Day 3: Battleship

Since sometime mid-day yesterday, everyone's been buzzing about what the big project reveal will yield.  "Can't you tell us tonight before bed so we can think about it all night long?", we heard several times.  We do quite like to create a little suspense and anticipation around the project reveal, but the delay is also practical.  It comes after tool training and a completed mini-project so that we've formed relationships with each other and with the tools.  That way, when we start brainstorming brilliant ideas, they're grounded in the reality of the tools and materials available to us this week.  Our designs are both constrained and expanded by our supplies. 

So without much more delay, we gathered everyone up after breakfast to break the news.  Josh teased everyone with a momentary fake-out project, before Katie unwrapped our brand new box of the age-old board game dating back to World War I, Battleship.  We were so wrapped up in the announcement, we didn't get a shot of all their faces when we told them, but it's probably the widest we've ever seen campers eyes get.  Marvon had one of the biggest smiles possible on his face.  

Here in the redwoods, we are going to design and build our own, slightly modified version of Battleship.  Split into two teams, we have the following constraints:

  1. Each boat must have 3 unobstructed 3'x3' targets on the boat.
  2. Design an adjustable launching mechanism that can accurately hit any spot on the playing field.
  3. Build a wall at least 8' tall so that you cannot see your opponent's boat while on your own.
  4. *Bonus* If we have time, build an elevated judge's platform (like in tennis) to observe the game from.

Amidst the exclamations of how awesome this is going to be, many are already aptly identifying how hard it's going to be to win.  We announce the teams and meet up for our first design session.  

With Jenny, we have Hannah, Reid, Anna, Liam, Marvon and Addison. While discussing vital elements of the project, Anna quickly highlights a desire for team outfits - what's more important than team unity after all?

Initial excitement definitely focuses on possibilities for the launching mechanism.  A design with the targets connected to but not physically upon the ship itself also emerges.  They've got some creative ideas about how to work with and around the constraints we've given them.  

Working with Christopher this week, we have Phoenix, Sonia, Sophia, Alex, Zeke and Jonah. Themes are emerging across the teams in their individual design sessions. One particularly exciting idea is to create modular boats, so that the actual shape of the boat can be rearrange on the playing field. 

Sonia keeps tracks of design thoughts.

Alex is so excited he can barely speak when he shares his ideas.

Phoenix is excited about the possibility of a periscope.

Sophia doodles an Ember branded ship. 

Both teams get started on prototypes for their launching mechanisms right away.  Jenny's team develops two different models, which quickly show the crew how much harder accuracy and predictability are going to be than initially anticipated.

Addison tests the knot in the surgical cable to isolate any place the slingshot could fail before attempting a launch. Looks solid!

Whenever testing something potentially dangerous for the first time, we follow a specific protocol:  

  1. Wear appropriate safety gear.
  2. Isolate anything that could fail and test it separately from the whole. 
  3. Identify who is watching each relevant part of the design - we don't test for the heck of it - we do so to learn about and improve our design.  
  4. The operator makes a ready call and a different team member counts down from 3.

Slow motion video is bringing us not only a lot of laughs, but a meaningful chance to review what exactly went wrong when it's challenging to observe in real time.  Prototype number 1 fails in just about every way imaginable on each test.  Below, Addison demonstrates the incredible delay in human reaction time - he doesn't even begin to move out of the way until it would have been too late!

Finally, a somewhat successful launch.  It at least goes in the right direction.

It's turning out to be a slingshot testing kind of day here at camp, as our other team also have a finished prototype ready to go.  Jonah is pleased with their initial success.  However, we know too well that even several positive tests can be a fluke or that components can begin to fail over time.  The second launch immediately reveals the bean bag will unreliably stay in its pouch.  

Avid readers of the blog will know that Anna, Alex and Addison have been a big part of our summer program, joining us as Junior Collaborators at our San Jose day camp at RAFT.  During this time Alex and Addison have been dueling over who can stuff the most grapes in their mouth. The battle rages on...

This round had the added bonus of an enthusiastic crowd cheering both contestants on and was definitely a highlight at lunch for everyone! The group quickly begins to pressure Josh and Katie into having their own duel.  Christopher is quick to volunteer himself, so siesta today turns into what has formally become known as "Grape Face".  

For the record, Addison and Katie are the champs. 

Now back to the build...

Zeke, Sonia, Sophia and Phoenix have made progress on their first boat, finishing the platform and beginning to discuss how they'll build up the sides of the ship.  They attempt our first compound chop saw cut (a combination miter and bevel).  Sophia is stoked to find out the chop saw can rotate on an additional axis than the one she already knew about.  

Sonia makes a compound cut to try out a design for the bow of the boat. 

Zeke demonstrates his proficiency on the skilsaw.

Meanwhile, Marvon and Hannah make swift work at the chop saw cutting pieces for updated prototypes (as the testing continues). Reid turns his focus and attention in a new direction - the all important targets!

As the afternoon transitions into the evening, progress on both group's projects slows considerably. Frustrations are beginning to mount as reality sets in - the designs they have been working on all day are prototypes, not the solution. Prototyping is a vital part of any successful project; it is an opportunity to explore and experiment, test and analyze, change and transform. But it is rarely the answer; often it's not even close - and this can be disheartening.

We seize the opportunity this presents to talk about the merits of frustration and powerful learning experience it creates. At Project Ember we aim to change our attitudes towards things that feel hard and stretch our understanding about what is possible.

It certainly gave us something to ponder as we sat by the fire.

We close out the evening with spotlights from our campers. This evening the baton was passed to Phoenix, Zeke and Sonia, who shared life stories and answered the burning questions we had for them. Our daily spotlight sessions are proving to be a really enlightening experience. As we share our own stories, we are learning more about ourselves and the people we are becoming, and are able to make deeper connections with one another - discovering shared interests that extend beyond camp.