Tinkering School

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2018 Session B - Juniors

TSO-B - Day 6 - We Did It!

2018 Session B - JuniorsTinkering School Staff1 Comment

After working through the morning and afternoon, it was finally time to put our mechanisms to the test and infiltrate the Bank Tower to capture the Big Beloved Jewel. We huddled as a band of spies and plotted our break-in...

Olivia pretended that the Jewel-Grabber tool was a beautiful hat to evade the Bank Security and wandered into the Outhouse... 

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Kanden and Ahaan used a winch to crank down the drawbridge leading to the Bank Tower...

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Meanwhile, Charlie and Anabella distracted Inspector Lyle so he wouldn't notice the action upstairs... 

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The burglars skittered across the drawbridge...

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Olivia held the pulley steady while Ronin hopped onto the seat...

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Ronin peered over the laser security...

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...and after many attempts at grabbing the jewel... 

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...he finally secured it...

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...and dropped it safely into a zipline bucket, which soared over the forest and into the hands of Solani...

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...who ran it to our getaway car drivers...

...and they sped away!

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Bank Security was displeased with our successful performance. 

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An epic day, ending an epic week.

TSO-B - Day 5 - Bit by Bit

2018 Session B - JuniorsTinkering School Staff2 Comments
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Today began with The Safety Inspector, who looked an awful lot like Caroline with a paracord mustache, visiting each project group and pushing them to think more intensely about structural integrity. It was the day in the build process where the challenges got a little bit more specific, deeper, and challenging. 

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Anabella and Ronin nearly finished their grabber tool. At first, the eight grabby fingers jammed against each other and they couldn't hold onto objects, but once they removed a few digits and added some sandpaper, they could grip apples and headphones and just about anything. 

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The getaway car group confronted a challenge with their steering mechanism which didn't seem to move in sync with their handlebar. They tinkered it with it all afternoon until it worked.

Ashley even began work on a zip line bungee chair, which sounds like the most awesome thing ever!  

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After a visit with the Safety Inspector, the Outhouse group further stabilized their structure, adding a bunch of diagonal beams and a ladder to their structure. Finally, they passed Sharpies around the camp site and asked folks to tag their bathroom so it looked extra uninviting to any suspicious passerbys.    

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The pulley group, led by Ahaan, added more surface area to the bank tower rooftop so our burglars can more safely scooch onto the pulley seat and nab the Big Beautiful Jewel. 

Midway through the day, I passed off my camera to various kids who cruised through the woods and throughout the build site, snapping gorgeous portraits of each other. I believe that a photograph often reveals the relationship between the cameraperson and its subject — and if these photos are any indication, there's a lot of love among this group. 

TSO-B - Day 4 - A Distinct Kind of Tired

2018 Session B - JuniorsTinkering School Staff3 Comments
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There's a distinct kind of tired that sinks into your bones after a day at Redondo Beach, after treading through tide pools and scavenging for hermit crabs, after climbing cliffs and picking up rocks for geology experiments, after getting buried in sand up to your neck and getting sunburnt up to your shin, after tossing holi powder into the air and showering our bodies in green and red and blue, after blowing smoke circles with the fog machine and flinging LED helicopters and baking cookies for ice cream sandwiches and mummy-wrapping ourselves in toilet paper and dancing until late into the night. We are all feeling that kind of tired right now, and so we're going to go to bed. The Heist will resume tomorrow...

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TSO-B - Day 3 - A Day Filled With Hard Fun

2018 Session B - JuniorsTinkering School Staff3 Comments

After dinner, as a few of us huddled around Caroline for a portrait drawing lesson while Daniel queued up another Wallace and Gromit short, I asked a couple kids about their favorite moments of the day. I think it was Raquel who said it was when the ropes holding up her skybench snapped and she almost plummeted a half dozen feet to the forest floor. She re-tied it with the help of Sofia and some others and now they're finally on their second iteration. When I asked Ashley, she said she almost wanted to say it was when she touched stinging nettles down by the creek and had to slather her hand with aloe to cool the burn, but that probably it was adding the steering mechanism to the getaway car. Olivia loved practicing slowing down her pulley technique so that the jewel thief wouldn't death-drop down the 12' tall bank tower. These answers perfectly capture what makes Tinkering School Overnight special. Kids get to take risks here, make mistakes, and then learn from them, celebrate them, make themselves and their projects so much better. 

"We learn best and we work best if we enjoy what we are doing. But fun and enjoying doesn’t mean 'easy.' The best fun is hard fun."  - Seymour Papert

From early this morning, today was brimming with moments of hard fun. The Spies of Tinkering School Overnight received yet another piece of confidential intel in which we learned that the bank had heightened security by adding a laser perimeter and camera system. As we marched uphill to our build site, we had to consider ways to adjust our project designs to overcome these parameters. 


With some help from Julie, we revised the design of the pulley seat so that it was more stable, comfortable, and could hold more weight.  We tested it with the lightest kids first, of course (Ronin then Olivia). We also added a second pulley system connected to a snack bucket so we could eat our goldfish and graham crackers on top of the bank in case we became hungry mid-heist.


Nearby, Ronin partnered with Anabella to construct more wooden finger-grabbers to nab the jewel. They took turns drilling and being a human clamp. At one point, half their plywood snapped but they kept going.

Kanden and Tal worked with Kaitlyn and Caroline to erect their fake Starbucks, which may or may not now be referred to as "The Outhouse." They added an escape hatch on the top lined with foam for an easy (and comfy) climb up to the roof, and covered the walls in plywood so outsiders couldn't peek in to see our top-secret burglary equipment. 

Charlie, Sonali, and Ashley made some epic progress with their getaway car and figured out a steering mechanism, which involved several iterations of a steering wheel and lots of angle grinding steel axels. 

"Play is the child's most serious work." - Edith Ackermann

We worked so hard today that we retired to our campsite an hour early. Soon we were busy with a whole new slew of games and goof-offs. Charlie decapitated many foes during a pool noodle duel. Solin strutted her whittling skills (and later used her pointy stick as a crawdad harpoon in the creek.) Anabella and Ronin continued their partnership as they balance-beam tip-toed over ranch fences and tree branches. We learned that Henry told lots of mysterious stories, Seb was expert at making volcanoes out of dirt, Ahaan displayed quite an arm for ultimate frisbee and spiral-tossing footballs, Sonali contained encyclopedic knowledge of Taylor Swift, and Raquel type-wrote the sweetest letters home to Mom and Dad ("i kind of miss you," she wrote).  

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I'm sure we all kind of miss our families and friends back home, but for now, things are going pretty well..

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TSO-B - Day 2 - The Heist of the Beloved Big Jewel Begins

2018 Session B - JuniorsTinkering School Staff1 Comment
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I didn't plan to be the first person awake this morning, but something about the day two jitters led me to slink out my yurt at 5 am. Pretty soon thereafter, kids and Collaborators started to wake up like popcorn heating up in the microwave. First it was Miriam and Reilly, pouring themselves morning coffee, and then - pop-pop-pop - half of the "Death Star" was in the Conference Center itching to get into an epic pool noodle thwacking battle. Daniel, Tal, and Ashley started to make us all pancakes, waffles, and scrambled eggs. I played an extra-long game of Crazy Chess with Solin and we speculated if the game would be improved if every piece could move like the Queen. All this before 8 am, before we brushed our teeth and changed out of our pajamas, and before we received the confidential telegram with information about our heist. 

In the morning, Kaitlyn received a secret note addressed to the Spies of Tinkering School Overnight, which instructed us that "our mission was to devise three mechanisms that will allow us to steal the Beloved Big Jewel and make a getaway." Yesterday, we had fiddled about with gears in the conference center, leafed through David Macauley's How Things Work, and spotted some bins of pulleys in the shop, and today was our opportunity to put our skills to the test.

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The first part of the mission was to make a mechanism that could GET US IN to the bank. We heard that the bank was several feet tall and we needed to have a moving mechanism that could get agents up and over the bank walls. We decided to build a fake Starbucks next to the bank equipped with a rooftop drawbridge that would lower down on top of the bank and give us easy access to the Beloved Big Jewel. No one would see that coming!

The first step was to play around with pulleys, build a frame for the Starbucks building, and capture Nibbles the Trained Beetle, who quickly became the group mascot and would be deployed into the bank to defuse security.

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The second part of the mission was to make a mechanism that could GRAB THE BELOVED BIG JEWEL from inside the bank. We learned that the jewel was about the size of an apple and very fragile so it couldn't be dropped. We needed a mechanism that could be used to scoop, grab, latch on to, or otherwise obtain the jewel and get out of the bank structure without a trace.

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We wanted a Mission Impossible-style drop-down swing, but quickly discovered that it took four people's muscles to lift one Ronin and that the bank vault was a very treacherous structure to drop down from without a ladder. Soon we added two more pulleys to our system and Henry coached Ronin through some advanced parkour maneuvers for a safe escape. We also built a ladder that, after three or so iterations, was finally tall enough to reach the top of the bank tower, and Anabella single-handedly devised an ingenious grabber-tool mechanism that I totally forgot to photograph!

The final part of the mission was to make a mechanism that could GET US AWAY from the bank and could transport at least two people with the jewel in hand back to our hideout at the bottom of the hill. Under Jack's steady leadership, this small but mighty team whipped up a frame for their getaway car and made a lot of sparks in the process.

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So many other lovely moments today...

Like when Raquel and Sofia hoisted their homemade Sky Bench into the forest trees... 

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Like when we stuck our fingers to a slimy banana slug and it was totally gross but also totally awesome...

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Like when Dade saw a pile of skateboard wheels and immediately began working on a homemade skateboard or when Lucy serendipitously color-matched her puffy coat to her protective eyewear...

Or when we rummaged around the creek, splashing in the water, and luring crawfish towards us with a piece of pepperoni attached to a pipe cleaner. We even caught a couple and brought them home for a little low-country boil. Another day....

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TSO-B - Day 1 - Codenames, Blackberries, and Wagon Rides

2018 Session B - JuniorsTinkering School Staff10 Comments
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Ahoy families, loved ones, and other far-flung friends,

My name is Sam and I will be your blogger and trusted guide this week. I hope to capture and share with you as many moments from Overnight Camp as I can - of projects coming together in spectacular ways (and of them falling apart, too!), of exuberant inspiration and delirious silliness, of friendships blossoming, and of tinkering in its many joyful forms. At this very moment, as I write you, all of the kids and Collaborators are huddled together in the conference center, sipping hot chocolate and munching on a post-dinner watermelon slice. A few are playing Bananagrams. Daniel's showing a group how to make whipped cream with a drill-powered whisk. Others are hunched over the communal table, deeply immersed in a Roald Dahl book. Like some of the campers, this is my first week ever at camp and it's clear that this is a special place where everyone can be themselves, try new things, and feel at peace amid the goats and roosters of Elkus Ranch. I can't wait for the rest of the week to reveal itself, but first, let's look back at today...

Today got started, as first days of camp tend to do, with campers and their families checking in, setting up their sleeping areas, and selecting a code name. In our community, we have now welcomed a "Sour Head", a "Crash", a "Tsunami", a "Mochi", a "Minifig", and even a "Danielsaurus" - among many others. Caroline, Reilly, and Luke got straight to work, brainstorming code names for the yurts we'll be living in this week - all Star Wars-themed: the "Millennium Falcon", "Death Star", and the "Forest Planet of Endor".  (At night, if you squint a little, the yurts do look a little bit like Uncle Ben's hut from Tatooine.) 

In the conference center, Seb and Ronin fiddled with a cardboard box and differently-sized gears to design wobble-mobiles that rolled, launched, and crash-landed into a pile of straws and strawberry baskets. 

Anabella worked with her family to build an incredible machine creature with a snout that could rotate 360 degrees. 

And Olivia built a drawing tool that transformed from a marker into a pencil into an eraser depending on the direction you twisted the gear.

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Once we all settled in, we walked up the hill together to the build site and oriented ourselves to our new tools. Jack and Caroline taught us about the three things a drill can be used for ("pushing a screw in, pulling a screw out, and making holes") and why we avoid "victory drilling" (pulling the drill trigger as a celebratory practice - unsafe.) Julie provoked us to build a free-standing tower taller than she was out of scrap wood and clamps. And Kaitlyn showed us how to safely use the chop-saw. Kids leaned on each other to hold their wood secure, to lift an 8' beam into the sky, and to ensure everyone stood ready with a thumbs-up sign before making their cuts. 

Oh - and Daniel took us on a tour around the ranch and showed us the very important distinction between poison oak and blackberries, which we all found delicious, especially Anabella!

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As we traveled down the hill back to the conference center for dinner, we discovered new ways to make the trek faster and more fun: riding belly-down on Reilly's back, cruising in the wagon, and hanging out the sun roof of Loren's car, arms flapping in the breeze. The walk back I've been told is precisely the length of seven flights of stairs. It doesn't feel that long when you're riding or cruising or flapping - or when there's goats to say hello to - or when you're with people that you love. 

It's the end of Day 1 and everyone's tucked away, except Daniel and Charlie who are playing one last round of late-night checkers. Cleaning up the conference center, I found a blueprint that Seb drew at the very end of dinner for a new kind of wagon that the "Death Star" (the boys' yurt) will start to build tomorrow. I didn't understand the drawing at first until Seb explained it to me. I can't wait to see it start to take shape tomorrow. There are very few things in life more beautiful than watching someone's passionate idea become real. 

Until then...

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