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A Zoo PlayGround: A Lesson in Linguistics and Overcoming Limitations

Engineering Challenge, Interactive, Open Ended Design, Problem Solving, Rope, LinguisticsAmanda SimonsComment

So much happened in Saturday's workshop!

Frannie instructs a group of Tinkerers in the safe use of the drills, the location of the tools they will need, and how to keep pesky screws from rolling away (buckets!) while working on the floor of the warehouse.

Frannie instructs a group of Tinkerers in the safe use of the drills, the location of the tools they will need, and how to keep pesky screws from rolling away (buckets!) while working on the floor of the warehouse.

Aliyah inspects the different screw sizes to determine which is appropriate for the thickness of wood we're using.

Aliyah inspects the different screw sizes to determine which is appropriate for the thickness of wood we're using.

During tool training, everyone learned about the different types of clamps we have in the Tinkering School shop. Brendon demonstrates to the group how to open and close our orange bar clamps (twisty clamps!).

During tool training, everyone learned about the different types of clamps we have in the Tinkering School shop. Brendon demonstrates to the group how to open and close our orange bar clamps (twisty clamps!).

Clamp practice begins with teamwork and clamping wood to the table. Nathanael receives some help from a team mate as he lines up and tightens his clamp.

Clamp practice begins with teamwork and clamping wood to the table. Nathanael receives some help from a team mate as he lines up and tightens his clamp.

Clamp practice then evolves into silly temporary structures that stretch through the shop and then are carefully deconstructed.

Clamp practice then evolves into silly temporary structures that stretch through the shop and then are carefully deconstructed.

Adrian adjusts the chopsaw and checks the angle before cutting some bracers for the afternoon project. Because of how intense it is to be in the chopsaw room cutting components, the attention of all the Tinkerers is required before we turn the saw on.

Adrian adjusts the chopsaw and checks the angle before cutting some bracers for the afternoon project. Because of how intense it is to be in the chopsaw room cutting components, the attention of all the Tinkerers is required before we turn the saw on.

After a morning of tool training and practice, we introduced the project that we would all be working on together for the rest of the day. A Zoo Playground was our prompt -- but how we arrived at its implementation was not so simple. As a group, we began by brainstorming the types of VERBS we do at the playground. Everyone closed their eyes and imagined their last trip to a playground -- what was the weather, who were you with, how did you feel, and what were you doing?

Climbing! Jumping! Running! Scooting! Sliding!

The list went on and on, and I wrote down all the ideas. From there, we narrowed the list down to do verbs that the Tinkerers thought we could build into a project: hanging and sliding.

After that, the Tinkerers selected which group they would like to go with, and each team paired their verb with an animal. Our end result was an attempt to make a giraffe you could hang from, and a snake you could slide down.

And so we began!

The whole afternoon was a fury of building and problem solving. We all had a lot of fun and learned about how to work best together as teammates. While this is often the story of each one-day workshop we lead, the Zoo Playground bubbled up some feelings with a few of the Tinkerers.

After all the kids and their families left for the day, Lindsay described for me an especially poignant moment just before the building began during the Snake Slide design session. As Lindsay was writing down the ideas of the Tinkerers and trying to translate it into building schematics and afternoon plans, it finally dawned on one of the Tinkerers what was really going on.

"Wait. WE are going to build that?"

Impossible, explained the Tinkerer. It's impossible for us kids to work together to make a snake you can slide down. That's a job meant for professional toy designers, construction workers, and surely only adults. The skills you're teaching us here at Tinkering School could never be used to build something strange and silly and larger than life. We're only 7.

This conversation unfolded before Lindsay and she explained, to the contrary, that we were, in fact, going to try to build a snake to slide down. The kids will do it, and not the adults.

And we proceeded to do just that. At the end of the day, not only had we built the things we set out to build, but we were also able to hang from a giraffe and *almost* slide down a snake! (Sometimes we don't quite finish, and this is totally okay!)

Check out photos from the whole day on Flickr!

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