Cardboard costumes and a social media photo booth

The Infinite Versatility of Cardboard
Another cardboard activity along the side of the Large scale & Small scale stop motion animations in the event of Infinite Versatility of Cardboard was Making Cardboard Costumes. This time, we set up our favorite “Tinkering photo frame” for people to capture their cardboard costumes, and to take this photo booth experience online, we also set up a hashtag #cardboardtinkering and used a social media wall "Walls.io" so that we could collect all the pictures with the hashtag and display them as a live-updating photo album on the large monitor during the event.

The Infinite Versatility of Cardboard

This photo booth and live-updating photo wall was a great addition to the costume activity. I thought it was great to have a designated spot for people to take photos after all the hard work(!) of creating costumes, and also to see the photos instantly on the big monitor felt like a treat. You can check out the social media wall created on the event day here #cardboardtinkering!

The Infinite Versatility of Cardboard The Infinite Versatility of Cardboard The Infinite Versatility of Cardboard
For the activity itself, we prepared a wide range of examples from a very simple hat to an elaborate outfit and displayed them throughout the space. To feed the appetite for people’s creativity, showing the wide range of the cardboard costume examples, from a low threshold to a high ceiling, was really important. The visual board to show a starting point of how to make a simple head piece and shoulder piece worked as a good introduction and helped people to get started. We also had a board showing some decoration techniques.

The Infinite Versatility of Cardboard The Infinite Versatility of Cardboard
The Infinite Versatility of Cardboard The Infinite Versatility of Cardboard
Not sure how much those examples and the visual boards helped, but overall we were surprised at the level of creativity of people who made a variety of headpieces with intricate decoration, a cardboard backpack, a handbag, shoes with wings, a lion mask, a Hawaiian hula girl skirt, etc… People came up with their own designs, and there was plenty of surprise, joy, and pride! A lot of people walked out wearing their newly made costumes. I really enjoyed seeing the variety of outcomes.

Overall we had a great day making costumes. The photo booth and the social media wall was such a fun addition that we'd like to try more with different activities in the future.


Thinking creatively about Marble Machines

2017 FT Explainers training

Marble Machines is one of the core tinkering experiences that we offer in the Tinkering Studio. It initially started in a formal school setting, but has been used in museums, libraries, and in home and afterschool settings. One of the amazing things about this activity is that it is incredibly versatile, it just “works.” We have found it to be a perfect introductory activity to tinkering as a practice for learners, and a great training ground for facilitators to develop their chops and personal style, precisely because the design of the activity is so strong.

However, it does require a fair investment to collect the materials and build the boards, tracks, bumpers, etc., as well as collecting decorative materials, funnels, bells, and other things that enrich the activity. On the plus side, if you are planning to do this activity more than once, you can use these things forever. We’ve been using our current set for 15 years!

On the other hand, if you’re not planning to facilitate this experience in a repeated way, the investment of time and money may be too large. In that case we suggest you take tinkering to heart and get scrappy about finding alternative materials. 

Hoping to provide some ideas for creative Marble Machines, we have made a Pinterest page of some of our favorite ideas we’ve seen over the years. Here are some particularly low-barrier highlights:

Good ole' cardboard—tubes and tongue depressors makes for great experimentation and organic forms. Hot glue is easier than tape for this type of construction, but both are doable.

Gutter pieces attached to the backyard fence.

This is as simple as it gets: ramps and tubes using natural shelves and height differentials! There are commercially available solutions as well—small to large sets, indoor to outdoor.

Imagination Playground: large foam pieces can be configured to work as ball runs. One could also use pool noodles cut lengthwise to create large and flexible ball runs!

This photo was taken several years ago at Inventure Place -- we liked that they used real clamps and elements you could find at a hardware store. The structure reminded us of giant ring stands.

And finally something from my childhood: there is a time-honored tradition in Italy of building marble runs on the beach out of sand! With some practice you can build elaborate runs that twist, turn, and incorporate bridges and tunnels as well.

Enjoy this process and think creatively about the materials you choose. Ideally you will also be thinking systematically—what are the materials that you can use to build a marble machine that can be used over and over again—that is, one that is tinkerable). We’ve seen some lovely examples of marble machines that are glued together, but when they’re done… they’re done. How can you create a set of materials that is more flexible, can be used in many configurations again and again, and reused and repurposed for other projects that are imagined down the road? We have come up with one solution that works for us, we’re curious to see what yours might be!


Small Scale Animation with Cardboard

As part of the Infinite Versatility of Cardboard last week, we made new cardboard pieces on the laser cutter to use with our stop motion animation stations. We found the animated shorts that resulted so surprisingly delightful that we’ve continued to offer these cardboard pieces at the animation station a week running!


Some of the new cardboard pieces are abstract shapes, not much different than what we usually offer in wooden shapes. We also cut out silhouette objects, including planets, houses, and trees.

The most complex pieces came from previous tinkerings by our friend, Tim Hunkin. I laser cut Tim’s sketches that he has drawn to make jointed forms (humans and dogs), and I attached all the limbs together with extra tiny brads.


We’ve noticed people staying for more extended times at the animation station and creating rich narratives with these new cardboard pieces.

The Infinite Versatility of Cardboard

The increased engagement hasn’t only come from having jointed figures or identifiable objects. I've been surprised to see the abstract shapes used in more imaginative ways than normal as well.

'Creation' and 'the ascent of Christ' on animation station

Since the cardboard I used was fairly thin, I had expected that the pieces would be too worn out at the end of the day of Infinite Versatility for continued use, but most pieces held up well enough that we’ve kept these at the stations instead of the usual wooden shapes. Each day, we quickly comb through the cardboard and remove anything that appears to have past its expiration. I also laser cut some replacements to add back to the stock so we can continue to offer these cardboard pieces at least a bit longer.


Large Scale Stop Motion Animation with Cardboard

We revisited large scale stop motion animation yesterday as part of our Infinite Versatility of Cardboard celebration. We used a plain cardboard backdrop and simple painted cardboard props to tell short stories. Here's a small sampling of some of the animations made during the event!

The Creation of the World

Titanic 2

The Boat, The Sister, and Ichorus


Super Girl vs. Fire Man

To see the full set of animations and other photos from the event, click here.


Our Latest MOOC - Motion & Mechanisms

Tinkering Fundamentals: Motion & Mechanisms

We're about to launch a new online Professional Development experiment! This new MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is called Tinkering Fundamentals: Motion & Mechanisms. Its free to participate at Coursera. This is the second course we've produced and this time we've partnered with the Research + Practice Collaboratory and Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, CA to bring you a five-week course built around three of our favorite motion-based activities: Marble Machines, Automata and Chain Reactions. The Collaboratory, led by Bronwyn Bevan at the University of Washington, conducted the field research and co-led, with Lighthouse, monthly meetings with after school teachers and Tinkering Studio staff to look together at the data we were collecting and our goals for student learning. The results are documented in a tool we’ll share in Week 5 called the Learning Dimensions Framework.

Our goal for the course is to introduce tinkering activities, but also go deeper into the pedagogical ideas behind them. We'll share our approach to designing activities, practicing facilitation, and setting up environments conducive to learning about science and art through tinkering. We'll be actively participating in the course along with you in the discussion forums and even offering impromptu hangouts from time to time.

We're thrilled to be able to introduce you to some of our intellectual, scientific, and artistic heroes; including Eleanor Duckworth and Hubert Dyasi. You'll get to hear from artists and scientists working directly with these ideas; folks like Arthur Ganson, Bernie Zubrowksi, and Carlos Zapata. And we'll hear reflections from our teacher collaborators who shared these activities in their after school programs. We've produced a collection of 19 short videos detailing the way we go about designing activities, from guiding principles to the “nuts and bolts”; we also developed detailed guides to go along with each of the activities, and some of our favorite readings.

We can't wait to begin and hope you'll join us!
Registration is open now.

Overdeck Family Foundation

This project was funded by generous support from Overdeck Family Foundation and the National Science Foundation.