Last weekend the kids, husband, and I attended the 2nd annual Maker Faire New York at the New York Hall of Science in Corona, Queens. We were all blown away by the experience–I spent the weekend happily geeking out: touching stuff, pushing buttons, exclaiming repeatedly to anyone who would listen This is what our SCHOOLS should look like! (Well..I said that in between meeting tons of fabulous people at the GeekDad/GeekMom booth where Dave Giancaspro, Amy Kraft and I chatted up visitors and ran a photo scavenger hunt, with prizes provided by ThinkGeek.)
It’s hard to put into words what Maker Faire is, so I’ve resorted to trying to tell my story through pictures and sound bites. Understand: back in the day, I was one of those kids who kind of compulsively enjoyed taking things apart to see what was inside (but could never get everything to go back together again afterwards). If you or your kids are that kind of a person? Maker Faire will make you happy…
1. 3D printers are the new “it” gadget. There are a couple of different kinds–and keeping with the “maker” ethos, most are kits that the user first builds themselves–but the concept is exactly what the name implies: 3D printers produce a 3-dimensional model of whatever you’d like to create, including intricate pieces for that board game you’re designing, space age jewelry, or components for the robot your team is designing to compete in their next FIRST challenge. Enthusiasts even have their own online community, Thingiverse, where they can upload and share their open source digital designs.
2. Makers like sustainable energy. From GE’s Carousolar to Bootstrap Solar’s kickstarter promotion to The BioBus (a mobile science laboratory fueled by vegetable oil and powered by wind and solar energy), renewable energy sources were a hot area of pursuit at the Faire. (On a related note: GE’s EcoMagination is my new go-to resource to find out about what’s happening in the energy world–they’ve got a zippy, thought-provoking page on Facebook, as well.)
4. College is so much cooler now than when I was going. Gabriela Guttierez, a graduate student at NYU’s ITP program, promises to put up open source plans of this award-winning mechanical display on her blog soon. I want one.
5. My son is awesome (something I’d already suspected). Just this week, Wired’s blog ran a great interview on the unappreciated benefits of dyslexia, arguing that dyslexia is not so much a disability but a difference in wiring “that maximizes strength in making big picture connections at the expense of weaknesses in processing fine details” and that results in individuals with excellent spatial reasoning, heightened ability to see multiple perspectives, an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, and an ability to “reason well in dynamic settings” (ie: roll with the punches when somebody moves their cheese).
One line resonated with me particularly: “These individuals excel in fields where telling and understanding stories are important, like sales, counseling, trial law or even teaching.” Sales and teaching? Yup!
As you can see from the hat my younger son is wearing in this picture, he is something of an Angry Birds fan–he hasn’t taken that hat off since we bought it and he assures me that it is a huge hit with gamers (as well as a very special subset of the ladies…).
So, when he came upon an exhibit at Maker Faire that attempted to bring the video game “to life” he was immediately drawn to it. With a charm and initiative that apparently skips multiple generations, he convinced the owners of the exhibit to allow him to run the space (keeping the kids in line excited, keeping the line moving) as if he were doing “an internship.” Outside of his meals, I didn’t see him for the entire weekend. “Free range kids” advocate Lenore Skenazy would have been proud…
6. There are a lot of cool “maker” books out there, including:
- 62 Projects to Make With a Dead Computer by Randy Sarafan. Finally! Vindication for the 3 dead laptops I won’t throw away that are sitting in a cabinet in the laundry room!
- Fashioning Technology by Syuzi Pakhchyan. I want to put LED lights on everything I wear–is that so wrong?
- ReMake it! (Recycling Projects from the Stuff You Usually Scrap) by Tiffany Threadgould. Vindication for the giant box of sCRAP on top of my fridge that I won’t throw out because I’m convinced that they are a gold mine of crafty projects–please, Ms. Threadgould, give me something to do with the 50 coffee cans I’ve already saved…
- The Maker Dad book bundle, including Geek Dad and The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun. Hey! I know those guys!
7. You no longer need to know Morse code in order to join a ham radio club (yeah, this picture has nothing to do with ham radio–I just like it). Nor do you need to build your own radio before you can be admitted to a club. And, yes: the clubs are open to teenagers as well as adults–so you can bring along the recalcitrant teenager who now requests that you publicly walk half a block behind him, if you’d like.
Finally: if the NY Hall of Science’s amateur radio club (HoSARC) is any indication, even if there are no other women in the group, you will be enthusiastically welcomed to join…
8. Hackerspaces and Makespaces are the village halls of the maker community and they are mushrooming up everywhere. What’s a hackerspace? It’s a communal, passion-led, workshop space where members can gather together to make things with tools they might not be able to afford individually. Members usually pay a monthly fee, just as they would for a gym membership, but instead of workout machines, members access power tools, 3D printers, and the knowledge and support of a like-minded community.
9. Soldering is THE gateway activity into hacking. This year, my son and I received some personalized instruction from the nice people at Radio Shack’s “Make a Squeeze Light” station and I am feeling a lot more confident about my own soldering skills (hint: it is all about letting the solder run down the channel on the side of the soldering iron INTO the space you need filled with solder.) Maybe this week we’ll make the Simon kit the equally nice people at Sparkfun gave me!
10. Play is important. One of the aspects of Maker Faire that I like best is its willingness to delight, its acknowledgement that playfulness is an integral component of an inventive mind. I recently described Maker Faire to a friend as Hogwarts meets wood shop: everywhere we turned last weekend there were people riding something they’d built themselves–a scooter, a custom bicycle, a Segway, a motorized skateboard…actually, the only things missing were the broomsticks.
At one point, on my way to a lock-picking class, I walked past a giant, fire-breathing dragon (that doubled as a playground) and into the happy chaos of a mobile sword fight. I realized that no one in this Maker crowd seemed overwhelmed or bored–everyone just seemed to be IN THE ZONE, inhabiting that cognitive sweet spot where concentration and engagement happily collide–and I was struck by how profoundly happy we humans become in the face of meaningful work and experiences.
Maker Faires and Mini Maker Faires occur annually throughout the United States. If you’re interested in attending one, check out the Maker Faire site to find out if one is taking place anywhere near you.
Andrea is a credentialed parent peer advocate from Long Island, New York who supports and educates families raising children with social, emotional, and behavioral diagnoses. She takes way too many photographs, is learning how to program, and really hopes that the aliens who find Earth first are the benevolent-helpful type...