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Skateboard Mechanical Engineering

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Skateboard Mechanical Engineering

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Guest mechanical engineer Beau Trifiro talks about his business in skateboard design, fabrication, and education. Based in San Diego, Open Source Skateboards not only build custom skateboards, it also teaches kids in middle school and high school how to design and build their own boards. Beau talks about teaching hands-on projects, how he deals with kids making mistakes, and why he thinks studying mechanical engineering allows for so much creativity.

Our closing music is from "Late for School" by Bleeptor, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Listen to the Engineering Word Of The Day podcast. Also check out the book and ebook Engineer’s Guide to Improv and Art Games by Pius Wong, on Amazon, Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, and other retailers.

Subscribe and leave episode reviews wherever you get your podcasts. Support Pios Labs with regular donations on Patreon, by purchasing digital teaching materials at the Pios Labs curriculum store, or by buying a copy of the reference book Engineer's Guide to Improv and Art Games by Pius Wong. You'll also be supporting educational tools and projects like Chordinates! or The Calculator Gator. Thanks to our donors and listeners for making the show possible. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of Pios Labs.


Pius Wong  0:00 

It's July 17th, 2017, and this is the K12 Engineering Education Podcast.


Pius Wong  0:11 

I'm your host Pius. I met today's guest first at SXSW here in Austin a few months ago, and today I'm speaking with him. It's Beau Trifiro, mechanical engineer, skateboarder, and founder of Open Source Boards, provider of an educational curriculum where kids design, analyze and build their own skateboards.


Beau Trifiro  0:34 

My name is Beau Trifiro. I'm an engineer skateboarder. And I run a company called Open Source skateboards.


Pius Wong  0:42 

Cool. Thank you. And what is open source skateboards?


Beau Trifiro  0:47 

Open Source Skateboards is the combination of a skateboard company and an educational program. So without getting into too much detail right off the bat, basically, we make skateboards for people and have open source designs and custom boards, as well as teach skateboard-building in schools to promote engineering and creative education.


Pius Wong  1:14 

Can you tell me about the design side? Sounds like you build other people's designs? Is that true?


Beau Trifiro  1:21 

Yes, yeah. So we're kind of unique in that anyone can basically come to us with any shape they want. And we will fabricate it for them. So on our website, we have a CAD, a 3D modeling tool. You can go on and design your own board, and we can work with you to make your own shape at a fairly reasonable price. Not an outrageous price. [laughs]


Pius Wong  1:52 

Is that pretty popular where you're at?


Beau Trifiro  1:54 

You know, it's still relatively young, and I really don't do much marketing, but it has been pretty popular among more advanced skaters, which is kind of who we initially were targeting. You know, if you have a specific shape you're looking for, and no one out there can make it. That's basically what we -- we fill a really small niche, I guess you could say.


Pius Wong  2:19 

Talk to me a little bit about the educational side, because there are probably some educators listening who are curious about that.


Beau Trifiro  2:25 

Yeah, so the educational side is, we provide the kit and curriculum and lesson plans for running a custom skateboard design build, program. Basically, these are usually run as summer camps, or after-school programs. And I've run several of them here in San Diego. I've even helped out at some that were a little bit further away. I've gone all the way to Kentucky, actually to teach one. And basically, what it is, is it's a -- I recommend like a minimum of 16 hours for the program. That's why it's usually good as like a summer camp or after-school program. And students walk through, go through the entire design, and build up a totally custom skateboard deck from scratch. So they start with a concept, they learn a little bit about skateboards, the different types and how they're used. They sketch their idea and then take their idea all the way through design, to fabrication. And by the end of the class, a professional-grade skateboard deck that they can ride and really have fun with. And for finding out more about it, on our website, is where we kind of have more information. We're on Facebook and Instagram. You can see like little clips of classes and stuff that we run here and there. But the best way, really, is to get in contact with with us directly through our website, just to kind of let us know what specifically you're working for and how we can basically set you up for what you want to do at your school.


Pius Wong  4:18 

Okay, yeah. And I'll put the information, all that contact information in the show notes, too, in case anyone needs it. And just related to that education piece: Do kids respond well to that, if they're designing and building their their own stuff? Or do they find it hard or difficult?


Beau Trifiro  4:39 

Yeah. I think, well -- Every student's different, you know. I've done quite a few of these classes now. And I've seen a huge variety of responses from the students. But overall, it's been very positive. The students really seem to like being able to take ownership and really design something from scratch. And the areas where it gets tough, that's where we kind of step in, the instructor, as a guide and kind of point them in directions, at time. But the idea is to show us that there isn't always like a right answer. This is really an open-ended project. And the students can personalize it however they want. So at the same time that they're learning and using all these engineering tools and applied mathematics to actually design to make their board, they're also getting to put their own little custom twist on it. I think the key thing, whether this is -- it's something that can really can relate to, and it's it's an end product that they want to use and they want to have fun with.


Pius Wong  5:48 

Yeah, I imagine. And it sounds like you have some personal experience with this, that you've been teaching it or you've worked with teachers. How did you develop this whole educational side of the business?


Beau Trifiro  6:00 

Yeah, so that's a great question. When I moved out to California about two and a half years ago, almost three years ago now. I started making skateboards when I when I came out here. And through the process of designing and building my own boards, I realized how much of my engineering background I was actually using to make these boards.


Pius Wong  6:25 

Because you're a mechanical engineer.


Beau Trifiro  6:26 

Yes, I'm a mechanical engineer. Yep, that's my that's my background. And that's what I currently do full-time. And, yeah, so I was designing and building these these boards. And I was talking to some people, like oh, you should, you know, teach a skateboard-building class. So I approached some makerspaces and tried to set some classes up there. And I actually didn't really, wasn't able to get those going right off the bat. But I ended up teaching a 3D printing class over the summer at a middle school that really gave me a better feel for what it's like to be a teacher and instructor and work with kids. Because I really didn't have experience with that before aside from just tutoring. And from there, I got into a school as a semester-long elective. It was a one day a week elective where we -- It was basically a pilot class where it was my first time doing this entire thing. And I also simultaneously had gotten an after-school program set up with a school in San Diego. So it's in these two schools. And it was just great to see these kids really excited and engaged with building and getting their hands-on, and, you know, throwing in every here-and-there something that they learned at school that maybe didn't have an application to them before but can now be shown in the context of something that they understand and can relate to.


Pius Wong  7:57 

Do you think that certain kids, certain types of kids, respond best to this, like different age groups? What have you found?


Beau Trifiro  8:05 

I've worked primarily with high school and middle schoolers. It's really great for both those age groups, because we can kind of tailor it differently for each one. With the middle schoolers, it doesn't have to be as complex. It's much more about just, you know, having fun and building. And with the high schoolers, that's where we could start working in some of the math that involves trigonometry and algebra. And the great thing is, even the middle schoolers that I've worked with have been able to pick up the computer-aided design tools that we use in the class. So they're getting exposed to that at a really young age and are able to work through it.


Pius Wong  8:46 

I was thinking, as you were telling me about the program, that if I were the one doing this, I could imagine myself screwing up the math or screwing up the design very quickly. So I don't know. When you're dealing with kids, I'm assuming that these kids are sometimes maybe making mistakes or designing something that doesn't work quite how they expect. What do you do to help kids get over that? Or does that even happen?


Beau Trifiro  9:14 

Yeah, so mistakes are definitely part of the learning process. But the way I kind of handle this is: I try and guide students. This is a really great question, actually. I haven't really ever been asked this before, but I try and guide students towards not making a, like a critical mistake, which would be something that would just ruin the products and they can't recover from. But those are very, very rare. One of the things I like to cover in the class is, if a student makes a mistake, how we then go to fix those mistakes, because that was something that, I know in my lot of my education, I didn't really get exposed to that. It was kind of like, you have one shot to do this. And if you don't get it right, the first time, you're either going to get a bad grade, or you know, you don't get a second kit of materials. And that's it, and you're done. But no one really said, Oh, well there's, you know, there's ways to fix it. You can go back, and you can figure out how to make it work. So for example, drilling the holes is one of the trickier parts of the process, filling the holes where the trucks, which are like the axles of the skateboard mount onto the wooden part, which is the deck, which is what we're making in these programs. So if these holes aren't perfectly aligned, you won't be able to fit the trucks on because the trucks are metal. They have a very specific bolt pattern. And if your your holes in the wood are off, it won't fit. So in a couple of instances where this does happen with students, again, I try and prepare them. I show them the tools to use to properly make the holes, but every so often, you know, it's not perfect, and we learn how to fix that. So if the holes are way, way off, we use wood filler. We can just patch those holes, redrill new holes, and then when the student paints that at the end of the class or puts their artwork on it, it's covered up and you don't really even notice that the mistake was made at all, and the board works totally fine. And in other situations, we might just widen  that hole little bit. There's little tricks we can do here and there. But I also think -- so before I go on to that, the main idea there is, everyone will finish with a board that is rideable and that's good enough and that's going to work. But I don't think mistakes should really be looked down upon as part of the process, because those are the best learning experiences. Because when you're really caring about something that you're doing, and you make a mistake, you can recover from it. We help you recover from it. And then you also -- I mean that kind of sticks with you emotionally, when you're when you have ownership of a project like this. So you kind of know, okay, this is why a template or a jig is really important when I'm fabricating parts.


Pius Wong  12:21 

Right. So they get to iterate on their designs a little bit. And it sounds like they'll really remember the mistakes they made and learn from it, basically.


Beau Trifiro  12:31 

Yeah, but like I said that's actually not that common. We have a very -- I've been doing this class so much, and I have it all documented now. So we have very specific lesson plans that we kind of follow and go through and checks that we'll make to make sure that nothing really goes wrong, which is nice.


Pius Wong  12:51 

Yeah. When we were talking in person, I remember you showed me this big stack of papers that was, I believe, your curriculum, right? So teachers whose classrooms you get -- or schools who you get involved with, I guess they would have access to all that material?


Beau Trifiro  13:06 

Yes, yeah, definitely. And basically, what it is, it's all the information that we have, and a lot of our information is available on our website for free. And we have YouTube videos and all that. What I did with this was just consolidated it into a package for teachers so that when a teacher gets a kit from us, they get this digital package as well. And it includes the lesson plans with, like, time estimates of how long things will take, checklists, handouts for students. Basically, it's meant for a teacher that really doesn't have any experience with skateboarding and maybe just minimal experience in science, math, technology areas. It's really meant to make it so that anyone could go out and be an instructor for this class. And the key thing about being an instructor for this class -- and it's easy to forget that as an instructor, too -- is to kind of not be an instructor in a more traditional sense. So, this is really about the students kind of learning on their own, as well, and the instructor being a guide. So it's really tempting for me, you know, with my experience in engineering and skateboard building to tell the students exactly what to do all the time or always try and correct them. But I don't think that that's really the best way to run a program like this. I think, you know, because I have instructions on how to avoid and fix mistakes, and things like that, it's a really great experience for students to learn how to learn on their own and go through a design-build project on their own that's open-ended like this.


Pius Wong  14:51 

That's super interesting to me that you say that. Clearly, because you're a mechanical engineer, you have the background in materials and tolerances and CAD and all that stuff, but you also speak like you have learned a bit about education.  Because what you're saying, basically, is what education researchers say, that you got to teach kids how to teach themselves in a way. Did you have guidance on that? Or is that just something you picked up while doing all this?


Beau Trifiro  15:21 

No, I definitely had some pretty amazing mentors along the way. Where I got most of my educational training from was a makerspace here in San Diego called Fab Lab, San Diego. It's just an incredible community there. And really, that's helped me so much from an educational standpoint.


Pius Wong  15:42 

Awesome. And, yeah, can you tell me just a little bit more about your background? I know you're a mechanical engineer, but why did you even get into mechanical engineering?


Beau Trifiro  15:54 

Yeah, so I got into mechanical engineering. I remember looking at colleges and high school trying to figure out what to do really.


Pius Wong  16:06 

As many of us do, yeah.


Beau Trifiro  16:09 

Yeah, I mean, I was just interested in so many different things. I really wanted to be creative. I wanted to do something that was really useful, that there was a demand for, and after, like, you know, looking at all these different directions I can go, I decided mechanical engineering seemed like the broadest area where I can really be creative, utilize some of my strengths in maths and sciences, and have a fairly secure job in the future. So that's really why I went to the mechanical engineering route, my desire to kind of be creative. I wanted to learn how to make things, really.


Pius Wong  16:57 

So did you know what mechanical engineering was when you were a kid?


Beau Trifiro  17:02 

Not too much. I knew I knew my uncle was a mechanical engineer. And I think I took like a career test in like, middle school, actually, that -- mechanical engineer was something I got. But I don't think I realized that until after I ended up applying to schools and stuff that occurred to me. But yeah, I really didn't know. I was on one of those like college prep sites and just reading descriptions on what different majors do, and mechanical engineering looked really interesting.


Pius Wong  17:31 

No, that's good to know. Because oftentimes, I hear from teachers and engineers that their kids or they, themselves, when they were a kid just did not know what mechanical engineering or what any other fields of engineering were, so I think that that's neat, that you had some idea.


Beau Trifiro  17:47 

A very, very vague idea.


Pius Wong  17:51 

Was there anything that you wish you had learned earlier, then, about the field?


Beau Trifiro  17:58 

I don't think so. I don't regret that doing Mechanical Engineering at all. I just really liked that it's kind of like the broadest of all the disciplines. It really exposed me to -- it's a little bit of electrical engineering, you get into, a little bit of civil, a little bit of, you know, biomechanical and software. It's really nice to be able to do that. And as someone that was really looking to get out of college was, you know, maximizing my ability to be creative, and learning new tools, I really liked that I got that mix of mechanical, electrical software, structural, all that, in mechanical engineering curriculum.


Pius Wong  18:45 

And what would you say to other professional engineers, like you, who maybe are interested in kind of giving back to the education world? Are there any tips you could give them?


Beau Trifiro  18:57 

Oh, yeah. Definitely get involved, or try and see if there's any makerspaces in your area. I really like these. If you're not familiar with a makerspace -- are you familiar with what they are?


Pius Wong  19:12 

Yeah, no, I am. There's plenty in Austin.


Beau Trifiro  19:14 

Yeah, so if anyone is listening, that doesn't know what they are, they're basically -- imagine a gym, but for engineers in a away. And it's not just engineers. I shouldn't say that. But


Pius Wong  19:26 

People who like making stuff.


Beau Trifiro  19:28 

Yeah, yeah. Being creative. Artists, teachers. I mean, the community at our makerspaces is really broad and varied. But it's basically, like, imagine a warehouse filled with a bunch of tools, like laser cutters, CNC machines, 3D printers, electrical stations, milling machines. And basically, it's -- they're usually they work on a rental basis, like a gym where you sign up to be a member of a gym and get access to the gym equipment. A makerspace, you sign up to be a member, and you get access to the maker equipment. And a lot of these maker spaces run classes. And a lot of engineers have very useful skills that, you know, they do on a daily basis that it's easy to forget that at one time didn't know those skills or those things. But you know, just go teach like a CAD class or soldering class, something like that. And it's really fun to to get involved with the community and share your your knowledge and skills.


Pius Wong  20:38 

Cool. That's a good tip. And I think we're almost out of time here. So I'm just gonna say, anything else that teachers or engineers or anyone should know about Open Source Skateboards, or anything else you're doing?


Beau Trifiro  20:54 

I'd say just check out the website and the Facebook page, Instagram page, and get in touch. If you have any questions, I try and be pretty accessible. And I try to be as responsive as possible. But yeah, feel free to get in touch. I look forward to hearing from you guys.


Pius Wong  21:15 

Yes, with the millions of listeners that are not here. [laughs] But no, this is Beau Trifiro, and you are the founder, right, of Open Source Boards.


Beau Trifiro  21:26 

Yep. Yeah.


Pius Wong  21:27 

And yeah, check them out.


Beau Trifiro  21:29 

Thank you.


Pius Wong  21:34 

Thanks to Beau Trifiro for joining me today. For links to some of what came up in conversation, check out this episode's show notes. Please let me know what you thought about the show. Message the show on Twitter: @K12Engineering, or message me: @PiusWong. Review the show on iTunes, follow it on Facebook, and donate to the show on my Patreon if you can. Find the details and my podcast website: k12engineering.net. Our closing music is from "Late for School" by Bleeptor under a Creative Commons Attribution License. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is production of my independent studio Pios Labs, and you can support Pios Labs at www.patreon.com/pioslabs.


Pius Wong  22:25 

Don't forget if you're a drone lover or a drone enthusiast, you should try to enter our drone photo contest. All the details are at this episode show notes. You can also enter the drone raffle. And again, the details are in this episode show notes. And I spoke all about it in the previous episode. And now I also have a message with Rachel. Hi there, Rachel.


Rachel Fahrig  22:46 

Hi, Pius. I'm glad to be back.


Pius Wong  22:49 

We meet again. And we just attended an event here in Austin, Texas. What was it like?


Rachel Fahrig  22:55 

It was a meetup. And it was fun. It was more fun than I thought it was for SXSW. It was for South-by Edu, to be specific. Yes, it was networking and sort of getting to know other possible collaborators and maybe competitors? Not really competitors. Presenters, colleagues. Yes.


Pius Wong  23:23 

I thought it was cool. I saw a bunch of people who I had met before and other people I didn't meet, who I just met for the first time.


Rachel Fahrig  23:30 

Yeah. There were a few people there from previous things that I had done outside of South-by and outside of work. And then there were former colleagues. There were people who had been with South-by for a while. Yeah, it was a good mix.


Pius Wong  23:45 

It was cool. And now here we are sitting in front of a food truck here in Austin and doing very Austin-Texas-like things.


Rachel Fahrig  23:51 

Can we say their name? It's Bistro varnish.


Pius Wong  23:55 

And they specialize in elevated vegan cuisine. And they're across the truck from Bananarchy, the frozen banana desert truck, which is also cool.


Rachel Fahrig  24:02 

Both of which are on 53rd. Check them out.


Pius Wong  24:05 

No one has paid us for this.


Rachel Fahrig  24:07 

This is completely -- that's just us.


Pius Wong  24:09 

What I am pitching here, though, is that this is a very Austin night, because we're planning on applying to the Austin-based South by Southwest festival. We decided for sure, right?


Rachel Fahrig  24:21 

Yes, we are applying. We have preliminarily filled out all the forms. We've written our bios.


Pius Wong  24:29 

What's the preview for listeners? What are we applying, or what's our sessions title?


Rachel Fahrig  24:33 

We are looking at podcasting as an educational platform and all of the associated learning and collaboration that can go with that.


Pius Wong  24:42 

Like, let's say you're a teacher and you want to teach your kids by showing them, like, a podcast about science or something. Maybe you might listen to the Tumble podcast.


Rachel Fahrig  24:52 

And there are podcasts that you can use in the classroom. You can learn about the actual technicalities of a podcast and teach your kids, like, if you're an AV teacher, CTE teacher. Yeah, yes. Oh, yeah. scripting. Yeah.


Pius Wong  25:09 

Acting drama,


Rachel Fahrig  25:11 

The drama. It's all the drama.


Pius Wong  25:13 

Music. Anyway, what if, Rachel, what if you're a podcaster? What if your podcaster who's interested in education? Is that unthinkable?


Rachel Fahrig  25:22 

No, it is not unthinkable. And you know, there are some educational podcasts. And there are podcasts that delve into -- like, for example, the K12 Engineering Education Podcast. But there are also podcasters who may want to do outreach or get more information about how their podcast could be applicable or relevant to educators or to students or to administrators.


Pius Wong  25:45 

I would love to have other people in the podcasting world to guest on this show, too.  Let's say you're a principal, or you're a business person, or you're a lawmaker, or you're a student who has opinions about all this stuff.


Rachel Fahrig  26:00 

You know, having students work with legislators on a podcast. That's amazing. Right there.


Pius Wong  26:09 

That's Bananarchy.


Rachel Fahrig  26:12 

That ish is bananas.


Pius Wong  26:15 

It's a plug for this food truck that I'm looking at in back of Rachel here.


Rachel Fahrig  26:19 

That they are not paying to do. We're just being silly.


Pius Wong  26:23 

In any case, I just want to say, keep an eye out for our session on podcasting for education. Vote for us.


Rachel Fahrig  26:32 

Vote for us. It'll be on Panelpicker, if you follow or if you get updates from South-by or from South-by Edu. You should be receiving emails about all of those dates coming up soon.


Pius Wong  26:43 

And you can always find the links on the website, k12engineering.net. Anyway, thanks for joining me, Rachel. I think we're ready for some food.


Rachel Fahrig  26:51 

Yes, I'm hungry.