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Put on a Mini-Maker Faire in Your Class

Shira Lee Katz | May 21, 2014

Our editors' favorite field trip each year is attending Maker Faire. Last weekend's Maker Faire in San Mateo -- just 19 miles from Common Sense Media's home base -- didn't disappoint.

If you haven't been, picture a multi-generational mix of tinkerers and experimenters -- mostly poster children for STEM -- showing off their creations, offering pop-up workshops for attendees, and generally celebrating the act of invention. Then, out of nowhere, a gigantic octopus made of scrap metal blows fire from its tentacles. (Apparently, it was a vestige of the most recent Burning Man festival.)

Here are some amazing projects we saw in the Young Makers tent:

  • A life-sized version of the app Flow made of silicon cubes blinking red, yellow, and green.
  • Plastic boxes masterfully cut and etched with laser cutters by the TechGYRLS of San Jose.
  • A working electric car made by a tenacious teen at the Menlo School.

Sure, it would be hard to put on an event of this scale at your school. But you shouldn't have to wait until next May to bring the spirit of making to your students.

Here are three ideas for bringing a (mini) Maker Faire to your classroom as the year winds down:

  1. Give kids a maker space. Get kids into the making mentality by giving them some tinkering turf of their own. Devote a room in the school, a never-used maintenance shed, or even a corner of the classroom to making. Ask parents to donate old clothing scraps or materials left over from home projects, and let kids have at it. Local companies, museums, scientists, and artists may even lend some of their resources or time to the cause. For a tech spin, offer old electronics to take apart and a few tablets loaded with media-making apps.
  2. Turn apps into physical games. Suggest a few apps like Faces iMake - Right Brain Creativity, Cargo-Bot, and Go Car Go, that students could turn into physical games. Have them identify the game's goal, how it works, and different paths players could take to reach the goal. The act of identifying these rules will be an excellent lesson in deductive reasoning. Then they can determine what electronics and materials they might need to re-create the game. Strategy and sandbox games like Kerbal Space Program and Algodoo lend themselves well to this endeavor, as do character-driven games that have story lines.
  3. Show off portfolios. Have students do a year-end gallery walk, showcase, or presentation where they can catalogue and present the whole of their digital and non-digital creations. If you get really "meta" about it, you could ask them to use digital creation tools to present their finished portfolios. For instance, they could use Animoto, iMovie, or VoiceThread to put an interactive wrapper (plus some zing) around their work. And don't forget: Portfolios don't have to be finished products. They can be works in progress positioned to welcome comments from teachers, students, and parents.

This year at Maker Faire, 3-D printing seemed to be all the rage. Who knows what next year will bring. But the consistent thread between events will be the mentality of making. Use your mini-Maker Faire to celebrate the spirit of making and encourage students to explore their passion for sports, music, math, and more, with end products that they can call their own.

Photo by Maker Faire