Summer 2016

Day 3: Battleship

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...

Day 2: Benches

morning mist

Not a bad view to wake up to every morning, now is it?  We're ready to get off and running for day two, as we've got a lot ground to cover.  Today will serve as Tool Training 101 for all our first time Project Ember campers, with some more advanced challenges for our veterans who've gone through ample trainings in their time. 

Anna shows her enthusiasm for our 7:30 wake-up...

...but it's nothing a case of the tiny hands can't fix.

Christopher lays out the basics of drill use.

Christopher lays out the basics of drill use.

First up for our first-time campers is Drills 101.  Along with the miter saw and the lumber itself, there are few things more essential to our build site than the drills.  Though the basic principle is familiar to most, we dive into the various hazards and how to prevent injury and errors as well as some tips for frustration-free use.  For example, if you don't secure the wood, it can suddenly spin and hurt you or your teammate.  We also emphasize the importance of picking the right screw for the job so that we never have weak joints from screws that were too short or sharp pointy bits ("Mr. Dangerous") from screws that were too long.  This is especially important in an environment where so many people are interacting with a project simultaneously.  Christopher also demonstrated how important it is to tie back your hair and clothes when using a drill.

Phoenix uses the weight of his body to drive the screw.

Sonia and Marvon secure their boards with a steady knee.


Meanwhile, the alumni each demonstrate proper use of the miter saw as a review before moving into their own drill training, though this time the roles are reversed.  We've challenged them to plan their own mini-lesson and teach the collaborators how it's done.  To scaffold their lessons, we let them know how we think about teaching a tool at Project Ember.

  1.  What is its utility?
  2.  What are the objective and subjective hazards of the tool and its operator?
  3.  Provide a strategy for minimizing each hazard. 

Hannah, Reid, Addison and Zeke brainstorm the important components of a drill lesson.

Alex explains why Victory Drilling (pumping the trigger when not drilling) is dangerous and to be avoided. 

Next up for Jonah, Marvon, Sonia and Phoenix is Miter Saw 101.  The miter saw is among the most powerful tools in regular use at Project Ember, but with a solid understanding of the hazards involved, it is also an incredibly safe tool.  Christopher emphasizes the ready call - the way we begin anything with significant risk at camp.  All campers within range verify with a thumbs up that not only are they ready with their safety gear on, but that they approve of the way the operator has set up the cut. They all use the tool methodically and skillfully. 

Hannah, Zeke, Reid and Addison play with placement for their tic-tac-toe jig.

Next up for the alumni is a lesson on jigs.  If we're working on a project that requires us to do the same thing over and over, a jig allows us to do so with accuracy and speed.  Most jigs are custom and therefore take both time to plan and build, which can pay off big time depending on the project.  Today our challenge is to come up with a jig that would allow us to produce 100 identical tic-tac-toe boards made out of 2x3.  Jigs can take many forms, and our two alumni groups come up with different strategies.  Often times, a solution can be putting blocks into the negative space of the design so that the pieces needing to be assembled fit around it like puzzle pieces.   Meanwhile, Josh covers a number of important building principles with Marvon, Jonah, Sonia and Phoenix through a mini-build project.  They make a triangular gusset, with help from a builder's best friend - the clamp.  If there's one thing to know about building robust structures, the triangle is probably it. 

That almost feels like a full day's worth of work, but that was just the first hour of the day!  On Mondays, we start with a mini-project to get a little more building under our belts before diving into the week's main project.  A oldie, but a goodie, we announce the mini-project - benches to sit around the fire pit for the rest of the week.  Jonah has built many a bench before, as have a few of the other experienced makers, but that provides us with a good opportunity to talk about the importance of revisiting challenges so that we can incorporate what we've learned and do it even better.  Plus, we still need a place to sit!

Bench groups are the same as small groups, and we quickly have three designs in motion.  Addison, Sophia, Zeke and Phoenix have come up with a woven design, hoping to have an extra comfy seat.  Anna, Reid, Sonia and Jonah also have relaxing in mind, and design a relatively standard bench, but add the flare of gentle rockers.  Jonah's also got a great idea for a foldable tea table on the side.  Our last group is thinking ambitiously with many variables.  The initial drawing includes a rocking swing like bench with a reclining back that can be completely flattened into a hanging futon.  What more perfect way to end the night than on a star-gazing bed you built yourself?  Alex, Marvon, Hannah and Liam assess if the lofty design will be possible in just one afternoon and get right to work. 

Looks like the rocker is definitely going to need a backrest.

The rest of the crew comes over to check out how the rocking benches feel.  

Meanwhile, Christopher's team is plenty busy stringing their paracord back and forth and pulling it taught as can be so that it doesn't sag too much over time.  Below Phoenix ties off the last of the bottom rows.  

With only a few hours total to design and build our benches, we've ended up with very successful and unique designs and a comfortable place to enjoy the fire.  
The Stargazer:

The Rocker:

The Modernist Weave:

Small groups meet up to discuss the differences between intent and impact and the importance of clear communication within a team.  Everyone can empathize with a time when their intent was misunderstood.  Try as we may, language is an imperfect medium.

The evening closes with a few more Spotlights, though Zeke and Phoenix have both headed to bed early tonight so Anna, Addison, and Reid volunteer.  Anna shares about her experiences working in a homeless shelter and how she gained perspective on life through a series of interactions.  Addison recalled a time he was mystified by finding a white polo shirt in the toilet and the hilarity that ensued.  Reid closed out the night with the story of Project Mitten - an ambitious project took on by our friends at Tinkering School where the kids set out to build a boat and sail it on Lake Michigan.  

Tomorrow is the big reveal of the project for this week.  Be sure to check back soon!



Day 1: Beauty

Day 1: Beauty

After months of anticipation, we have finally arrived at our week of overnight camp, wrapped in the beauty of the Redwoods of the California Coast.  All of our host sites have added something special to the flavor and the project possibilities of our camps, and Westminster Woods does not disappoint!  There's nothing quite like the sense of calm and wonder motivated by a sky-reaching grove of nature's giants.  

Session E: Working At The Car Wash, Yeah!

Wow. What a week! We began with the simple starting point of 'car wash' and we have built a gull-winged Tesla that can comfortably seat five people, transporting them through a multi-colored Floptopus, car-cleaning rotating rollers, water jets and a repurposed shop vacuum drying system! Not bad for five days work, we think you'll agree!

Friday provides us with one of our shortest, but often most productive, build sessions. It is always incredible to see how much our campers can achieve with the added constraint of a deadline, and this group was no exception. The morning build session saw our teams conduct trials and testing, decorate, embellish and fine tune the various parts of their projects.

After a well-deserved lunch and park break, 2.15pm fast approaches. This is the moment we've all been waiting for...

Welcome to the Project Ember Car Wash!

All our passengers enter the 'PROJEMB' Tesla through an elegant gull-wing door. The Tesla team had the tall order of creating a vehicle that could comfortably seat five people - and they took the idea of comfort to the next level, with padded seats and a trunk to boot! They also devised a track and pulley system, ensuring 'PROJEMB' will glide smoothly through the car wash conveyor belt.  

A few final tests are needed before our car wash is ready for action. Christopher checks the water release system, and finds a willing participant in Evan. (He seems pretty happy with it!) 

We're now ready to add the colored water and put the Floptopus to work.

Our first crew through the car wash are the 'Tesla Team': Cory, Devran, Evan, Lucas A and Yildiz. They receive the colored water experience...

Next through the car wash are Asha, Varun, Lavanya, Ella and Zach. 

Unfortunately we did not prepare enough milk jugs of colored water, so buckets of water are brought in as a replacement. 'PROJEMB's passengers get a little wetter this time around...

Next up: Alyssa, Michael, Sophie and Logan get the Floptopus treatment.

We wouldn't want you to think it was just the kids who got soaking wet - we put the Junior Collaborators through too...

After a good soaking from the Floptopus, 'PROJEMB' makes its way through a series of rotating rollers. All the trials, errors and iterations earlier this week have paid off, as the side rollers now operate using a neat spinning system using castors, dowel and paracord (check out the videos later in this post to see them in action).

As 'PROJEMB' makes its way through the rotating rollers, there is the added surprise of an inspired water jet system. [All the photos below can become full sized images - just click on them].

After all the washing and cleaning action our Tesla has encountered, it is now time for 'PROJEMB' and her passengers to dry off...

Now that 'PROJEMB' has been thoroughly washed and dried, our car wash comes to an end and the Tesla door is closed for the last time.

But before we say farewell to our fantastic campers, here are some videos capturing all the action...

We hope you have enjoyed this project as much as we have. Our first week in San Jose has proved to be a fun and focussed one. Our campers have shown what can be achieved with a powerful combination of perseverance, determination, enthusiasm and ingenuity. We think the laughter, smiles and shrieks of joy speak for themselves!

Welcome to Session B

This week at Project Ember we welcome our biggest group yet, with 25 campers joining us for the creation of wild and wonderful new worlds. We are super stoked to have three alumni campers with us this week, sharing their skills and expertise with those who are new to Project Ember and the world of maker-focussed project-based learning. A big part of our program is to challenge our alumni campers, encouraging them to try harder than they have before, to work outside of their comfort zone and to be the best camper and teammate they can be - a Project Ember Ambassador if you will (and perhaps a Junior Collaborator in the making?!)

Our three alumni campers; Robert, Arson and Tasso recapping their tool knowledge with Josh

We are also very excited to welcome some new (and not so new) faces - Roe, Aakash and Benjamin - into the Project Ember family, as they join us as Collaborators this week, bringing with them a bucket load of experience and enthusiasm. All three have a wealth of educational, community and maker-focussed experience; Benjamin’s love of learning has steered him towards many interesting projects and ventures (we’re pleased to be able to add Project Ember to the list!) His background is in architecture, building off-grid sustainable homes - Earthships (you should check them out), and has worked with young people as an academic youth mentor. Aakash, a firm friend of Project Ember, returns this week, bringing his extensive experience of working with young people as a High School Physics teacher and an engineering prowess to watch out for! And last, but by no means least, we are excited to introduce you to Roe, whose passions lie in connection and community. Roe will be enriching our camp experience with her infectious enthusiasm, intuitive sense and instinctive understanding of the needs of young people.

We began the week in the time honoured tradition of getting-to-know you games, group agreements, expectations and goals. The campers highlighted the importance of ‘learning new things’ and ‘thinking outside the box’ as their key goals for the week, which we couldn’t be happier about! Cultivating curiosity is one of our guiding principles and we are passionate about creating an authentic environment for young people to explore, experiment, challenge the status quo and stretch their imagination to its limits. This week’s project provides the perfect opportunity to do just that, but before we tell you what it is, here are a few snaps of our campers during tool training…

PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT TIME: this week we are building a time machine! We are leaving the finer details up to the imaginations of our campers, but for now we can confirm that we will be travelling both to the past and the future, so hold on to your hats!


* Huge apologies to Session B campers and their families for the delay in this blog post. We’ve been experiencing a few technical difficulties here at Project Ember HQ (but we’re all sorted now). Thank you for your patience!

Session A: Marble Run Finale

Wow…what a week to kick off summer! Since we announced the challenge of building the World's longest marble run, our campers have been on a mission to incorporate fun, interactive elements into the mix and have come up with some incredibly creative solutions; spirals, ramps, jumps, cascades, plinko and pinball-style challenges.

Thursday was our last full day of building, with many challenges and changes, as collaborations between teams took place to ensure the success of a fully functioning marble run, extending not only the length of the blacktop, but an entire storey! The campers demonstrated excellent team work, cooperation, determination and grit to achieve this.


We think you'll agree that all their hard work was well worth it...


* Huge apologies to Session A campers and their families for the delay in this blog post. We've been experiencing a few technical difficulties here at Project Ember HQ (but we're all sorted now). Thank you for your patience!

Session A Day Campers...what a group to kick off the summer! :)

Session A: Days Two and Three

All our teams' projects have really come to life quickly with all sorts of imaginative designs.  With everything from standard shoots, to zig-zag ramps, to full on pinball machines, this week's kids had no shortage of creativity on call.  Here's a short photo summary of our progress.   

Session A: World's Longest Marble Run, Day One

Welcome to the first week of summer camp! The Directors and Collaborators here at Project Ember HQ have been eagerly awaiting today and were pumped and primed for the first full week of art and engineering challenges with some rad young people.

The first morning at camp can be a daunting one; the combination of new people, new places, new projects. Luckily this is one of our specialities and we pride ourselves in a safe and welcoming space for kids to be seen, heard and valued. As you can see from our group agreements, this week's campers have some thoughtful and savvy suggestions on how to be excellent to one another and stay safe.

Throughout the week, kids at Project Ember will have access to an array of tools and equipment and it is incredibly important to us that they are shown how to use them safely, responsibly and confidently. Tool training focused on the chop saw, clamps and drills - all essential for this week’s (still secret) design challenge.

We decided to keep this week’s project under our belts for a little while longer, with suspense growing throughout park and lunch time. But we can’t keep it secret any longer…this week we are creating THE WORLD’S LARGEST MARBLE RUN!

Dividing ourselves into smaller teams, each group has the responsibility for a different section of the marble run. Christina, Davi, Arson and Leo are working alongside Christopher to create the start of the marble run from the height of the mezzanine level (incorporating the staircase). Elliott B, Dante, Vaughn, Tasso and Josh will take over the run from the bottom of the staircase and continue its course across the blacktop in a suitably challenging and creative fashion. Then it is down to our third and final group; Ysabel, Elliot P, Griffin, Ben and Kyle to conclude our marble run course in style, with collaborative assistance from Jenny and our fab Junior Collaborator Jane. Katie will be spreading her enthusiasm, creativity and technical know-how amongst all three groups and helping campers to figure out the transition points between each part of the run.

Designing, building and iteration has already begun, even in these initial stages of the project, so expect many more design challenges and problem solving as the week unfolds! As day one came to a close, an encouraging and purposeful start has been made and the staff and campers are excitedly anticipating tomorrow’s first full build day.