Tinkering School

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Direct Provocation

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!

How to Flip A Wooden Waffle

Direct Provocation, Interactive, Mechanical, Narrative, Problem SolvingAmanda SimonsComment

At Tinkering School today, we set out to make a wooden waffle and build a mechanism that flips it!

This prompt was inspired by my recent obsession with making all meals into waffles, and the problem that I have at home: my waffle pan is cast iron and one-sided. Every time I make a waffle, I can only cook one side at a time and have to flip and squish it halfway through. I always have a hard time prying the waffle away from the pan and to gently flip it. With all these curious minds in one place, maybe we could solve the problem?

Well, we definitely did! 

But first! We had to learn about the tools and each other. We split into groups and got to practice using drills, using the chopsaw, and using clamps safely and effectively.

Here are some of those amazing moments:

After tool practice, we ate lunch and then designed the different components of the project. The waffle team and the waffle flipper teams figured out what the things should look like, what they should do, and how big they should be. 

The design session yielded some pretty amazing, silly, and complicated ideas!

And then we worked in teams all afternoon!

It was a lot of fun, and some Tinkerers got to learn and use even more tools! The jigsaw and also the bandsaw was used to assist in constructing the waffle flipper, and meanwhile, the waffle team worked together to construct a really heavy wooden waffle stuck together with 150+ screws. 

In the end, we constructed a double-cube twisty-turny anti-gravity mechanism meant to flip a waffle 360 degrees! We totally ran out of time, and the cubes weren't stable enough to make the full turn, BUT, finishing the project definitely wasn't one of our goals. 

Also, one of the most impressive and inventive components of the project appeared in the photo below. The clamps became a material rather than a tool! The Tinkerers made clamp-holding turning tools with clamps at the end to grip the super heavy waffle.

Amazing!

Check out all the photos on Flickr!

Abracadabra!

Direct Provocation, Interactive, Super SillySage RyanComment

Our brief tool trainings this morning set these tinkerers up to try harder than usual and learn from their mistakes all day long - which makes for confident clampers, drillers and sawyers by the end of the day!

The challenge for the day was to create a set-up to trick our families into think we cut someone in half! Our ideas started out pretty practical and then slowly got weirder and weirder.

I can't explain the schematic to you because a magician never tells, but I think you can tell how ambitious and complex we got.

Then it was finally time to build:

By about this part of the day, we all started to realize that the project had started to turn into something else we didn't quite mean to make. We had several compartments for different body parts to be displayed and we were planning on stacking them on top of one another...... but then what?

When our time had run out - we took a moment to rest and reflect on the whole day: each kid got a piece of paper and drew or wrote about a moment when they had accomplished one of the Tinkering School goals: Collaborating with others, Making mistakes and learning from them, Trying harder than usual, and Building something bigger than ourselves.  Everyone was excited that they had accomplished at least one of those and a lot of kids drew pictures for each goal!

Sophie shared that everyone was so nice and friendly that she ended up working with everyone and lots of fun!

Alisa shared that she kept forgetting to change her drill settings for the job she was doing and eventually remembered to switch the drill speed between drilling holes and driving screws!

Our Safety Check with kids observing while Collaborators strategically increased stress on the different levels of our stack resulted in tinkerers allowed on the leg level and the torso level, but the compartment made to display a head was too tall with not enough stability for any real heads to fill it.

So! Romeo made us a fake head and everyone took turns being the legs and torso of what turned out to be a giant tinkerer made of the smaller ones!

Unfortunately - we lost the photos of the kids and the project, so here are the Collaborators working together to demonstrate our finale result :). 

I think the most magical part of this project was that by the end of the day the project had morphed from an illusion into the best metaphor for "Building something bigger than ourselves" we've built yet.

For more photos from the day visit the Flickr album.

Our First Ever Rotor Ed Multi-rotor Workshop!

Electronics, Direct Provocation, Mechanical, Interactive, Technical SkillsJay SimpsonComment

After a good amount of saying it was going to happen, the first 2016 Rotor Workshop happened! Five kids walked away with drones that they built and flew and epically crashed.

(All of the drones survived)

DAY 1 - Our goal for the day one, was to have five fully assembled drones for testing, tuning, and flying on day two.

Step one when building a drone: Unbox Your Parts!

After a brief introduction, we started with a Christmas morning-like unboxing of parts, then we split up into two groups. The soldering group and the assembly group. 

Soldering, which was only supposed to take about an hour, took up 3/4 of our day due to three of our irons breaking! In this step, all of the main power wires were connected to the power distribution boards so that the bottom plates of the frames could be attached to the rest of the drones.

RotorEd026.jpg

Meanwhile, the assembly team screwed in their motors, attached their flight controllers, and their receivers. The motor mounting was extremely tricky due to the crazy alignment. Celebration was appropriate when all of the motors were mounted! :)

We took a break for lunch then swapped teams. And at 2:00, we had our first drone power on! 

 Oh the relief!

Oh the relief!

And after some more soldering, fitting, and mounting, we had five fully assembled almost ready-to-fly drones at pickup time!

Day 2

On day two, we jumped right into tuning and testing. Once again we split up into two groups, tuning and testing.

The tuning team went with Max, and got started programming their flight controllers. Doing this step ahead of time would allow us to have more flight time...we thought. 

About halfway through tuning the first drone, we realized that the radio controllers would not work due to the pitch and roll axis being reversed. We tried our hardest to get them working, but unfortunately they just wouldn't work.

While two collaborators frantically tried to get them working, everyone else continued tuning and testing their drones.

Every drone got thrown onto the ground to ensure that they were strong, and that all the soldering connections were solid. And finally, after all the drones were tested and tuned, we went flying!

We had an amazing weekend unboxing, assembling, soldering, zip-tying, glueing, flying, and crashing with everyone and can't wait until the next!!!

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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!

Quick, the giants are coming! Launch the pancakes!!!

Direct Provocation, Engineering Challenge, Interactive, Mechanical, Open Ended Solution, Super Silly, Unusual MaterialsJay SimpsonComment

THIS WAS THE MOMENT WE WERE ALL LOOKING FORWARD TO! ... to test our pancake launcher against the mean, hungry giants!

So how did we get here? Well, it was a super productive day right from the very beginning. Like every Tinkering School workshop, we start out with tool trainings. Below, we all got to use the compound miter saw (aka chop saw). 

We also practiced drilling! Here's Zen crushing it.

After tool training we dove right into project design. We heard a crazy story about creatures who lived here long ago and their fight against giants! To survive, they had to fling pancakes at them! So how were we going to prepare for the giants? How would we fling our pancakes???

We came up with a ton of ideas:

And ultimately decided on a catapult, broke into teams, and got started!

We were super stoked to also learn how to use the circular saw! YEAAAAAAAHHHHH!

Henry: "We probably don't need this." 
Me: "Yep, you're right."
LOLs

Here's almost everyone lending a hand so we could thread our axel across the supports. So cool to see it all coming together!

Entire group: "We need something super heavy to weigh it down!"
Me: "How about this segment of railroad track?"
(Places track in)
Me: "How do we feel about this? Is this safe?"
EVERYONE: "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO"

We changed the weight to be a stack of wood screwed into the base.

We needed targets. Grace drew us a cheetah.

Zen drew a vampire.

So how did it turn out??? Watch below!

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School Improvements - One Day Workshop

Open Ended Design, Mechanical, Direct Provocation, Great Blog, Problem SolvingJay SimpsonComment

As every Tinkering School workshop begins, we learn about making one piece of wood into two, and taking two pieces of wood and fixing them together! We even did strength testing to put our projects to the test!

If you've ever been to Tinkering School, you'll know that our workshop is a special space, built by collaborators and tinkerers alike. Its colorful, wonky, and totally unique. You may have also found out that it is a perpetual work-in-progress—always changing and improving! Today, we set out with a group of awesome tinkerers to make our storage area safer (railings! what a totally rad and safe idea!) and better (a storage elevator to help us lift things to the second floor storage!). 

Our designing process got really deep and complex! We came up with all sorts of ideas and really thought them through as we shared our proposals. Ultimately, we used a bunch of our ideas together to make a rough plan.

Then we got to building! One project was to make something maybe never done before at Tinkering School: use lap joints to make 8ft lumber into 12ft lumber! So awesome to see. We also built the base of our elevator.

Are you wondering "what is a lap joint?" Well, one version of it is joining two pieces of wood that are cut like the photo below, helping the wood be longer but not adding any extra width or depth to the joint! 

 Take two of these (stacked to face each other), some wood glue, and a bunch of screws and guess what - you have a lap joint!

Take two of these (stacked to face each other), some wood glue, and a bunch of screws and guess what - you have a lap joint!

While we were working, another group was working away on the railing project. Instantly someone shared "triangles are the strongest shape - we should make lots of Xs!" From there, they got cutting and then laid out the railing on the floor to double check their work. Brilliant!  

As a bonus today, we got to use the circular saw to make some plywood cuts! So awesome to use so many different types of tools today.

And while our elevator didn't come to completion, our railing did — which is totally rad and will help keep future tinkerers (and collaborators) safe!!! AWESOME!!

One Day Workshop: Launch Ramp

Direct Provocation, Problem Solving, Tinkering ChallengeJosh Rothhaas

Today was a grand day of building a ramp, small carts, and things to jump over, then using that ramp and small carts to jump over the things. It was a great mix of individual projects, alumni helping new kids, group efforts, and more. A simple story that carried the day was when one child said, "I'll never be able to do this" to which Sean replied "I am sure you can, let's try again" and sure enough, they tried until they were successful. Little stories like that are at the heart of everything we do, and why we do it.

One Day Workshop : 12 Foot Robot

Direct Provocation, Engineering Challenge, Interactive, Open Ended Design, Open Ended Solution, Tinkering ChallengeAccounts at Brightworks

We built a 12' tall robot today. This mustachioed mechanical fiend was a tinkerer by trade. He had 4 mechanical arms, one with a wrench, one with a power drill, one with a hammer, and one carrying flowers. A 4ft head with a light up eye dominated the skyline as a rolling base modeled after a lumber yard truck allowed him to turn on a dime.

We started the idea with a simple set of exceptionally vague notions. Josh would work with kids to build a body. Sean Would work with kids to build arms. Nikki would lead a team building a head. Lindsay would be our floater and help any team who needed it. Leaving it that simple and wide open gives us just the right structure (we are definitely building a robot) to keep things moving. A structure that help prevent us from doomed tangents and distracting antics.

More importantly it gives us tons of freedom to chase the kids ideas. It allowed us to say yes to the wonderfully oversized head and its amazing antenna, mustache and glowing single eye.

It let us say yes to a four armed tinkering machine that delivers flowers. It let us say yes to an 8ft tall torso, making it one of the larger things we have ever built.

As the day began we practiced with our chop-saw, laying a framework for discussions and opening up potentials.

Drills and saws are to building things as drum and guitar are to making music. You could use more, but you really don't need to.

We began our day by breaking into the 3 teams (head, arms, body). The team working on the head went big and never looked back.

The team working on arms needed all their focus. These would be the most finicky part of the project.

As the body took shape we needed to move outside so we could work on it at different levels simultaneously.

With the arms attached, the head went on and we enjoyed that first beautiful moment when disparate ideas come together to make something bigger and better than any one person or team could have done alone.

With a decidedly complicated software uploaded (totaling 5-10 child pilots at any given time) we set the robot on some tasks. Hammer this. Deliver a flower to that guy. Use the wrench to grab that pole. The team work needed and executed on was something spectacular to behold.

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