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Tinkering School

The Blog of the Sleep-Away Program at Elkus Ranch – Updated every night during camp

Day 6 – Completed!

Session E is over. Summer is over. It was rad. It’s late, and the evening was epic.

The fire was beautiful.

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The praxinoscope was lovely.

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A full summary of the day, week and summer are coming early next week.

See you tomorrow!

Day 5 – A Tale of Two Projects

The morning begins with a pep talk and a rush. These next three hours are all we have on the Speed Amplification project. With a new deadline looming a fire lights for many kids and they fly into action.

We pull out the carts and get to work.


Eventually Kablooi gets their gears interacting.

Gear Ratios from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

The mechanism is a giant spindle with 2×3 posts to keep the radius nice and wide. Tied to that is some parachord that runs out the the hub of a bike tired. Around he hub duct tape is wrapped to increase friction. The idea then would be to attach more parachord to the bike wheel and pull a cart with the mechanism. Without the weight of the cart, the whole thing works great. When the weight of the cart is added to the problem, we saw challenges we didn’t have time to fix.



Team Nooi gets some advice from out Visiting Consultant, Sean, from the Tinkering School Day Camp.


Team piki gets their launching hub stabilized and ready for testing. They are pursuing amplification through a sort of reverse elevator. Instead of pulling on one string over a long period of time to raid the elevator slowly, they are going to pull the on the elevator really hard to pull the cart quickly. It’s pretty neat. We will try and get a video of it working.


Nova and Peyton don’t want to give up on their beautiful gear. For a few moments they contemplate carrying on, but eventually decide on repurposing the whole thing to make a Phenakistoscope.


Lee and Rahul adjust the seat of their cart.

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Piki prepares for a test of their pulley based speed amplifier.


but a tangle slows their progress.


Test 1 demonstrates that they are on the path towards a fully functional mechanism!


Your Daily* Goat.


Right before lunch, the pieces all come together for team Nooi and their giant lever arm. It feel like a carnival ride! We got it from every angle! (and there are a few more on our vimeo.

More Centrifuge 2 from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Centrifuge Close Up from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Centrifuge View From Center from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Everyone who wants a turn gets one, and the centrifuge just keeps on working!

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The thing with all of these systems is that they are technically a mechanical disadvantage. We are trading distance for work. Because of that, to push one person on the centrifuge requires 3 people plus one for moral support.

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Kablooi sticks with their idea right up to the deadline.

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Piki gives their project the full test!

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This is all before lunch. We eat a hearty lunch of sandwiches, hotdogs and veggie burgers. Then sit down to announce the next project that will fill thursday and friday.

We are excited to announce Tinkering School Overnight Camp’s first ever attempt at a permanent structure. The staff of Elkus Ranch have asked us to make play structures for the goats. The kids love the goats, so we are happy to oblige. The next two days are going to be about designing, making and testing goat playing and climbing structures, and if they are good enough, at the end of the week we won’t take them down. This also marks the first time we have ever made anything for any other reason than the experience of working hard. There are longevity issues to address, strength and safety to think about, and an eye for good looks (goats are notoriously picky about their aesthetics).

We talk it over and the kids have several questions.

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After we head to the barn, the kids get sketching.

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The energy in their air is palpable. Kids are stoaked to be working for the goats and have lots of ideas.

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David and Eli work on a ramp.

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: David

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Ray

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Portrait of a Tinkerer: Griffon

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In just a few hours platforms are taking shape and the ramps are getting strong.

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Sophie and Emma decide to spin off from the main idea and make toys for the goats.

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As the day wraps up we head to the house for some cheesy lasagna and hanging with friends. After dinner the last (and hidden) jar of Nutella comes out with 2 baskets of strawberries. If you haven’t tried strawberries with Nutella on them, I highly recommend it. We play a camp favorite, the trivia game. To get dessert you must answer a question correctly, the crew will keep asking you questions until you get one right. The questions ranged from obscure facts about the roman empire, to geography and out into space. Did you know the Oreo was invented the same year the Titanic sank? I didn’t.

Dessert in our bellies and exciting thoughts of goat platforms in our heads, we head to bed sleepy and excited for the last full day of Tinkering School.

Day 4 – Beach Day


Beach Day is a different day. Most days we wake up, eat, work on the project, eat, work on the project, eat, play by the creek or in the playground, go to sleep. Toss in some chicken or goat breaks and that’s life at Tinkering School. Wednesday’s however look more like, wake up, eat, play on the beach, eat, play on the beach, rest, play on the beach, eat, watch a movie and head to bed.

So much of tinkering school is mental challenges about spatial problems, but beach day lets the mind rest and the body do the work.

The beach calls for us to wander, and the water seems to be whispering “come on, I dare you!”


With a quick assessment to see if the waves are big and scary and dangerous, or just big and scary we decide they are just big and scary and head in.


Some of us head for the big breaks.


Others play in the shallows.


Some dive face first.


Others wait for the fight to come to them.


Some of us aim to ride on top!



Others brandish silly sticks, pretending we might scare the water.


Only to find that the water is very very big and very hard to intimidate.


We have 1000 photos of moments like this; kids getting hit by waves. The photos look painful, but if this post had an audio track it would be full of laughter and screens of joy and excitement.




Another contingency of kids are content to wander the beach and read, basking in freedom, discovery and their own imagination.





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Gus is seen here with a shortboard turned boogie board. He spends hours trying to catch waves, falling and missing and paddling, and getting carried down the beach only to reset and try again. It was a model of persistence on unforgiving waves. Eventually josh got in and gave him a few nudges leading to some epic rides.

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By the day’s end we are all sitting. The sun and the ocean have beat us down. Rest is the best option we have and most of us take it.

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With our brains rested and our bodies exhausted we head back for dinner and bedtime. Tomorrow a new deadline appears. The current project must be done by lunch, and a new project will be announced for the last 2 days of camp. We are going to need all the brain power we can get.

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