Tinkering School

come make amazing things with us

The Great Ping Pong Ball Adventure: A Workshop with Teachers and Students of Head-Royce School

Aesthetic Challenge, All Teens, Component Replication, For Educators, Engineering Challenge, Interactive, Mechanical, Open Ended Solution, Problem Solving, Prototyping, Unusual Materials, Tinkering ChallengeAmanda SimonsComment

This past weekend, we had a Tinkering School first: a one-day workshop with adults and students as attendees. Students and teachers from Head-Royce School all the way in the East Bay decided to spend a Sunday with us to see, hear, feel, and experience what it's like to attend a Tinkering School workshop.

How do we do it? What do we do? What even IS it?!

A student at the school (and TS employee!), Miles, is planning on doing a TS-style workshop with elementary kids as part of his senior project, so we turned up the TS volume, and created a super-weird and interesting challenge for all them.

In the shop, we have a Ziplock bag of these bizarre ping pong balls with a face on them. (We have no idea whose face this is, so I apologize in advance if you stumble across this post and find your face on a ping pong ball!) For this workshop, we designed a multi-tiered interactive challenge for the attendees. It went a little like this:

  • The ping pong ball can only touch wire.
  • The ping pong ball should be able to travel from one end of the thing you build to the other without being touched by humans after its initial "release."
  • You have 90 minutes to (maybe) complete the build round.
  • After 90 minutes, we will mix up the teams.

We pre-selected the teams, and each team got to choose which challenge to begin with. The challenge options were as follows:

  • Build a Start that releases the ball.
  • Build something that draws a mustache on the ball as it passes by.
  • Build a wearable component of the ping pong ball track (someone must don this article during the ball run).
  • Jump the gap! Make a gap in the track that the ball has to traverse.
  • Build a FINISH that stops and also DESTROYS the ball!

The teams decided to build the START and FINISH first, and we got to work on a challenging and silly afternoon. From the day of building together, both TS and Head-Royce learned some interesting things:

  • It's actually really hard to make a ball travel a track of wire.
  • Even though adult and young-adult learners generally pick up new skills pretty quick, tool training and practice actually took a little longer than usual because of how curious everyone is.
  • Smashing a ping pong ball with a bed-of-screws strapped to a brick and attached to an 8 foot piece of wood is really satisfying.
  • While we initially thought a mixed student/adult workshop would be challenging for the Collaborators (our audience is usually of the 7-10 age-range), it was interesting, complex, and exciting to work with this group of people -- especially because they treated one another as peers from start to finish, regardless of their prior relationships.
  • We need to do more workshops like this one!

And last, but not least, here are some highlights from the day:

Above: Tool training revealed some super complex practice projects with drills and clamps!

Track iterations took the better part of the afternoon. These folks were persistent and very INsistent that the ball would/could travel down wire. They wouldn't take no for an answer.

Below: How to secure a brick!

Above: The mustache application.

Below: Finish and destroy!

Tinkering School is a trademark registered in the US Patent and Trademark Office.