Tinkering School

come make amazing things with us


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!

A Zoo PlayGround: A Lesson in Linguistics and Overcoming Limitations

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

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?

Hyperloopin One-Day-Workshop

Engineering Challenge, Interactive, Mechanical, Problem Solving, Physics, Rope, Tinkering ChallengeJay SimpsonComment

We start every weekend with a good ol' tool training session so everyone can know how to use our tools. We covered building strong joints with screws and making one piece of wood into two by the way of compound miter saws.

Afterwards, we set our sights on the project: to build our own hyperloop (which is a super-fast train)!

We generated tons of ideas for how we could make this happen and things we need to make happen. 

To make our tunnel, we set to work knocking out the bottom of barrels. This was a VERY LOUD PROCESS.

One team decided to work on the tunnel — one that was at an angle to let gravity propel the train car. 

Another team set to building the train car itself - something small enough to be in the tunnel but light and strong enough to be tested. 


Another team was working on a gravity/pulley launching system. There was difficulty adding a eyebolt to a wood beam used as an anchor. We put all the heavy things from the shop on top of the beam.

It still failed, even with a railroad track, cement block, and a bag of rocks! We tried to add more things to see how it would work for our final test.

Our last step was band-sawing some plywood into a road surface inside the tunnel. But we couldn't get it to stay in place in the tunnel before our day ended.  

And for our test....


One Day Workshop - Anywhere Swings

Tinkering Challenge, Rope, Problem Solving, Interactive, Engineering ChallengeJosh Rothhaas

Today we took on what sounds like a simple challenge. Make a swing that can be put up and taken down anywhere. The putting up is easy if you've got one decently strong looped knot in your mental collection, some rope, a piece of wood and some time to think about it. A swing that can be gotten back down, without climbing the tree or cutting the rope down, is something else entirely.

We trained with tools and practiced the figure eight knot.

We laid out a design.

And we got to work.

Some kids made their swings to swing on low branches.

Others made them to swing on high branches.

The designs where full of clever solutions dealing with weight and friction.

And then we swung on our creations!

See more photos on our flickr.

One Day Workshop : Elevators

Problem Solving, Tinkering Challenge, Rope, Technical SkillsAccounts at Brightworks

The goal of the day; make two working elevators. We started of with a noisy hour of tool training and practice to quickly get the basic skills needed to build something spectacular. From there we designed, thought, and got to making.

We get acquainted with the chop saw and the drills.

From there we announced the project and began planning. We drew and discussed our ideas. One essential element was the rope and pulley set that would eventually lift us. Josh lead a lesson in cutting synthetic rope with a hot piece of metal.

One team pursued the base first while another chased a frame that was a nearly a cube. Both teams needed to do a lot of drilling.

One team pursued a sort of suspended tackle block. The precision of the holes that would eventually hold the pulleys was key. These girls handled it like pros.

The cube takes shape!

And the custom tackle block comes together.

A knot tying guru enters a zen state.

And we take off. A few feet into the sky is the limit for the day. Those few feet where impossible just 5 hours ago. And now we are floating on a device of our own hard work.

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