Tinkering School

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Hungry, Hungry Hippos!

Interactive, Mechanical, Problem SolvingDaniel BiglerComment
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What do you get when you have a bunch of eager tinkerers, some bowling balls, a full day of tinkering ahead, and a crazy idea inspired by a classic childhood board game? Why, you make a gigantic-sized version of Hungry, Hungry Hippos!

With that gargantuan goal in mind, we set out to see what we could do to satisfy the culinary needs of a ravenous, hungry hippo…

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Before getting started, though, we meet as a group to introduce ourselves, share what kind of soup we'd love if we could make soup out of anything (ice cream and pizza soup were definitely huge hits), and discuss the Tinkering School goals and agreements:

  1. Collaborate and make friends!
  2. Make mistakes and learn from them.
  3. Try harder than usual.
  4. Make something bigger than yourself.

It's always interesting to see how seemingly every part of the Tinkering School experience — every small moment, every interaction — can usually be encompassed in and reflected by these four goals. They might seem simple at first, but in that simplicity is a kind of subtle genius that only really becomes transparent when you see two kids who might not otherwise interact helping each other to build a ladder, or a young perfectionist embracing and learning from mistakes they made, or a five-year-old marveling at the end of a hard day of tinkering at how much more capable they are than they thought of actually, truly building something bigger than themselves. And today was certainly no exception, as we undertook our gigantic, hippo-sized task…

But first, it's off to tool training! Before we can build big things, we need to get acquainted with our main tools — and today, that meant meeting our good friends the chop saw, power drills, and clamps.

Here, collaborator Molly introduces a group of kids to the chop saw and how to use it: you find and measure your piece of wood, mark off a line to cut on, make sure the blade itself lines up with it, push it back against the chop saw wall, check to make sure everyone around you is ready (with the ever-reliable, patent-pending, thumbs-up-if-you're-ready "Ready Call!"), form a tiger paw with one hand to hold the wood down, and with your other on the saw handle, you make your cut! When you're done, you use your big piece of wood to push any small pieces of wood outside of the chop saw's "blood bubble" (an invisible zone around the blade you never want to reach your hand in). Then voilá: you have made a big piece of wood into two smaller pieces!

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Elsewhere in tool training land, kids also got introduced to the drills:

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… and the clamps (clamp bridges FTW!):

With a newfound sense of tool-trained empowerment and we-can-build-anything momentum at our backs — and a little bit of lunch in our belly, since tinkering can be hungry work — we settle into designing our hungry hippo and a way to feed it. We quickly decide we need two teams: one to work on the hippo itself (whom I'm just going to call Florence for the purposes of this blog, and because every hippo needs a name), and another to work on a structure with a ladder and a ramp that we can use to "feed"/roll down the bowling balls into Florence's mouth.

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After a bit more designing, the groups soon split off to start building, and things slowly begin to take shape.

Making Florence, it turns out, involves making really BIG frames out of wood, as Travis, Leona, Carmella, Rayahn, Luc, and collaborator Lindsey soon find out.

Meanwhile, the Feeding Apparatus team — comprised of collaborator Molly, Truman, Gurneet, and George, as well as Daniel M., Daniel A., and collaborator Daniel B. (yes, this team is chock-full of Daniels) — get started building the structure and ramp they plan to roll the bowling ball from.

Of course, what good is a structure that you can't climb up on? Here, George and Daniel work together to assemble a ladder for just such a purpose. 

Tada! The Feeding Apparatus is coming together.

Meanwhile, the Hippo team face an interesting design quandary: they need to decide what shape to make Florence's mouth so that it can best gobble up the bowling balls. After experimenting with a few different ideas, they soon land on a funnel-shape, to better capture any errant bowling balls rolling its way. With only a little building time remaining, they brilliantly team together to bring it into fruition.

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They finish Florence's mouth just in time. Meanwhile, the Feeding Apparatus team realize they're likely not going to finish the ramp to roll bowling balls down in time — but that seems to be alright with everyone, since unfinished projects are just another part of the Tinkering School experience, and its really the process of working to build something bigger than yourself that's the most gratifying. (Also, ladders. Young kids really do seem to love making ladders.)

Before parents arrive, though, we have one last meeting as a group to talk about and draw how we each might have experienced one of the Tinkering School goals today. Here are a few reflective drawings from that discussion…

And now, with parents here to watch, we embark on finally feeding our hungry, hungry hippo...

It's a success! As it turns out, rolling bowling balls on the floor is super fun — and actually inspires a new idea perhaps for next time… hungry, hungry hippo bowling, anyone?

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