Learning New Tools

I remember being an eighth grader, shadowing MarinSEL and sitting in on the eighth grade information night. During those events we were told that we were probably going to be taking the MarinSEL Engineering class when we became juniors. This class was one of the main reasons why I was excited to be in MSEL, other than being a counselor at Walker Creek Ranch, because I had really never used a power tool before except getting to use a drill to carve pumpkins on Halloween.

Last year, when I heard we were going to get to make playhouses, I became even more excited because it would be similar to building a real house except for the plumbing and lighting and we would get to work with some second graders from schools very close to our school.

So far we have met the second graders a couple of times. The first time we met with second graders, we went to Vallecito Elementary School and split up into groups with two MarinSEL Students from our class in each group. In the groups we taught them about the meaning of sustainability and sustainable building and we asked them to come up with ideas for the playhouses we are going to make. They gave us great ideas like a swing  on the porch of a playhouse or a bookshelf where the kids could go find a book or board game and read or play games. We got some ideas that would be very hard to implement like putting a hot tub in it and giving a dog along with the playhouse. We met with them again, but this time in the engineering room at Terra Linda High, and we made models of the future playhouses out of cardboard and glue. They got to make whatever their heart desired out of arts and crafts materials and we would put it on the cardboard playhouse model. This gave us a younger mindset so that as we make our way through the design process, we can make sure the playhouses would be entertaining for younger kids.

‘Time flies when you’re having fun!’ should be changed to ‘Time flies when you’re building playhouses!’ This school year has been racing by and our playhouse is coming together. At the beginning of the year I was nervous because I did not believe that we could actually build a playhouse and I was also nervous that we would mess up somewhere and have to redo the whole thing.  Part of my concern was that our class got a late start on the being able to use the tools needed.  After we got started and learned how to use the chop saw and how to build the frame, it took us awhile, but my group started to form a rhythm.

For the first semester, my group and I had trouble finding something for everyone to do and dividing the work. One person would be drilling, two people would beholding a flame in position, and one person would be walking around not knowing what to do. Over time, we have learned that if we divided the work and we worked on two things at once, we can achieve more at a faster pace.

Currently, we have been finishing up the outside of the walls. We started by putting up the waterproof sheets. After we covered the whole outside, we screwed plywood in. Because every group is using plywood, the class ran out and so we are using pallet boards for the rest of the playhouse. This wasn’t our original plan, but we are all excited because when we are all done putting the windows in and done nailing the pallet boards in, we can stain them different colors!

I am excited to keep working on this project and see it through completion and to have kids really enjoy it!



  1. Great Blog! Haha I definitely agree, time flies when you are building a playhouse! It is crazy to me how this year is already over, it seems like just yesterday we were building spoons and learning how to use new tools.(the hacksaws did not fare so well)

  2. I think I speak for many that these playhouses have been one of the greatest highlights of the MSEL program, and personally the advanced engineering class have been one of the only reasons I came to MSEL which you touched on as well.

  3. Your introduction about being drawn to the MarinSEL program for the engineering aspect is really cool. It sounds like its everything you expected and more. Glad to see you are getting the skills you wanted out of the class.

  4. Thanks to the playhouse project I have learned lots of skills that I otherwise would have to take a college course to learn. I am now confident with using a chop saw, skill saw, table saw, nail gun, and many other tools.

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