This weekend marked the kick-off of the Maker season for our area. The first Maker Faire was held at a local high and middle school – it spilled into both buildings. I’ve been writing about going to Maker Faires for a little while, and it’s probably time to point out exactly what it is. Assuming you don’t know already, of course!
Ask what the Maker Movement represents and you’ll probably get a different answers from every person you ask. It’s rather hard to define because it has broad guidelines and borders that flex at will. Think to make: create, design, innovate and you’ll cut to the heart of the movement. It’s not led by any one organization, but it did spark out of the Make Magazine, and is fostered by Maker Faires all over the globe.
Any Maker faire you attend will be incredibly varied and different because it depends on the makers who sign up to spend the entire day on their feet sharing their beautiful new toy (and watching grubby little children pawing at it and playing with it.) Various locations that foster creativity, like discovery museums, schools, and robot clubs will often have booths. And vendors – lots and lots of vendors, most of whom know to bring interesting, interactive exhibits or be ignored in favor of other things.
What is a Makerspace?
When we first started homeschooling, someone – somewhere online – mentioned a maker space. My mental antenna went up: I had no idea what they were talking about but it sounded interesting. Given that we have a child who builds insane, crazy things for fun, a maker space sounded like a ready-made playground just for him.
I was right – but partially so. A maker space is almost a collective – tools available for use, with materials, and space to create. Our local Makerspace offers classes (plus a required safety class) to learn how to use these tools. A makerspace is a valuable resource for any maker, but particularly so for our gifted kids who need peers – not age peers – to interact with. A makerspace generally requires a membership from what I can tell – they’re all different and run by different groups.
Who Is a Maker?
The Maker Movement is incredibly inclusive. It embraces everyone from artists to virtual reality game designers, from 3-D printers to LEGO. It relies on creativity and innovation, and depends on a cooperative spirit of helping others. Even things you wouldn’t expect, like cosplay, are welcome. The faire we attended on Sunday included a blacksmith knife-making demonstration from a Forged In Fire contestant, a giant marble run that invited kids to build and create as it ran, a giant R2-D2 droid (run by an Arduino, by the way,) robots of all types , create-your-own 3-D printers, and an entire fenced off area of drones flying. Steampunk, installation art, Lego art, you name it. A huge geek-fest.
Mr. Genius told me I missed an incredible demonstration involving sound waves, sand, lights, and a metal plate. The art students doing the demonstration programmed sound and light for a really cool demonstration of sound waves. The Engineer loved it!
If I had to point to a single, defining part of the Maker movement, I would say technology. It’s technology that runs the 3-D printers, or the apps that allow artists to translate designs to reality. It’s technology from the planning stages to the final product, even if the final product is a hand-loomed item or a steampunk sculpture. Our use of technology is interwoven into how Makers create, and it helps us to relate to other Makers.
Making is sharing
One of the hallmarks of the Maker movement is sharing your work with others. In the past, we had people creating and designing interesting things in their basement. Some of it ended up in art galleries, some of it was trashed by incredulous parents, and some of it was taken to science fairs. In today’s Maker Movement, that creativity and innovation is on display – to share with and inspire others. It’s a critical part of the Maker movement that I haven’t really seen verbalized, but it’s an underlying principle.
It’s not enough to make it. That’s only half the battle. Makers want – need – to share their brainchild with other people. A lot of that happens online, of course, but having a real location to physically look, touch, hear, or whatever sense heightens the experience. That’s why Maker Faires have become so popular. It’s a conference of creativity.
This faire, we went to see what others were sharing. Last faire we went to share what the Engineer created. I have no idea what the next faire will bring, but I’m sure it will be a wonderful, interesting experience. That’s what Making is all about, after all!
If you haven’t been to a Maker Faire, try checking if there’s one near you. The flagship Maker Faire company allow licensing for mini maker faires if you’re interested in starting one in your area. Or a faire for your school/homeschool group. It’s a great opportunity for our STEM and STEAM kids. Science fairs are becoming a thing of the past – Maker Faires are our future.
(and you might ask, why don’t we have a membership to our local Makerspace yet? Because the Engineer is a safety hazard. His special needs hold him back from doing the very things he would love to do.)