Tinkering School

come make amazing things with us

Aesthetic Challenge

Alligator Elevator

Aesthetic Challenge, Direct Provocation, Engineering Challenge, Mechanical, Narrative, Problem Solving, Prototyping, Science, RopeAmanda SimonsComment

In the Tinkering School warehouse, there is a giant pterodactyl skeleton that lives in the rafters. One of the teachers at the day school made it for a party, and now it has found its home with us. This huge sculpture is often a topic of conversation and also sometimes an overstimulating distraction when we're trying to do tool training or talk about safety!

At this last one day workshop of the season, we decided that the pterodactyl needed a friend in the rafters. An alligator. We would design it. We would build it. We would lift it to its friend in the ceiling!

But first, tool training and practice!

As a group, we learned how to use the chopsaw, drills, and clamps and got a chance to practice working together to cut and clamp and drill things. After training and practice and some lunch (!) we got to work on our designs for the alligator elevator.

We split into two groups, and worked the rest of the afternoon on our plans. One group designed and built the alligator, and the other group figured out how to lift heavy things using pulleys and mechanical advantage.

What was great and rare about this one day workshop was the under of iteration opportunities we created. A thing that we often struggle with, as educators, in these short one-day situations is that we run out of time. We simply don't have the time to produce multiple versions of the same experiment.

During this workshop, the lifting team was essentially working on designing and testing a block and tackle pulley system. We started by lifting a platform that we designed and built. Then we used the platform to lift a cinder block. Then two cinder blocks.

And then, at the end we lifted the gator!

What an awesome day! Thanks everyone!

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

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.

Random Critter Creator

Aesthetic Challenge, Open Ended Design, Problem Solving, Unusual MaterialsLindsay JonesComment

Today, after tool training, with a few rolls of the die we determined we would build together a Creature with:

But before we could build those things, we needed a body to attach them to! The group decided, that because they also really wanted to build a house, the legs should be long enough for us to stand under!

Our group were natural collaborators and before we knew it there we had 4 huge legs!

There were definitely some hickups along the way. Did you know there is more than one way to connect 4 equal length pieces of wood? The legs definitely weren't all exactly the same :)

Isaiah figured out how to stabilize a long piece of wood while his partner was busy cutting!

Then it was time for lunch and a dance party!

We connected the legs together to stabilize them and got ready to add a spine and some ribs!

Meanwhile, some wings were forming in the back of the shop!

 Maanasa drew out the wings, so Isaiah could cut them out on the bandsaw!

Maanasa drew out the wings, so Isaiah could cut them out on the bandsaw!

 Isaiah cuts the angled tips out.

Isaiah cuts the angled tips out.

 This Critter is definitely starting to look house-like.

This Critter is definitely starting to look house-like.

It took everyone of us to lift the spine and ribs and fasten them to the legs, first with clamps, then screws.

Now we could add all the appendages! Everyone worked with each other to help create and attach wings, horns, hairs and abs!

 Horns of the softer variety

Horns of the softer variety

After we stopped building and reset the workshop, we recalled the Tinkering School Goals we had introduced that morning:

and reflected on how we had accomplished one or more of them that day by drawing.

 "It's a metaphor because that's how high it felt like I was when I was attaching the abs."

"It's a metaphor because that's how high it felt like I was when I was attaching the abs."

 Here is Maanasa's drawing of herself trying harder than usual attaching the wings, up high, with tricky washer/screw assemblies.

Here is Maanasa's drawing of herself trying harder than usual attaching the wings, up high, with tricky washer/screw assemblies.

I noticed everyone challenging themselves to continue working on things that were difficult or maybe just not that exciting in the moment. I also heard repeated announcements of "This is such a fun day!" 

See more photos at our Flickr page!

Building an Elephant from the Ground Up - One Day Workshop

Aesthetic Challenge, Direct Provocation, Mechanical, NarrativeEvan BarnesComment

Watching David Attenborough's new series Africa inspired the collaborators to propose building an elephant as today's one day workshop project! The tinkerers were also stoked on this idea, so today we tried to build the eponymous Attenborough's San Francisco Gray Elephant (Loxodonta attenboria sub. sanfrancisca). 

Before building could begin, we had some tool training in the use of drills and the chop saws, during which some old hands and some new ones alike learned and demonstrated the safe use of the tools. Here, an old friend provides an excellent example of the kind of focus that is necessary when using power tools - his entire world clearly consists of himself and the cut he is making. 

After tool training, we got straight into design. The more we thought about it, the more challenging this particular project seemed. One goal we had was to make the trunk highly articulate, capable of twisting and moving just like a flesh and blood elephant's trunk. Recreating the shape of an elephant also promised to be a unique challenge.  

Below, some members of the head and trunk team talk through their fourth or fifth round of ideas about how to build the head and trunk.

After a solid design period, full of ideas, discussion, and design iterations, we got started building! We decided to build the head by creating a truncated (get it? trunk-ated?) pyramid out of wood as a frame. We planned to attach wire to this internal frame and sculpt it into the shape of an elephant's head, while also using the frame as a solid attachment point for the neck and trunk. However, it turned out that building a small truncated pyramid from 1x2s is a more complex task than we initially thought, and this took longer than planned. That's great, though! We learned something about how hard it is to accurately estimate task completion times. 

Below, two tinkerers conceptually test our trunk design:

We decided to make the trunk from small blocks of wood with ball and socket joints. This required end boring those tiny blocks on the drill press to create the sockets for the steel ball bearings. The team took to this precision task with great ability, and quickly produced all the parts we needed to make our trunk. We originally planned to join the trunk segments with rubber bands that would act like ligaments, holding the sections together across the joints while allowing free movement, but when we couldn't find any rubber bands, we got creative and used wire instead. 

Overall, the day went by quickly, and we were out of build time sooner than we would have liked. The body team also faced some unique design challenges in trying to recreate the shape of an elephant, and after much discussion eventually settled on a design that used an internal frame of wood and rope that was going to support a paper skin. 

The head team also ran out of time, but managed to get a first iteration developed. If we had had more time, we think we could have made a really lifelike elephant with a fully articulated trunk! As it was, though, this was an awesome day full of incredibly creative ideas and excellent collaborative development. We think we did David Attenborough proud! 

What's An Angler Fish? All Girls Workshop

All Girls, Direct Provocation, Narrative, Super Silly, Aesthetic ChallengeAmanda SimonsComment

I got to spend my Sunday with seven rad girls who were really excited about building some awesome stuff. This is usually the first sentence of any All Girls Workshop blog that I write, and today was, of course, no different! However -- the thing that made today especially unique, was that I didn't really have any idea what the thing we were building actually looked like.

Actually, let me back up. This sounds no different than usual. In these workshops, the Collaborators come up with a rough theme before the kids arrive, and then during the workshop the kids are the visionaries of the project. They tell us what it should look like and how to make it, and we jump in where we can help and also provide technical advice to make the thing safely come to life. 

So, let me clarify. When Lindsay, Caroline, and I sat down and tried to think of the workshop theme, Lindsay and Caroline said "Let's make an angler fish!" And Amanda said, "I don't know what that looks like. How am I going to help lead this?" They both tried to describe what the thing looked like, and after their description, I had a general idea, but still couldn't quite associate a visual with all those words. 

Perfect!

I asked the kids to make an angler fish today so that I could forever associate a visual with the description. 

This is what happened:

 We brainstormed and made individual drawings of the fish critter. From there, we figured out what all the illustrations had in common. 

We brainstormed and made individual drawings of the fish critter. From there, we figured out what all the illustrations had in common. 

 And then, we picked a place to start. Because the materials we were working with were really good at making cubey things and not real great at making round things, we started with a cube for a fish body. After the cube, we could easily add on. 

And then, we picked a place to start. Because the materials we were working with were really good at making cubey things and not real great at making round things, we started with a cube for a fish body. After the cube, we could easily add on. 

 Building the cube meant we had to learn about other tools along the way. Clamp training was done as we went along. We also used some assembly squares to help keep right angles and hold the wood in place. 

Building the cube meant we had to learn about other tools along the way. Clamp training was done as we went along. We also used some assembly squares to help keep right angles and hold the wood in place. 

 It's worth noting that a 4 foot by 4 foot by 4 foot cube is actually quite big and awkward to move around. 

It's worth noting that a 4 foot by 4 foot by 4 foot cube is actually quite big and awkward to move around. 

 This fish has jaws, and that meant movement. We chose some hinges to help out -- or, rather, to help us make mistakes. The jaw was actually quite tricky to attach, and the jaw-making team had to redo the hinge placement three times before arriving at a functional solution. 

This fish has jaws, and that meant movement. We chose some hinges to help out -- or, rather, to help us make mistakes. The jaw was actually quite tricky to attach, and the jaw-making team had to redo the hinge placement three times before arriving at a functional solution. 

 In the end, the Tinkerers decided to get eaten by the fish. 

In the end, the Tinkerers decided to get eaten by the fish. 

 And, I present to you... Angler Fish! (Complete with disco light attachment). 

And, I present to you... Angler Fish! (Complete with disco light attachment). 

Thanks, Friends. I am forever going to associate this visual with "angler fish"!

Check out more angles of our awesome Angler Fish by browsing Flickr!

Spherical Squares

Prototyping, Open Ended Design, Super Silly, Tinkering Challenge, Aesthetic ChallengeLindsay JonesComment

We start tinkering mornings off with getting to know the space...

the tools...

and each other.  

We try and build opportunities to practice working together and asking and giving help into our tool trainings, so that when we get down to work all of those things come a little easier.

This workshop's project was a pretty tricky challenge. So tricky that I heard a kid say, "This is impossible!"  We were going to try and make a sphere out of squares and cubes!

After talking as a group through some of the ideas that first came to mind, everyone felt more confident that we could probably figure this out and we each drew up a design. Then we all shared our ideas with the group and grouped them into similar designs. We still had a long list of options, so the group decided that we should pick 2 designs based on simplicity, because we were running out of building time!

 Designs so far: Snowflake, Layer-Cube, Waffles. Caspar explains his design, which we call Support-Ice creamcone.

Designs so far: Snowflake, Layer-Cube, Waffles. Caspar explains his design, which we call Support-Ice creamcone.

The grand plan was to build one hemisphere out of the Cube-Snowflake design and another hemisphere out of the Cube-Layer design and then if all went well we could combine them together into one Sphere!

To work!

 Rin and Belle work together to collect wood that is the size we need and is already cut from previous projects!

Rin and Belle work together to collect wood that is the size we need and is already cut from previous projects!

 Casper, Alex and Evan figure out how to use the clamps and a square to make a nice square corner.

Casper, Alex and Evan figure out how to use the clamps and a square to make a nice square corner.

Each group had to continuously assess their project to make sure their plan was working, if it wasn't they made adjustments!

Team Cube-Snowflake realized mid building, that they should connect their inner-mini-cube to the big one, so that it didn't move around. They also worked really well together in a tight space to get the mini-cube finished, while communicating with each other to share tools and materials, and not accidentally hurt each other!

Team Cube-Layer had to figure out what sizes the different cubes needed to be and then the best way to attach them together.

Towards the end of the day the Cube-Snowflake team realized that they needed to add the snowflake - the key part of making it look spherical, but we were running out of time!! We decided to clamp the flake arms on and just use long scraps, attaching them where they looked best, instead of cutting specific lengths of wood, which would take a long time.

 Team Cube-Layer assembles their 2 biggest layers at the end of the day.

Team Cube-Layer assembles their 2 biggest layers at the end of the day.

The Cube-Layer team worked together to attach the two biggest layers together, and already had the pieces cut for two more layers, but we were out of time!!!

 Team Cube-Snowflake discuss how spherical their design actually turned out.

Team Cube-Snowflake discuss how spherical their design actually turned out.

At the end of the day we were all sad that we had run out of time, because each group was feeling really good about how their designs were looking and they had ideas for what their next steps would be if they had 5 more minutes, 30 more minutes, or even 3 more hours!

We had figured out how to do the impossible!!!

Pop-Up Planetarium

Aesthetic Challenge, Interactive, Tinkering ChallengeSean Murray

It took the American Museum of Natural History about half a year and $11,000,000 (in today's dollars, or $800,000 in 1935) to build Hayden Planetarium. 

For the first One Day Workshop of the year, we thought we'd build a Pop-Up Planetarium--that is, a dark room with simulated stars that is designed and built in just one day.

As always, we started with tool training. Incredibly, and for the first time in Tinkering School history, we did not use the chop saw once for the project (it was made entirely out of 96" studs, and we just grabbed scraps for the braces). But, it's always fun to learn.

Then we divvied up labor into panel-painting...

star-making...

and framing.

The crew did a great job moving themselves among tasks to meet the need of the bigger project.

When we were finally done, we cleaned up, and went together into the vacuum of space.

It was a pretty cool, convincing effect--very dark, with variations in the LEDs' strengths mimicking the various brightness of galaxies seen in deep space photos. The effect was greatly enhanced by the score coming from the shop boom box: "Space Oddity", themes from Star Trek and Star Wars, and Carl Sagan's word on "the pale blue dot".

As always, there are loads more photos on our flickr.

With huge love and thanks to Ann Druyan, Neil Tyson and Carl Sagan. Your work is a constant inspiration.

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