check-in, and drop of their belongings, they also have the chance to get acquainted with what the previous week has put together.

The newly arrived campers head down the tracks to try out our train cars. 

Then it's time to gather for our first circle. We'll explore together what being at Tinkering School means throughout the week, but right now, we're getting our first taste. 

We have two David's this week - Dave's on the left, David on the right. They're both excited and ready to get started. 

Then we discuss the rules. We only have couple, but it makes them all the more important. We want to place trust in our tinkerers, and the three rules we've honed through eleven years of camp allow us to do just that. Gever asks for hands - who remembers Rule Number One? 

The first rule of Tinkering School is: "Don't hurt yourself, or anybody else." We place serious power tools in the hands of children, so this rule is by far and away the most important. We talk about why. But even aside from power tools, the rule applies to our interactions with our fellow camp mates.

Rule number two always gets grins when it's introduced: "If you see a piece of fruit, and you want it, then you must eat it." 

And rule number three requires a physical demonstration. At Tinkering School, Ro-Sham-Bo is used to settle all. Katherine and Fredrica are kind enough to demonstrate the proper execution.

Then it's off to tool training. Today we'll get to explore the tools we get a chance to use most frequently this week.  A group tackles the clamps. 

Collaborator Lindsay leads drill training and lends advice. 

Trinity, Lee, and Ewon watch as Collaborator Amanda explains the intricacies of the chop saw. 

Behind the conference center, a group practices their new skills with the drills. We rotate through each of these stations, so tinkerers get the chance to familiarize themselves with the tools. 

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Which screw length should we use to attach these boards? Lindsay challenges the kids to  decide. 

Amanda emphasizes the importance of ear protection. 

Collaborator Nik shows off how a clamp works by testing on his hand. 

Each kid gets a chance to wield the chop saw.  David takes a go. 

Lee works out how to attach two boards at a 90 degree angle. 

Portrait of a Tinkerer's Hands: the drill up close. 

The kids have rediscovered the "bobsled run" - it's fun to ride this little cart down the slope. Shoshi and Charlotte take a go. 

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The final rotation is a tour of Tinker City so far. All the platforms just seem so perfect for jumping from. Shoshi leaps from the stage. 

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Beckett jumps off the lower platform of the skyscraper. 

We head in for dinner, and then our first evening build prompt: put together a giraffe which can hold and chew a leaf in its mouth using no more than five screws and three clamps in one hour. We split into five teams, and start sketching. 

Half an hour in, we remember to bring down the camera. Full grown giraffes are already emergent. 

Alli designed the articulation system for her team's giraffe mouth. A string, attached to the board that acts as the lower jaw, passing between two screws that hold the roof of the mouth on. 

Bob installs a clipboard mouth on "Mr. Clippy."

This team has decided to see just how tall they can make their giraffe. They've got an 8' neck, and it's pretty awesome. 

David needs a ladder to put the finishing touches on his team's giraffe. 

The hour is up! It's time to test! Elijah prepares the jaws on "Bob" (which is what they're calling their giraffe).

We find a ceremonial leaf, which each giraffe successfully chews. 

All in all, we've explored a lot - the start of Tinker City, the rules of what it means to be here, and what, exactly, it means to build a giraffe. So far, so good - looks to be an exciting week ahead of us. 

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