A Maker on a mission

Interesting second day at the Maker Faire went to a session by Sabrina Merlo who is basically PR person for the Make brand name. Maker Faires are presented under their license as they have spent a lot of time and goodwill developing the brand.

Maker Faires only going for 8 years, numbers attending the Faires are growing by 18% per annum. With people identifying as Makers growing by 22% per annum.

In 2013 there were 100 Maker Faires around the World. They are proliferating rapidly across Europe, most notably in Spain!

The flagship Maker Faire in San Francisco attracts 115 000 people over 2 days. NYC Faire attracts 75 000 over 2 days.

The Maker Movement is about developing ideas and coding them to match hardware. People have always been Makers but the technology, tools and skills are all developed to such a personalized level this combined with the ease of communication across the web and uploading of files to the Internet adds to the Personalisation. This combined with the capacity of crowd funding, eg Kickstarter to raise monies to support projects has also been a catalyst for growth of the movement.

Big business are apparently watching the Maker Movement with interest. Sabrina insisted Maker Faire, while big business was fundamentally an altruistic group who provide a platform where Makers can meet, share and grow their ideas. Maker Faires support across discipline development and discussion. As local Makers buy in to the idea of promoting their creative community civic support for the movement and funding can flow. If the Maker Faire name is to be used by a community it has to be licensed as the Maker Faire has standards it has to meet.

Making is about open ended learning … Sabrina questioned schools capacity to cater for this style of learning and she felt building personal learning and making portfolios was not school stuff. She did make an interesting suggestion about what future work might look like. She thinks it could be based on projects and makers / people move from one project to another with credentials being their portfolio of projects.

Thought provoking I do want to know more …. Contrary to Sabrina’s view I like the philosophy at a school level and believe if we have the children making early enough building their learning and developing their portfolios most will be captivated for life.

Making as a business … shows small can become big if the Maker is an entrepreneur.

A Maker Faire Experience

The Maker Faire Day 1 in Newcastle UK was buzzing, literally. There was nothing quiet about the way these Makers go about sharing their Making. This is the only Maker Faire in the UK.

Entering the grounds of the Centre for Life visitors are greeted by  a cacophany of sound coming from a tent, from a car being trashed by a giant hand-like thing, a singing Turtle, a talking Binbot. As you wander on huge structures of all kinds appear before you, some made of metal, some plastic, some paper and others combinations of anything that apparently came to hand. Some stood quietly, some were noisy, others sprouted  fire, others bubbles and yet others smoke.

Into the Exhibition Halls, again it is the sound that is most noticeable and not a teary, whingey child’s cry amongst it all and there were plenty of little kids present. Unsurprisingly they are absorbed in tinkering, making, questioning and learning in a most engaging way.

The demographic of the crowd was worth noting. There was a healthy mix of age groups with mostly adults leading displays, the majority being male. Primary and Middle schools were represented with the kids sharing and explaining what they had been doing: like making a time machine based on water and electronic circuitry, building a Cardboard Castle for  visitors to use as a target when they used the catapults also provided and another school created a landscape and built a helicopter  to fly across it.

The areas of Making on display were: robotics (Check out Agnes) electronics, computer engineering, computer coding, origami, paper sculpture, dressmaking, quilting, jewellery, electronic clothing, printing, knitting, plastics, crocheting, laser cutting, music making, clock making, all sorts of gadgets and gizmos that looked like fun to make, robotic art, space, astronomy, motorised mono  bikes and skateboards. There are some things that slip my mind at present but there was just so much happening.

Oh and I saw my first 3D Printer in action … in fact I saw many 3D printers in action.

Of course there were the mandatory sellers of products and services present as well as a whole section devoted to tertiary students and their inventions and makings. Intel was there pushing data and informatics projects they have been undertaking with government sponsorship. A company called SpaceGambit an Interface between NASA and the Makers was present offering funding of $10 000 to any projects that furthers technology research for space programs.

The thing that delighted me most were the workshops being provided  and it was brilliant to see learners of all ages sitting down together learning how to make jewellery, knit, quilt, solder and make simple circuits. It was a little disconcerting to see that Coding, especially in Minecraft, was dominated by 10-12 year old boys. It is great they are Coding and developing confidence; however, it would have been good to see more girls in this area.

There were short engaging lectures presented by enthusiasts and experts. I went to three and learned about things I didn’t know from all three. Do you know of The Uncanny ValleySilly me I thought it might have been about Silicon Valley.

A concern! Except for the young guy from Ototo, a music maker, most of the people I spoke to about doing Making with 5 to 8 year olds looked aghast at me. When I suggested robotics, electronics and coding as being something this age group could do they all said this stuff was best suited to Stage 3 and 4. There was soldering, too much fine motor work, their concentration was limited, they couldn’t grasp the concepts were among the reasons given. I had to disagree … a passion and an enthusiasm for learning begins in the early years. There is some kind of saying around that goes  give me a child’s mind before the age of 8 and we have them for life. As I looked about the huge gathering of people at this marvellous Maker Faire the missing age group were the 14 to 18 year olds.

By making, making mistakes and learning from our mistakes we gain an understanding of the product we are making/using. A strength of the interface that exists between the Maker and technology is,as  the Maker knows all about the machine he/she actually becomes the master of the machine/technology rather than a consumer and slave to it.

By the end of 5 hours of wandering and enjoying the Darlek’s voice had become tedious but it was never tiring to listen to passionate, enthusiastic Makers talking about and explaining what they love and how they make what they do.

I can see the possibilities of this movement presents especially in my context as 5 to 8 year olds can do most anything. After reading Invent to Learn  I can understand Libow Martinez and Stagers’s (2013) enthusiasm for the Makers potential to spark discovery-based science and learning. It would be a pity if it were to become an out of school only activity – yet another negative for educators. Is it hope or hype? Jury still out in my mind.