Pittsburgh Innovators Connect Nationally with Maker Corps

Making is more than a hobby. The DIY movement that bridges hacking and inventing is also a discipline for innovation, and a learning methodology that more and more educators are using with students of all ages.

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.

Published March 07, 2013