Maker Education

New Models for Education: Maker Faire and the Young Makers Program

The Educational Director of Maker Faire shares some tips for getting involved in this DIY education community.

May 17, 2011

Editor's Note: Today's guest blogger is Michelle Hlubinka, the Education Director for Maker Faire and Make magazine.

Maker Faire is a combination DIY festival and project showcase, sponsored by Make magazine, where "makers" of all ages convene to show off a spectacular array of projects that combine science, art, performance, creative reuse, and technology in varying degrees. Not surprisingly, an increasing number of educators are getting involved in these events which are currently held in the Bay Area, Detroit and New York. There are also many independently organized Mini-Maker Faires around the country. Maker Faire Bay Area is this weekend, May 21 - 22nd.

Maker Faire Bay Area is coming up next weekend in San Mateo, California. It is (literally) an explosive environment -- full of blasts of imagination, invention, and creativity . . . oh, and some propane too.

If you haven't been to Maker Faire before, words don't really do it justice. It's the premier event for grassroots American innovation and a celebration of DIY (do-it-yourself) culture. There are over 600 Makers (or people who "make things") exhibiting their projects in arts, craft, engineering, food, health, music, science, and technology. Rockets to robots, felting to beekeeping, pedal-power to mobile muffin cars -- you never know what you'll see at Maker Faire.

New Directions in Education

Maker Faire is inspiring, but beyond that we believe Maker Faire also captures something about the potential for a new direction in education. We know that many teachers are re-energized by their annual visit to Maker Faire, and a few join us in our optimism for making as a way to learn. We hear this time and again from teachers.

At Maker Faire, there are no winners or losers -- anything that's cool is fair game. It's not a competition, and there aren't prizes, so there are no judges deciding who has succeeded and who has failed. Yet Makers -- some with two PhDs, others who never graduated from anywhere -- are motivated to spend long hours in their studios, shops, kitchens, and garages finishing their projects.

Intrinsic Motivation

How can we translate this intrinsic motivation to education? Or more generally, in a future world, what could schooling look like? And how can events like Maker Faire shift how we think about schools?

We imagine schools can become places where students learn to identify their own challenges, solve new problems, motivate themselves to complete a project, work together, inspire others, and give advice and guidance to others. That's what we see happening already in the Maker community. And increasingly we recognize there is a real hunger for the resources and infrastructure for kids and adults to be spending more time making, too. We're working to support that.

Young Makers Program

Last year, Tony DeRose, a Senior Scientist and lead of the Research Group at Pixar Animation Studios, approached me and Dale Dougherty (the Founding Editor and Publisher of Make Magazine & Maker Faire) about partnering to help more kids create projects for Maker Faire as a way to fuel kids' intrinsic motivations in science, math, and engineering. At the same time Dale and I were discussing similar initiatives with Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich of the Exploratorium's Tinkering and Learning Studios. We five said, we all prefer to learn by doing, so let's do this: let's run a pilot and see what it tells us. And so the Young Makers Program was born. We gathered about 20 kids together monthly and hooked them up with mentors so they could make something great for Maker Faire 2010.

I'll introduce to you five of the Young Makers projects we had at Maker Faire last year.

Colin and Joseph

Colin and Joseph went to the same high school, and both mentioned an interest in modding their longboards in their written introductions to us. But they didn't know each other well and certainly had no idea the other one joined Young Makers until they both showed up at their first Young Makers meeting, 60 miles from home. So naturally they worked together. They wanted to change the chucks on their boards to allow for finer control at high speeds. They designed a new mechanism and created it at a local shop equipped with personal fabrication machines.


Evan was shy, but he had a clear goal: he wanted to be able to transport things to the roof. Off-the-shelf products were expensive, and he and his dad Colin had a hunch they could make one cheaper. We were floored by the progress this soft-spoken young man made from month to month, bringing in sketches and to-scale models. He exhibited for the bulk of the weekend. At the end of the program, he was still shy, but his pride in his "Laddervator" energized him to exhibit to our thousands of visitors.

Hana, Jahnavi, and Pearl

At our first meeting, the three girls who joined the program last year gravitated to one another in a room flooded with boys. But they lived on far corners of the Bay Area from one another. They struggled for a long while to choose a project they could work on together. In the end, they dropped the Skype-enabled Rube Goldberg elements of their project in favor of a practical yet aesthetically pleasing project. Their "Habitable" is intended to be a hamster habitat that can be an attractive centerpiece of a living room. It combines the three girls backgrounds: Hana is the fashionista, Jahnavi wants to solve real-world problems and expressed interest in design for the other 90%, and Pearl's mom is an interior designer. Their mentor Yoshi got a little choked up when they presented him with a gift after Maker Faire. All four really bonded as a team while also gaining new skills.


Nathaniel's "Flame Chopper" represents a victory over near-disaster. Saturday at the Faire. Nathaniel and his father Michael arrived early to set up the Flame Chopper, which had been charging all week. But an hour before Maker Faire opened, suddenly it wouldn't start. His whole family, grandparents and aunt and uncle were all there for the big day and to see his project in action. His mentor Shawn was calm and comforting to Nathaniel, but Nathaniel's disappointment was deep. Four YM mentors gathered around the chopper to troubleshoot. It was a wonderful display of teamwork and support.

Eventually, they found a malfunctioning diode which they could replace with the supplies they happened to bring along, and Nathaniel was so pleased he asked his folks if he could return to exhibit again on Sunday, which they hadn't planned to do. His mom told us "the biggest success was that a devastating end to his Maker Faire was averted through support, teamwork and tenacity. He learned something about overcoming adversity, and you can't get a better life lesson than that." Nathaniel is coming back this year to show off a pulse jet engine he made with his dad, again as a part of the Young Makers program.

Sam, Alex and Joseph

The boys who created Saphira, an animatronic, fire-breathing dragon, had complementary skills: Sam the mechanical engineer, and Alex the software pro. And please don't forget Sam's brother Joseph who served as documentarian/filmmaker. Click on the video link to see a 40-second "trailer" of the project in which Joseph visually describes the project far better than I could tell you about it.

This year, leading up to Maker Faire Bay Area 2011, we experimented with the Young Makers program model -- seeing what would happen if it we allowed the network to be more decentralized, and monitoring how clubs tried out different ways of working. From last year's pilot group of Young Makers, we hoped to grow to 8 clubs or so around the Bay Area. We ended up with about 20 clubs, up to 100 Young Makers, about 50 adult volunteers, and about 40 project teams exhibiting at Maker Faire this weekend -- including a seesaw water pump, an animatronic galloping horse, gokarts, and a hovercraft.

Make Your Own Maker Club!

We encourage kids out there to start making in their communities and schools to create something of their own imagination, just as those ten kids made those five projects to show at Maker Faire. We have people trying all kinds of models for Maker Clubs. But you probably want to follow these steps, not necessarily in this order.

Get Connected

1. Join the Young Makers Email List to find like minded others.

2. Check to see if there is a Young Makers affiliate near you. You can ask to join them, or learn from them and start your own club.

3. Find other Young Makers. Each club sets their size and age range. You need at least a few kids to get the kind of interactions you need to develope the projects locally. The twenty students in Aaron Vanderwerff's class at Lighthouse Charter School in Oakland are bringing a dozen projects to Maker Faire Bay Area 2011, but other clubs are just a couple of families getting together every once in a while.

Basic Logistics

4. Recruit a Club Manager. We ask that one adult help organize the club and keep us abreast of the status of the club and the progress on projects (so if you are a Young Maker starting a club, this is the time to get an adult to do the not-so-fun organizational stuff.)

5. Find a venue. Clubs all need a space to work together and review their projects. It can be the same place or two different places. A shop can be a living room or garage, or it can be a community center. The place you make things is run by someone we call a "Shop Host" ? that adult might also be your Club Manager or another volunteer helping the program.

Start Making!

6. Don't get too caught up in the logistics that you forget why you're doing this. Make some quick projects together. These can be things the Makers already enjoy doing, or it can be a project that includes new skill they want to add to their skill set. In the Bay Area, we've been introducing skill swaps in the Open MAKE sessions at the Exploratorium. You can also check out Make: Projects for a wide variety of project ideas that can be customized for different communities.

7. Choose a big project. Make it ambitious, yet attainable. Some clubs work together all on one big project, like the Water Totter. In our experience, though, most clubs will have kids working on individual or team projects of their own design. Don't forget that a project doesn't necessarily have to be an object. It can also be a performance or an experience created for others to enjoy.

Create and Maintain Support

8. Keep ideas fresh. Don't forget to expose yourself to new ideas. Make magazine, and the Make blog are great resources, as are TED talks and . Go to lectures, talk to friends, spend some downtime exploring the web and letting your imagination roam.

9. Pick an event as a deadline. Locate a Maker Faire or Mini Maker Faire near you that you think is timed well for exhibiting your finished project(s). If you don't have a Maker Faire near enough to where you are, you can make a Maker Faire!

10. Set meeting dates. Make meetings regular: monthly or every other week. Include round robins where the project teams share their progress, make connections with other teams facing similar challenges, and get feedback and tips. Share projects either by setting up the room as a Mini Maker Faire where people mill about and see where the projects are, or by doing presentations one at a time. Everyone's schedules can get very busy, so meetings serve as important milestones along the road to your deadline, so that the Makers can keep up a pace that will get them to a finished product for the event where they'll showcase it.

11. Find more not-so-young Makers. As soon as you have Young Makers and they've chosen their projects, then you need expertise. Often clubs tap into their network of the parents and friends of families to serve as mentors, too. The most important things for a mentor to have are curiosity, patience, and the skills to find out how to do something.

12. Meet, work, and meet again. At each meeting, Young Makers should bring physical evidence of progress they made each month, whether that's just things that relate to the projects (inspiring raw materials, similar projects, etc.) or sketches and prototypes. Be sure participants take photos as they work?and lots of notes too?so they can remember the important breakthroughs when it's time to tell the story of their projects.

13. Finish the project(s). Showcase the finished projects at the event you chose as your deadline. Show off not just what the Young Makers made, but also evidence of how they made it ? sketches and prototypes or anything else that can help them explain their process.

14. Document and share. What your club did will inspire other clubs and other Young Makers, so be sure someone writes it up in a blog post or makes a video about it. Organize the photos taken along the way and put them in a place you can find them later.

15. Add your club to our list of affiliates. As we grow out network around the country and the world. More people are going to want to find you and learn what you did and how you did it!

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