Me: "Are you going to Maker Faire this weekend?"
Other people: "What?"
Me: "It's this really cool art/craft-fair kind of happening thing with super cool hands-on projects, presentations by really smart and often famous inventor type people, incredible technology and lots more."
Various other people: "Never heard of it."
Me: "Well of course you haven't, beacuse Maker Faires aren't quite mainstream yet (which in some ways is a good thing). What they ARE, however, is the greatest weekend-day fun-for-the-entire-family (especially if you like to build things) exploration of the "Maker" or "Do it Yourself" (DIY) culture that is growing in popularity and has tremendous implications for schools."
Yes, Maker Faire NY 2014 (http://makerfaire.com/new-york-2014/) wrapped up last weekend, and though I was able to go on Saturday, and it was only the second time I've ever attended, but I'm completely hooked. It was the ultimate collection of geeky-cool people, mind-blowing projects, inspiring presentations and really smart educators working hard to give kids new learning experiences. Here are some reasons why as an educator / parent / human being you NEED to go at least ONCE.
Maker Faires are the ultimate hands-on learning experience. Imagine a community arts festival where ATTENDEES make the art! While most of the exhibits were showing creations made by exhibitors (inventors, students, teachers, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, tinkerers) MANY of the best ones had activities, challenges and projects designed for participants - in particular, kids! People were learning how to solder, building with erector sets, dissasembling electronics, piloting robots, there's no way I can explain it all.
Maker Faires supercharges your creativity and imagination, filling your mind with possibility. Each and every booth had something that made you go "hmmm" and sometimes "whoa" and even "NO WAY!" I was awestruck while watching a kid make a motion-activated, computer-controlled robot play the violin. Talking to Jenny Young, one of of the founders of http://brooklynrobotfoundry.com/ I began to think about how much more I and my students could create in our classroom.
Maker Faires are overwhelming ... yet inspiring. Some of the world's greatest thinkers and doers come to share about their work. I was blown away listening to Dean Kamen talk about his inventions and the robotics competition for school kids he founded - http://usfirst.org - and how that idea has EXPLOSIVELY grown into a national phenomenon. But wait, there's more. This guy invented a device the makes clean water out of thin air, then got Coca-Cola to fund its production. He designed robotic limbs that use sensors and electronics rather than brain implants to allow amputees to control artificial arms and hands without those messy through-the-skull neural probes. If there ever was a genius using his superpowers for GOOD, it's that guy. And he was just ONE of the people I heard speak.
Maker Faires help get the word out about the great work being done around making in schools. My day at the faire actually started with a great 30 minute talk by Edutopia's own Betty Ray, who did a fantastic job explaining the different ways that schools are incorporating making into their curriculum. [DISCLAIMER: I LOVE EDUTOPIA AND THEY LOVE ME, I'M A FACILITATOR ON HERE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.] What's more, the ever-growing Education area featured the work of many schools (and students!) all, eager to explain what they'd created, why, how, and what they learned. This is precisely the kind of promotion we need to propel this movement forward!
Maker Faires attract the most creative, fun, relaxed, irreverent, smart, funny, interesting people you'll ever meet. Enough said!
Maker Faires are state-of-the-art. Heard about that 3D printed car? Yep, it was there. Kids designing and operating remote-controlled underwater vehicles? Of course. People striding around on futuristic mechanical legs? Yes. A giant, radio-controlled, four-wheel robotic giraffe that was so lifelike kids wanted to pet it? Uh-huh. It was all there, and more.
Maker Faires are one place where "it's cool to be smart." While it's nice to see the trend in recent years towards equating "smart" and "cool," let's be honest, there's still work to be done. This is especially true in school, where smart kids sometimes face teasing and ridicule for their academic and creative-minded interests. Bring those kids to a Maker Faire and let them see how cool smart can be!
You can see a few photos I took on Saturday right here via Flickr: http://goo.gl/CefYCT. Enjoy! And, to find a Maker Faire near you to attend soon, check out http://makerfaire.com/!
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