Tinkering School

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Tinkering Challenge

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.

Bowlercoaster - All Teens + English Language Learners Special Session

All Teens, Component Replication, Engineering Challenge, For Educators, Problem Solving, Physics, Prototyping, Tinkering ChallengeAmanda SimonsComment

This past weekend, Tinkering School hosted a special session of English Language Learners from China. We had been coordinating this session for a couple of months, and the preparation involved lots of chatting between our Director Karen and the Program's Manager in China. They corresponded mostly about TS vocabulary words and concepts to help prepare the students for the loads of information they would received at the workshop about how to use the tools and how to treat one another and the space while at TS.

The Ping Pong Trak!

Open Ended Solution, Problem Solving, Tinkering Challenge, Unusual MaterialsSage RyanComment

Where to start?! What an intimate and productive day with only 5 tinkerers tinkering it up! 

We began the day with our group agreements and Tinkering School Goals..



And some informative tool trainings!


After snack break, we dove into revealing the project! .... 

The Tinkerers were challenged with getting a ping pong ball from all the way up here...!


...to the ground and land perfect on a washer. 

The crew got to designing a track that would accomplish the trajectory!








While the folks above got to work on the center track, some others build support mechanisms for the ultimately angled, towering, ramp.. 


The project grew and grew! And they worked and worked! Time 4 a lunch break.


After creating a triangular hookish mechanism to allow the track hang onto the top of the window sill..


We threw some ropes around the project, and with the biggest possible safety precautions we hoisted the thing up!!


Finishing up our securements and legs for the track just as parents began to arrive.. the mechanism was deem fit for Ping Pong use!! The hard working tinkerers enjoyed moments of controlled chaos and glee as they rolled the hollow plastic spheres down the enormous ramp that they had labored oh so long upon!! 


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....


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!!!

Swivel Bridge!

Problem Solving, Tinkering Challenge, Engineering Challenge, InteractiveRachel Economy1 Comment

Today, mere hours after a section of the no-longer-in-use half of the old Bay Bridge was carefully imploded as part of its deconstruction process, we at the Tinkering School, with bridges on the brain, decided to design a bridge that would never need to be imploded, because it would be set up to be moved when needed.


After getting familiar with the tools and community agreements, we set out to design a bridge that would always start from point A, but could be swivel or shifted somehow so that a bridge crosser could wind up at either point B or point C. A whole range of exciting ideas emerged, condensing into a design for a bridge with a stationary half and an attached mobile half that would be wheeled and would swivel. And then we set to work, and we worked hard right up until the moment parents and families arrived.

Today was amazing because we didn't finish. We chose a really ambitious design, pushed ourselves to try really hard, and didn't settle for something that we weren't excited about. And even though we didn't finish, we met all our Tinkering School goals, and kids also acted super kindly towards one another, and stayed patient and excited about a project they knew they might not get to fully complete. Since this kind of thing happens all the time in life, the skills to be flexible and still collaborate in the face of unexpected delays are definitely great to find, especially while having so much fun.


Unusual Materials, Tinkering Challenge, Technical SkillsSean Murray

What could be more fun than playing mini-golf?

Building our own mini-golf course, then playing it!

We started by very carefully framing the sub-floors of the holes. They had to be very precise, so that the ball would roll smoothly.

We covered the framing with plywood, then covered the plywood with canvas.

Then we painted the canvas green. We also made obstacles for the holes--a rounded hill for Hole #2, and for Hole #1, of course, a windmill!

Building a mini-golf course, then playing mini-golf, that's what!

As always, there are more photos on our Flickr.

"She's Never Been to Space Before!"

Tinkering Challenge, Problem Solving, Open Ended DesignLindsay Jones

Today we thought we'd see if we could do a better job than the ESA with putting a lander on a comet.  We figured one day of tinkering would be enough to figure it out. We were even so confident in our skills that we decided we might as well create the comet while we were at it! After tool training we divided up into Lander and Comet teams and went to the drawing boards.

Comet team didn't want things to be too easy for Fillet, so we decided its surface should be rolling. We figured a ramp would be the easiest way to roll the comet. Now we had a ramp and a comet to make!

Meanwhile the Lander team has been hard at work:

When the two teams are ready Fillet and the comet are both sent into orbit!

The first landing attempt fails due to comet deceleration.

A few quick computations from mission control and the ramp adjustments are made! With a few more runs we meet (and dare I say?) exceed the ESA's accomplishment and land Fillet on the comet with a bounce or two and our harpoons functioning!

Mission Fillet Lander from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

We accomplished great things here today with girls of all ages working together and figuring out complicated problems!  We heard a lot of stories from their day and the parents received excited tours of our mission headquarters. Hopefully we'll receive some stories from Fillet as it orbits past us too.

Thanks for your hard work Tinkerers!


Narrative, Open Ended Design, Tinkering Challenge, Technical Skills, Problem SolvingSean Murray

What could be more awesome than a Saturday spent building? A Saturday spent building a dinosaur, that's what.

Inspired by the recent discoveries of Dreadnoughtus schrani, the biggest known land animal ever, we decided to build, well, a Dreadnoughtus skeleton.

As always and ever, we started with tool training.

Note Alexi's textbook "Bruce Lee Tiger Claw" left hand, hold the wood firmly in place as she cuts.

We broke into for teams to frame the front and rear legs. Communication among and between teams was important, lest the Dreadnoughtus have limbs that didn't match!

After the front legs and rear legs were built, we connected them with shoulders and hips, then lifted them up the floor and into their standing position. This--standing up a project that's been built sideways, on the ground, is often a big "a-ha!" moment.

With the shoulders and hips standing, we started building the spine in 8-foot sections. Our builders were focused and perseverant, and really bought into the whole-group goal, rather than individual glory. (Which makes sense, because the whole-group goal was to build a sweet dinosaur.)

We wound up with a 32-foot long dinosaur with an articulated neck. It was massive, and dominated the mayo factory (which says a lot--the mayo factory's big). Incredibly, though, our wood behemoth was only about half the size of the actual Dreadnoughtus--making this the first time in Tinkering School history that we've built something smaller-than-life!

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...


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.

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 : Bowling Ball Challenges

Unusual Materials, Tinkering Challenge, Engineering Challenge, PhysicsJosh Rothhaas

Today we faced three challenges. Around, Over, and Across. The goals were all simple in presentation, and delightful in execution. We needed to get one bowling ball around an 8 foot long wall, another over a 6 foot high wall, and send yet another bowling ball through the air across the distance of a yoga matt. The primary restriction was to not touch the ball while it was accomplishing the goal.

Around was deceptive as a challenge. So easy did it seem that very few kids joined the team working on the project. Oh how wrong we all were. Getting a bowling ball to roll, take a 90 degree turn around a wall and return was a miniature feat of engineering.

Over was a challenge with a playful solution involving two pulley elevators and an "emergency string". Oh, and an emergency stick for the times it didn't quite work.

Across was a spectacle. You can see a video here. No harder or easier than the others, but substantially less subtle. Starting at 8ft high a ball careened down a track, over a plywood ramp and past a 6 foot long yoga matt. We later added a ski-ball element that was startlingly satisfying to play with.

We devised ball holders and planed our own solutions.

Our veterans got to use new and more powerful tools. The jig saw is how we cut two pieces of plywood so precisely to create the ramp at the end of the launch.

These were the kind of problems that could not be solved alone. Today was full of team work. Likely and unlikely pairs, trios and teams popped up all over the place. The projects pulled us together.

We had a blast.

One Day Workshop - Projectile Lab

Problem Solving, Open Ended Solution, Tinkering Challenge, Engineering ChallengeSean Murray

Anyone can launch a ball through the air. Launching a ball with precision requires hard thinking, creative problem-solving, and plenty of perseverance. Today we challenged ourselves to create precision projectile launchers.

We started the day with safety training on the drills and chop saw ("the addition and subtraction of building", to paraphrase Benjamin.)

Then we looked at two different ways to launch projectiles--with an arm that rotates about an axis, and with a spring. Some builders went even further and created a rope-and-pulley cannon-style launcher! 

Jonah says "Pull!"

We drew designs over a mid-morning snack, then headed into the workshop!

The vibe today was great, marked by awesome teamwork and a real willingness to take a step backwards and fix mistakes (before they became headaches).

We built a target range with brightly-painted foods dangling from strings and swinging on springs, plus a bullseye with a steel gong!

Many thanks to our young builders--keep on refining your launchers, and remember to aim away from windows!

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 : 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.

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.

Gravity Karts!

Tinkering Challenge, Problem SolvingSean Murray

For the first One Day Workshop of the year, thirteen young tinkerers came in and spent a Saturday building gravity-powered (i.e. motorless) karts.

Addy tests an early iteration of her kart's steering mechanism.

The day began with tool safety training. We looked at an example kart to get inspiration for wheel mounts, steering mechanisms and the all-important seat.

Ben weighs the costs and benefits of installing steering ropes (rather than just pushing the axle with his feet).

Here at Tinkering School, we know that not every project is guaranteed success--if you are really, truly building your own gravity kart, failure is a distinct possibility.

So, we were thrilled when all six groups managed to produce working, steering karts.

Cameron and Zachary handle the eyebolts to which they'll mount their steering rope.

The karts were as unique and varied as their users. Visit our Flickr page for more pictures and videos of the karts in action!

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