Tag Archives: Maker Faire

Pittsburgh’s Makers Go to Washington

The National Maker Faire, held June 12 and 13 in Washington D.C., was a buzzing weekend complete with a giant Rube Goldberg machine, a cardboard T-Rex, and signs that cautioned folks to look out for falling rockets.

The nearly 40 makers and educators hailing from Pittsburgh probably felt right at home.

“People kept saying: ‘Oh, of course you’re from Pittsburgh! There are so many people from Pittsburgh here,’ ” said Megan Cicconi, director of instructional innovation at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

A slew of the city’s leading organizations traveled to D.C. for the event, which kicked off the National Week of Making. Among them were representatives from The Sprout Fund, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, district school superintendents, and folks from local community arts organizations like BOOM Concepts, which made mini-murals to display in the Garfield neighborhood.

Cicconi, whose new role at the AIU has her promoting exploratory learning throughout Allegheny County, brought her own mobile maker cart. She said she visited nearly every booth, helping people “bling out their clothes” with LED lights. She said she often ended up talking with folks about Pittsburgh and the southwestern Pennsylvania region, which has become a national hub of making with more than 100 makerspaces in schools and dozens more informal spaces. Those conversations often led to people asking her questions on everything from how kids learn the specifics of circuitry to how the making scene Pittsburgh grew into what it is today.

“It was important to not just to be sharing those stories,” Cicconi said. “It was important that we were also helping people make new stories.”

Cicconi wasn’t alone in wanting to help spread some of Pittsburgh’s knowledge. After all, the whole Pittsburgh crew did not just come to check out a 3D printed Benjamin Franklin. They also came with a mission: to help others learn from the successes, strategies, and challenges the Remake Learning Network has faced. The Remake Learning Network brings together more than 200 organizations, among them libraries, museums, and afterschool programs, to collectively rethink education and build a vibrant “ecosystem” of learning opportunities.

At the faire, the Network released the new Remake Learning Playbook, which documents the processes, outcomes, resources, and lessons from the region’s early work building networks to support learning in the Pittsburgh area. It includes case studies that explore how the Network has made an impact, a look at the Network’s structure, and strategies leaders have used to sustain the Network.https://twitter.com/megan_cicconi/status/610507870384353280

“These are starting points–to be useful, they have to be really authentic to the local practice,” Cathy Lewis Long, co-founder, executive director and president of the Sprout Fund, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the playbook. “It’s like a recipe. It’s a guide. You might choose to add a little bit more salt or a little bit more vinegar.”

Several attendees presented at the Faire, including Bart Rocco and Todd Keruskin, superintendent and assistant superintendent of Elizabeth Forward School District, which is nationally known for its technology integration and learning spaces.

Cicconi also presented on the many aspects of AIU’s work, including the $2.3 million it has awarded in STEAM grants to public schools since 2009. The 28 recent STEAM grantees will be documenting their work with videos in order to share what they learn with educators around the country. Cicconi said the Network’s goal is to expand the pockets of learning innovation throughout the region to create broader, systematic change.

On Monday, leaders from Remake Learning Network were invited back to the White House to take part in a Maker Education Roundtable. There, Tom Kalil, deputy director for Technology and Innovation at White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, gave a shout-out to Pittsburgh for the city’s commitment to making.

“It represents our dedication in a wonderful light,” Cicconi said.

Though the National Week of Making is over, the Pittsburgh attendees are back home keeping making alive year-round for kids and their families.

The Common Core Meets the Maker Movement

Educators were out in full force this past weekend, for the annual World Maker Faire held in New York City. Billed as the “greatest show (and tell) on earth,” a good chunk of the DIYers, citizen scientists, crafting experts, and tech enthusiasts in attendance were, thankfully, also educators.

And in addition to working on their own projects, these educators were sharing ideas for how to use making in classrooms this fall. The Maker Education Initiative released an online resource library, a digital archive of sorts intended to help educators get started making in education.

But how do these maker projects jibe with the new demands placed on classroom teachers from the Common Core?

Back in June, Gary Stager, coauthor of “Invent to Learn,” told Education Week that he felt despite some “overlapping interests” between the standards and the maker movement, the two are ultimately “incompatible.”

Could this be true?

“The standards are rooted in this idea of a centralized body of knowledge that all kids must comply with, which is in stark contradiction to the notion that learning is more fluid, more intimate, more personal,” Stager explained. “That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t tick off boxes in the Common Core by having kids have meaningful making experiences. But the notion that some anonymous committee of grownups has made a list of stuff that all kids need to know because that’s what jobs are going to [require] in the future is preposterous. The maker movement prepares kids to solve the problems that [adults] never anticipated.”

The central goal of the standards is to cultivate critical thinking and collaboration and to reinvigorate deeper learning.

Stager’s point brings up many questions about how the two trending education topics relate. On one hand, the controlled chaos of a makerspace, where kids are soldering and 3-D printing, paints a much different image than the traditional classroom with partitioned topics and year-end assessments. But proponents of the Common Core say the central goal of the standards is to cultivate critical thinking and collaboration and to reinvigorate deeper learning. We don’t know what jobs will be ahead of us, they say, but we do know that being able to think critically will prepare learners.

But there’s a hitch.

Sylvia Libow Martinez, coauthor of “Invent to Learn,” said last May that schools tend to place too little emphasis on the standard’s overarching goals: making learning more relevant and experimental, and making it deeper. Instead, too many resources are directed to the specific standards and assessments.

“When we talk about how ‘making’ can align with Common Core, it requires schools and districts to refocus on those overarching goals, and away from how many computers you need to run the tests,” Libow Martinez wrote.

Science teacher, author, and blogger Marsha Ratzel is one of the thousands of teachers still navigating the Common Core implementation. Last year, she explained she was skeptical at first of how a student-driven science classroom (akin to the ethos in a makerspace) and the standards could be compatible. Although not specifically dealing with “maker” activities, she’s seen spots in the standards that align with her teaching methods, which revolve around keeping her classroom hands-on and student-driven.

“If assessments mirror the broad principles and effective pedagogy that the CCSS authors have championed, there is hope that rote learning and teacher-driven classrooms will not be necessary in order for students to pass the test,” she said.

A common misconception is that the Common Core dictates curriculum. Rather, the standards are goals. The path for getting students to achieve them is up to the teacher. First-grade teacher Tommy Young, who was invited to the White House Maker Faire, sought to reach those goals by using lessons embracing hands-on making activities, like having students build monsters using only materials they could afford in their budget.

Teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron, a project-based learning expert and blogger, recently explained at Edutopia that her method of designing a curriculum doesn’t use the Common Core standards as a starting place at all. Instead, in her English language arts classes, she develops projects and explorations that excite her and her students. Then she goes back, looks at the standards, and “fills in the gaps.” Most of the time, she’s already hit the Common Core targets.

Although the Common Core and the maker movement grew from two very different places, it’s no coincidence both reject memorization and the antiquated idea that schools should act as storehouses of information. Both reflect of a larger shift in how we think about teaching and learning, one that recognizes that rote testing isn’t going to prepare kids for the dynamic world ahead that will ask them to adapt to new technology and problems faster than we have ever had to.

Like Stager said in the Education Week interview, the maker movement equips kids to solve problems we don’t yet know exist. That should be a goal of education as a whole and, like any good maker problem, the best way to do that probably involves more than one solution.

President Obama Hosts the First-Ever White House Maker Faire

Well, folks, it’s finally here. The hands-on headquarters, the nucleus of DIY, the faire that eats the old White House Science Fairs alive: the first ever White House Maker Faire.

Along with young makers showing off their projects, today’s faire is part of a nationwide Day of Making. Communities across the country are hosting open houses, volunteering, and celebrating learning through making stuff. (You can follow along with #NationofMakers.)

As the Maker Movement enjoys the White House spotlight, guess where the Obama Administration is looking for incredible examples of making? Yep, Pittsburgh. And rightly so. We’ve been the leading the way in creating a thriving maker community for youth and adults for quite some time now.

Yesterday, President Obama visited Pittsburgh for the third time this year to tour TechShop and announce a new manufacturing initiative that includes giving entrepreneurs access to $5 billion of equipment in research and development facilities. He used TechShop as an example of how increasing access to manufacturing and prototyping tools could boost the economy and encourage innovation. As TechShop’s Elliot Kahn told Obama, “We’re at a point where a person can have an idea at breakfast and a prototype by lunch.”

Mayor Bill Peduto was invited to the White House Maker Faire to help share the regions successes and explore how the White House can propel the movement even farther.

Peduto hosted a roundtable with the leaders of Pittsburgh’s maker community as part of the Mayors’ Maker Challenge. Just looking at the lineup of participants is a good illustration of the making scene, as leaders from the Children’s Museum, Carnegie Library, BirdBrain Technologies, and the Society for Contemporary Craft were all present.

“This is the first time this community has been engaged formally with city government,” Peduto said. “What we start here today is what we take to the next step, and the next.”

It’s great how the city is receiving some well-deserved attention for the making culture it has harbored for years. But Pittsburgh makers know that tinkering doesn’t happen at political press conferences or in the carpeted hallways of City Hall. Neither of these venues has nearly enough hot glue!

Rather, making in Pittsburgh happens in places such as Assemble, a community maker space that is limitlessly creative in how it brings people together.

The MAKESHOP at the Children’s Museum is another hub for Pittsburgh’s making world. On any given day, kids and families are “painting” with light, taking apart old technology, or tinkering with magnets and tools the pros use. Last summer, families visiting the MAKESHOP constructed a 12-foot trebuchet that threw the first pitch at a Pirates game.

And it’s not limited to only community spaces. Making has found its way into Pittsburgh’s classrooms, too. At Elizabeth Forward Middle School’s Dream Factory, students are using laser cutters, 3D printers, and microcontrollers to infuse learning-by-doing into the school day. (This summer, the lab is open to students from around the region as well.) And after school, students at Maker’s Place are coordinating their own reclaimed-denim fashion show and bolstering it by learning robotics and HTML.

The city’s start-up community is definitely maker-esque, too. In true Pittsburgh collaborative fashion, innovations from local entrepreneurs often end up back in the hands of young makers. Check out this video of Allegheny High School students using of BirdBrain Technologies’ robots to dive into computer science.

At the national scale, making is seen as a way to deepen STEM learning and invigorate a pipeline of future scientists, engineers, and manufacturers. But on a more individual level, educators here have seen the less-technical skills that making also encourages—skills such as grit, confidence, and communication.

As Assemble intern and all-around maker extraordinaire Caroline Combemale explained to us last year, “I think I kind of grew up a little bit working at Assemble because I became more mature, and really learned how to act around adults. Whereas before I was kind of just this hyper child who just loved to do everything but didn’t know how to communicate with anybody.”

Pittsburgh is packed with ways youth and their families can make, build, and tinker. But anyone who looks to those examples will also see a region that’s harnessed making as only one facet of a connected learning ecosystem. For us, that’s the only type of learning we believe will prepare our kids for the future ahead.

The Maker Movement Finds its Way into Pittsburgh Classrooms

A school library might not be the most obvious place to find kids building robots. But this year, Miriam Klein, a librarian and English teacher in the Cornell School District outside of Pittsburgh, is planning to use her district’s brand new Hummingbird robotics kits in the classroom to build characters from stories her students read. Using cardboard, pipe cleaners, and whatever else they come up with, along with the equipment in the kit (motors, LED lights, digital sensors), created by Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE lab, the kids will bring their characters to life.

The infectious enthusiasm Klein and hordes of teachers around the country have for hands-on projects echoes that of the maker movement, a growing network of DIY and making enthusiasts building everything from marshmallow cannons to hovercrafts in garages, at Maker Faires, and state-of-the-art makeshops. Leveraging kids’ natural inclination to tinker, the maker movement has found its way into classrooms. In Pittsburgh and around the country, educators are encouraging kids to experiment, building imperative skills in STEAM subjects and spurring lifelong interests that will hopefully one day lead to careers.

Further encouraging Klein’s plans for this year is a two-week professional development camp she attended in July, MobileQuest CoLab, organized by the Institute of Play. The program taught educators and students the basics of game design. But the games weren’t necessarily played on devices—many were hands-on, puzzle-like games such as tossing a ping-pong ball down a flight of stairs into cups. They then often incorporated an element of technology like a stopwatch or QR code scanner.

During MobileQuest, Klein saw students owning their ideas in a way she’d only seen in her creative writing classes. Witnessing that ownership, she says, is what excites her most about the hands-on projects and game design she’s envisioning for her classroom this year.

“My idea of hands-on learning is sort of controlled chaos and then learning to accept chaos,” Klein says. Like proponents of the maker movement, she believes that in an environment conducive to hands-on learning a teacher acts as a facilitator rather than instructor, encouraging collaboration and ensuring everyone’s voices are heard.

Campers at MobileQuest trying out inflatable dice / Ben: Filio

Photo: Ben Filio

Chris Foster, a Business, Computer and Information Technology teacher at Elizabeth Forward Middle School in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, is also looking ahead and developing ideas for hands-on learning this year. As part of his school’s new program called the Dream Factory, students will have access to a 3D printer. The students get to experiment with digital and physical materials to create the inventions of their dreams. Foster is planning ways to encourage them to think creatively about what they create, for example by having students wear blindfolds while they hold objects in order to use all their senses in brainstorming possible iterations.

“If they don’t reach the goal the first time, after taking suggestions, they try again. I think that’s a change,” Foster says of the difference he’s seen between project-based learning and more traditional pedagogy. He’s seen students dread revising assignments, but an environment and culture embracing hands-on learning and making alters the meaning of “revisions” altogether. “If you build this kind of atmosphere and environment in a class from the very beginning, I think students are more apt to take suggestions from their classmates and teachers and go back to create a better product.”

As maker-expert and educator Gary Stager explains in his new book with co-author Sylvia Libow Martinez, “Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom,” learning through making and inventing isn’t new. But its use is gaining renewed emphasis among educators, fueled by the tools and technology we can now put into kids’ hands.

Stager and Libow Martinez call these technologies—specifically fabrication, computing and computer science—“game changers.”

“The excitement about these new technologies will reanimate the best traditions of progressive education in classrooms, of learning by doing, of working on meaningful projects, of developing agency and becoming lost in the flow of something you care about,” Stager writes.

He points to a student in Australia who wrote a computer program that drew complex, geometric shapes and then sporadically teleported them into a black hole. Letting students follow their own interests and creative urges encourages them to be self-directed, Stager says, and prepares them for an outside world where problems are not multiple choice.

“At the core, I think the goal of teachers and schooling in general is to prepare kids to solve problems that teachers and the curriculum never even anticipated,” Stager says.

“[Making] is intrinsic, whereas a lot of traditional, formal school is motivated by extrinsic measures, such as grades,” Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine, says in the short documentary “We Are Makers.” “Shifting that control from the teacher or the expert to the participant to the non-expert, the student, that’s the real big difference here.”

Teachers and makers have seen firsthand how kids develop agency by making. Now, researchers are heading out into makerspaces and classrooms to delve into how and why making fosters this kind of agency and excitement.

With support from the National Science Foundation, Erica Halverson, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is embarking on a study of environments that foster creativity and learning. The goal is to understand the difference, if there is any, between the culture of makerspaces and the act of making. What exactly fosters learning? Is the making itself enough to drive learning, or does the culture of a makerspace impart a sense of agency in kids, empowering them to explore and tinker? What Halverson and her team find will have implications for how to further move making into classrooms.

Makeshop at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

To answer their questions, Halverson’s team is using the Makeshop at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh as their laboratory. The Makeshop includes woodworking tools, circuitry, sewing materials, and animation tools, plus experts who can help kids and their families out with projects.

“More than any other children’s museum, they’re committed to the maker culture as a part of their mission,” Halverson said. “I didn’t know much about children’s museums before I started this project, but [Museum Director] Jane Werner is the queen of children’s museums. She’s forward-thinking and has invested so much time in the development of Makeshop as something distinct from the typical arts/crafts space in their museum—it’s an amazing place.”

Kylie Peppler, an assistant professor of learning sciences at Indiana University, Bloomington, and the head of the Make to Learn Initiative, is developing a white paper on making and its guiding learning theories.

Peppler said making is so exciting because “the act of construction externalizes what kids know, and allows them to reflect on the designing and action. The externalizing of your ideas is really productive for learning and connecting with other people.”

The interests hands-on learning sparks are sometimes a beeline to a career.

Peppler points out that “Ninety percent of the time you talk to an engineer, the experience of making a boat in eighth grade was what sparked their interest in engineering.”

“We as educators try to make our lectures engaging, but when we allow people to make something, it’s completely transformative. You don’t have to fight for kids’ attention when making,” Peppler said.

Stager echoed Peppler’s belief that making is intrinsically motivating for kids. He recalled a group of three 10-year-old girls who, after Stager charged their fifth grade class with the challenge, came back two days later with a computer program they wrote that drew any fraction as pieces of a circle.

“I’m not surprised when kids do extraordinary things,” Stager said. “I’m surprised when adults are surprised at kids doing extraordinary things.”

21st Century Shop Class

Over 120,000 people attended Maker Faire Bay Area, held on May 18-19 at the San Mateo Event Center in California. As expected, innovative creations abounded, including everything from beaded spaceships to electric cars.

It’s no surprise there was such a large turnout for the event. California has been a hub for innovation and a home to the maker community for years, as the Bay Area was the first to host a Maker Faire back in 2006. More recently, the state was the first to be part of the MENTOR Makerspace program, funded by the federal government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and spearheaded by O’Reilly Media’s Make division.

“We have to move from an engine of bureaucracy to an engine of innovation,” Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter told Fast Company.

The enterprise, established in 2012, is set to provide approximately 1000 public schools with makerspaces in the next three to four years. The first phase of the program’s rollout is currently underway; it includes the installation of these workshops in 16 schools in California. The spaces will be equipped with a “shop-in-a-box” starter kit including a variety of tools, materials, and software capable of producing a wide range of projects. For example, a cardboard cutter designed specifically for classrooms known as the “Othercutter” is just one of the tools included in the setup.

Photo/ Sean Freese

According to the New York Times, DARPA continues to underwrite the start of these spaces in schools elsewhere in the country, and, although cofounder of the makerspace concept Dale Dougherty argues that the partnership is a positive step forward, there has been a bit of controversy regarding DARPA’s intentions.

“Having these programs in schools is fantastic, but the military calling the shots in American education? I don’t see that as a positive move,” Mitch Altman, cofounder of the San Francisco hackerspace Noisebridge, told the New York Times. “If you grow a piece of celery in red water, it’s going to be red,” added another skeptic of the partnership, head of the Alpha One Labs in Brooklyn Sean Auriti. “I’m just wondering how this Darpa defense contract money is going to influence these projects,” he said.

Conversely, Dougherty is sure the results will be a fruitful, opportunity-rich development in American education. “For me, the DARPA funding signifies that a revitalized manufacturing capacity is a national priority, and fostering interest among young people in making things is how we can take concrete steps to address that issue,” wrote Dougherty in blog post for Make Magazine last year. “Makerspace is not a DARPA program; it is a program that DARPA helped with their funding, which ultimately comes from the US taxpayer. Our Makerspace program is designed to learn from what we see happening in the maker community and work closely with the intersection of the communities of makers and educators to spread these ideas, technologies, and innovation more broadly across our country and the world,” he concluded.

And the positive changes Dougherty predicted have already started blossoming out of the partnership, despite scrutiny from its critics. In one of the pilot schools, Analy High School in Sebastopol, teacher Casey Shea began using his school’s laser cutter—acquired through the partnership—to create customized tools for other educators, which could be seen as a first step in forging a more sustainable educator community.

EdSurge writer Betsy Corcoran reported on Shea’s revelation:

Shea had a true penny-dropping moment when he realized that his school’s laser cutter could easily craft exactly the kinds of materials that many schools and teachers spend thousands of dollars to buy: Maps, cut from white boards on which students can fill in country (or state) names and later easily erase; the outline of a clock also on a white board to help students practice telling time; white board graphs for mathematical equations, and so on.

Shea plans on orchestrating a summer workshop to help train teachers, and Corcoran reported that design templates, which can be printed on low-cost bulk white boards using word processing software, are also on the horizon.

Meanwhile, at Piner High School in Santa Rosa, biology teacher Dante DePaola and his students built their makerspace through the partnership, designing and assembling all of the furniture within the space from scratch. Since then, DePaola’s students have built things like iPod speakers and structures that help prevent eggs from cracking upon impact, among other projects, which DePaola documents on his Piner Makers blog.

One of DePaola’s most inspiring resources is his “Wall of Making,” an immersive collage of students’ ideas. “Students are encouraged to bring in newspaper articles, do some individual research, or document their own work—and show off examples of making that they connect to,” explained Stephanie Chang in a post on the Makerspace blog. “Examples are plastered all over the wall; these mini bits of inspiration show how broad and varied making is, and how it reaches just about anyone and everyone,” she wrote.

It’s inarguable that, by building Makerspaces in public schools, there will be more equitable opportunities for students to follow their passions and learn to use the tools they’ll need to do so. Hopefully, the partnership will continue to expand out of California, to Pittsburgh and elsewhere. As Dougherty said to Fast Company’s Kamenetz, “I feel we’re at this point in time where people are looking for some substantial change in education … and I want to be that new thing.”

Pittsburgh Innovators Connect Nationally with Maker Corps

Education innovator John Dewey once said, “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; …and learning naturally results.”

He also said: “We only think when confronted with a problem.”

Dewey would be pretty excited, I think, to witness the “maker” movement that has been gaining huge fans and momentum nationally. In education circles, it’s sometimes called “experiential learning” or “hands-on learning” in more colloquial terms. Whatever its name, kids love it.

Whether at a Maker Faire, or taking part in a hackathon, or just taking apart a watch to see how it works (tip: don’t try it, those teeny springs fly everywhere), kids have ample opportunity today to become the innovators of tomorrow.  Edtech blogger Audrey Watters offers a great overview of the maker movement and its links to education.

At the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s MAKESHOP, kids and adults tinker with simple robotics, circuit boards, and sewing machines. The MAKESHOP not only helps people build new devices and work processes, but also relationships.

“It’s remarkable,” Jane Werner, executive director of the Children’s Museum, said in a recent report. “People will sit down around a table, and they will be hand-sewing something or soldering blinking lights, and they’ll work in parallel and feed off of one another—conversations you don’t usually find in museums.”

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is already one of the innovative institutions that form the region’s Kids+Creativity Network.  And now it’s joining the national Maker Corps, which will bring new relationships and additional resources to the space, and to Pittsburgh’s learning ecosystem. The program, a partnership with the Maker Education Initiative, aims to address the need for personalized support and expertise in introducing maker-oriented experiences in educational programs across the country. This summer, area twenty-somethings can join the team as mentors and get up to their elbows in making.

Hack Pittsburgh is another spot for creators and tinkerers. Learn to solder, or join the passionate amateur radio (HAM operators) clan to explore how that venerable hobby translates today, or even make your own snow (although we probably have enough about now). More twenty-second century perhaps, join a spaceship crew on a spaceship simulator. My favorite is the project back in 2011, where, according to the site’s Wiki space, they used the leftover helium from another project to release 30+ balloons with ping pong balls and origami butterflies attached to them, with the hope that those who find them when they land would go to the URL on the ping pong balls and let them know where and when they were found. One managed to escape all the way to Upstate New York. Here’s the map of found balls.

Hack Pittsburgh—the term is used benevolently—hosts weekly events (on Friday nights) that are open to the public, and usually free, where people can come in for interesting talks or presentations and see the shop and what we have to offer. This Friday’s event is the Artemis spaceship simulator.

Pittsburgh in fact is a hotbed of inventor and creator spirit. Assemble, a space for arts and technology in the heart of the city’s Penn Avenue Arts District. The space offers the Unblurred Gallery Crawls, as well as workshops, lectures and community activities for kids. Just opened in  Larimer’s Bakery Square is TechShop Pittsburgh, part of a national string of TechShops in such hot spots as Menlo Park across from Google’s office and Austin, TX. The Pittsburgh branch plans to add to the city’s maker community with more than 16,000 square feet of workshops with spaces for robotics, metalworking, jewelry making, woodworking, as well as classes each month.

In the meantime, if you know a twenty-something interested in becoming a Maker Mentor, the Maker Corps, is hiring. Maker Corps is looking for volunteers to serve as mentors for children on creative projects designed to develop problem-solving skills and to encourage an interest in science and technology. Apply here by March 8 (tomorrow!), and keep your fingers crossed that you’ll join 100 trained Maker Corps volunteers this summer in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s MAKESHOP.

What’s happening at World Maker Faire?

The third annual World Maker Faire kicked off Saturday morning at the New York Hall of Science (NySci). Billed as “The Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth,” World Maker Faire brings together hobbyists and engineers, teachers and students, hackers and scientists for two days of demonstrations and workshops, exhibits and performances, collaboration and celebration of all things making and doing.

Presented by MAKE Magazine and O’Reilly Media, the Maker Faire is far from the typical science fair!

MakerFaire crowdWhether they’re educating the next generation of creative innovators or fabricating the next industrial revolution, makers are making an impact on the way the world learns, works, and plays.

Among the many thousands of folks and families in attendance, members of Pittsburgh’s Kids+Creativity network are on the ground, taking in the sites, meeting fellow makers, sharing stories and tips, and trying our hand at some of the contraptions on display.
Stay tuned for Spark reports from World Maker Faire throughout the weekend!

Saturday, September 29

Clouds and the occasional misting couldn’t keep the crowds away as makers of all ages and the make-curious gathered to learn, share, create, and celebrate hands-on creativity and Do-It-Yourself design.

Basketball shooting robot

In the Young Makers section, kids and adults alike tried their hand at constructing and deconstructing structures large and small, and programming and reverse engineering gadgets simple and complex.

Here, people put their math skills to the test, computing the trajectory of a basketball-shooting robot and looking for nothing but net.



Parents discuss Larchmont Young Makers group

In the Education Cafe, students, educators, and parents shared stories and strategies for integrating Making into the ways children learn both in and out of schools.

A group of parents shared lessons they learned from starting the Larchmont Young Makers community. Growing from informal basement hang-outs to a community-wide supplemental education and creativity program that’s bursting at the seams.



FLOAT Beijing kites and sensors
Stopped by Deren Guler’s table to see the results of her FLOAT Beijing project, using kites equipped with air quality sensors to give city dwellers the ability to collect data and actively monitor the environmental health of their community.

Deren’s project was one of many examples of how people can apply the DIY maker ethos to meet very real challenges with curiosity, ingenuity, and creativity. Checkout some of the other Sustainability Projects at Maker Faire.


If it wasn’t obvious already, this maker movement thing is for real! Stay tuned for more on Sunday.

Sunday, September 30

Sunday started the day off with a late breakfast, chez Pancakebot, a Lego Mindstorms hack that does everything but the flipping!
Pancakebot making flapjacks

Also inside of NySci, more than 100 makers are demo’ing their latest inventions that remixed the familiar to bridge the gap between the present and the future.

And the USB Typewriter took the next logical step for touch-screen tablets like the iPad…connect them with antique typewriter keyboards, of course!

We spoke with one family this morning who came in for the day and couldn’t believe how one festival could captivate a toddler, a 6 year old, and mom and dad too!

Power Racing Series
Earlier this afternoon, we stopped by the make-shift race track where HackPgh battled it out with other DIY shops from across the country in the Power Racing Series. Challenged to produce a working electric vehicles for just $500, race teams were pitted against one another in this high stakes, high speed, and high efficiency showdown!

AIU Reports from Education Day at the Bay

Described as “The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth”, Maker Faire in San Francisco is an event that brings together thousands of makers and people interested in learning. This year, educators were offered a special preview of Maker Faire during Education Day at the Bay.

Kids+Creativity Network Members from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit traveled to San Francisco for the 2012 Bay Area Education Day and Maker Faire. This is what they had to say about it.

Spark: What was the Education Day at the Bay all about and why did you go?

Kelley Beeson, Director, Center for Creativity: Education Day gave us a chance to preview the faire without the crowds and speak one-on-one with the makers. Additionally, we had the valuable opportunity of seeing how kids there on field trips reacted to the projects.

Amy Cribbs, Career Exploration and Academic Events Coordinator: I am new to the maker philosophy but loved everything that I had read about it. As part of my position at the AIU I provide various events for students in 1st-12th grade along with career education experiences for high school students. I attended Maker Faire seeking inspiration to generate more creative events of my own and to share this inspiration among teachers I work with.


Spark: What was the most unexpected thing about Education Day?

KB: The most surprising thing about the Maker Faire, not just the Education Day, was how many of the projects required very little money. Some of the things that most excited kids were lower-tech than I expected. Kids waited in line forty-five minutes to learn how to solder. Tons of kids just sat in the grass playing with extra-large puzzle pieces. They climbed on a wooden sculpture, played drums made of buckets, hula hooped, explored bug habitats. All of these activities inherently capture some science, engineering, creativity, or math learning and could easily be brought into classrooms without much money or technology.

The second thing that surprised me was that the Maker Faire turned out to be the best professional development I’ve ever attended. So much of my PD involves an expert talking to me, and while that is inspiring, I am only a passive participant. As an active member at Maker Faire I got to see all of the learning actually taking place live in front of me. It was very powerful.

Kevin Conner, Curriculum and Instructional Technology Coordinator: Students threw themselves into each exhibit with gusto. So many of them just wanted to touch stuff, try it out and then listen to an explanation of how the process/project worked. We can transfer that idea to a chemistry class for example. The teacher tells the students a certain combination of chemicals will produce a bright red liquid then backs off to let them think through the process and learn by doing.


Spark: How does Making fit in to the educational landscape?

KC: The message that came through loud and clear (literally-we were addressed by bullhorn as we entered) was “you do not have ADHD; you are bored in school”. I know it’s an exaggeration, but there is a lot of truth to that statement. Unfortunately things like physical movement and using “hand intelligence” are typically restricted rather than used to enhance the learning environment in schools. We talk a lot about engaging tasks. What could be more engaging than exploring a passion by crafting something?

Dr. Patricia DiRienzo, Curriculum & CPE Coordinator: Words that stuck out for me were “tinkering” and “passion”. I know that I learn better by doing. We need to actualize that activeness in classrooms to get educators and students passionate about learning.


Spark: How will you apply what you learned to the Pittsburgh context?

KB: Much of what I plan to bring back revolves around more effectively using professional development to create lasting, active, and deep impact. When I bring a speaker in there should be opportunities to participate actively and continually with the experience.

KC: I think Pittsburgh could be a great place for a Maker Faire on a similar scale in a couple of years. We have lots of folks here doing making, maybe we’ve just never put the label on it or pointed it out to those who aren’t doing it. Part of getting things going will be sharing what a maker is and what maker culture feels like.

AC: I’d like to create new events for students based around creativity. I’d also like to be a part of creativity workshops for educators.


Spark: Anything else you’d like to share about your experience at Education Day and Maker Faire?

KB: I was really struck by the diversity at Maker Faire. It was the ultimate multi-generational, multi-ethnic event!

KC: I really enjoyed that along with all of the exhibits there were presentation sessions during which you could hear from a filmmaker, a computer programmer or an educator. Making ideas is just as important as making things.

PD: Maker Faire offered a place where it was okay to be a geek or a freak. You could be as intellectual or artistic or technical as you wanted because the Faire is about learning and sharing what you know with other people who want to learn.

AC: My first thought upon seeing all the cool things displayed and presented was why don’t we have this in Pittsburgh? Our city is at the forefront of so much that we should be part of this movement as well. I’m excited about the Children’s Museum’s Mini Maker Faire that will be held in September and I encourage families, teachers, everyone to go and check it out.