Young Makers Score a Home Run for Hands-on Learning

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett better watch out—young Pittsburgh makers have built a worthy competitor.

As part of the Rookie of the Gear project, summer visitors to the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum Makeshop constructed a working, 12-foot tall pitching machine. On September 1, the machine made its major league debut by throwing the first pitch at a Pittsburgh Pirates game. Three of the contraption’s young designers got to stand on the field at PNC Park, pirate hats and all, to watch their concept—once just ideas on paper–hurl the first ball.

Earlier this summer, kids drew designs for their dream pitching machine then helped build an actual catapult at Makeshop in the following weeks. Then as a test run, the machine tossed water balloons at the Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire before finally heading to the pitching mound.

Rookie of the Gear was a summer-long project through the Makeshop at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. Makeshop is an open space within the museum for kids and their families to tinker, build, and create amazing things. From birdhouses to stop-motion animations, Makeshop embraces kids’ natural instinct to learn by doing. It lets them problem solve and explore their creative urges with various materials like wood, textiles, and electronics. The space has all sorts of awesome tools and museum staff on hand to help out.

Designing and constructing the pitching machine was a perfect example of the project-based learning Makeshop encourages kids and their families to try.

Encouraging kids to experiment builds important skills in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM), educators say. Spurring lifelong interests will hopefully one day lead to careers. With inspiration from museums, the Maker movement is also catching on in schools—in Pittsburgh and around the country. Last month I spoke to educators and researchers who are using what’s happening in Makeshop to further understand what makes tinkering so valuable for young learners, and to bring that back to classrooms to ensure all kids can experience this kind of learning.

Rookie of the Gear may have ended, but check out what the folks at Makeshop have planned this fall. If you can’t get to Makeshop, the Makeshop Show is the online headquarters for kids to get ideas for maker-inspired projects like a gumball machine fish tank or a soup can microphone.

Published September 16, 2013