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Stunned silence


For those of you watching this blog closely, I hope you haven’t been hitting your browser’s refresh button obsessively over the past few days, waiting for my Maker Faire Bay Area recap. I had every intention of doing a weekend wrap-up as soon as possible after the weekend was over.

This is, actually, as soon as possible for me. It’s taken a few days to digest everything that I saw, heard, and did. I knew that Maker Faire was big. I didn’t quite anticipate how very overwhelming it would be.

Not overwhelming in a bad way, mind you.

Overwhelming in a larger-than-life-game-of-Mouse-Trap kind of way.

Overwhelming in a synchronized-dancing-robot-minion-army kind of way.

Overwhelming in a pancake-printing-robot-made-of-legos kind of way.

I think you get the idea.

(Okay, one more: overwhelming in a preschoolers-on-a-pressure-sensitive-light-up-dance-floor kind of way!)

I am in awe of all of the amazing projects on display by kids and adults of all ages. I was thrilled with the enthusiasm that every last one of the makers displayed in talking to the public about their projects — passion for making is contagious! I saw kids intensely engaged with projects and exhibits in ways that many teachers and parents wouldn’t think possible. It was the type of learning that I want to see happen every day at the Science Factory.

While I can’t promise a giant pyrotechnic octopus, I can assure you that our own Eugene Mini Maker Faire will do its best to live up to the name. And because we’ll have slightly less than the 900 makers of the Bay Area Faire, I’m certain that it will not be quite so overwhelming — but I hope just as inspiring! Stay tuned over the next few days for a complete list of our makers and their projects, as well as information on advance ticket sales!

Maker Faire possibilities

BnywBBqIYAAdPpKToday’s Mini Maker Faire Producers’ meetup was very different sort of program than yesterday’s program. There was much more listening and much less “making.” Of course, there was a TON of making going on around us, as preparations were in full swing for Maker Faire Bay Area all around us at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds.

I had the chance to meet Mini Maker Faire producers from more than a dozen locations around the world, from the Bay Area, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, North Carolina, Calgary, and even some potential producers in Mexico and Guatemala. I learned a lot from talking to the producers of these larger “Mini” Faires — ones that draw four or five thousand visitors over a weekend. When the Eugene Faire looks like that someday (and it will!), I will have the benefit of the other producers’ experiences to draw on.

I’m sure I’ll have much more to share after the weekend event is over, but for now, I’ll leave you with a few of the preview exhibits that we were able to watch as they were tested. The giraffe had some pretty cool moves…

…But the octopus had fire, so I think the octopus wins. Can’t wait for tomorrow!image (1)

Making Possibilities


First things first: Today, I built a spider-bot, a duct tape wallet, an origami house, and a light-up paper airplane.

But I also met educators from around the country excited about bringing the Maker movement to their classrooms, museums, libraries, and afterschool programs. More than 100 of us gathered at Intel headquarters in Silicon Valley for the first-ever Making Possibilities Workshop. It was a great opportunity for educators of all types to meet each other, talk about strategies for incorporating maker projects into our curricula, and most importantly (which is why I started with it), get our hands on some toys and play around with some fun projects.

The fun started before we even got in the door, when we were given an hour to build “art bots” — simple “robots” that jitter around randomly thanks to a battery-powered cell phone vibrating motor (did you know that the vibrator inside your phone was the result of spinning a simple motor?). By using Q-tips for the legs and dipping them in watercolors (or incorporating markers into the design as “legs,”) you can create fun line drawings on paper.IMG_20140515_075814_241

Simple projects like these are a classic example of what educators think of as “maker” based education — they use “junk” that is cheaply bought or even salvaged from other parts, and they require a demonstration of simple electrical or mechanical know-how (in this case, how to complete a simple circuit) in order to complete the task. As Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine, reminded us during his morning keynote address, the product itself is the assessment — and in our test-crazed educational system, it’s crucial to identify how a teacher will know that a student has learned something.

The morning also included a panel of kids who have participated in school-based and afterschool making programs, as well as those who pursued projects on their own. One of those kids, Joey, became famous a few years back when he brought his air-powered marshmallow shooter to the White House and let President Obama fire off a round. Joey is now an intern at Intel, and his latest project is a 3D array of LEDs.IMG_20140515_121850_846

Our workshops included strategies for developing maker activities for preschoolers (would you really hand a hot glue gun to a 3-year-old?) and maker projects specific to out-of-school-time settings. Both of them emphasized the importance of incorporating kids’ amazing storytelling abilities into the activities, which will keep them engaged and make the project relevant to their interests. I loved the project ideas themselves, particularly these awesome light sabers:IMG_20140515_141659_950

But as I looked beyond the general principles to the specifics of implementing these lessons at the museum, the sessions actually left me with more questions than answers: Can the Science Factory find floor space in our small exhibit hall for maker projects? Do we have the budget for all of those materials? Who will facilitate the programs? When is the right time of day or year for these programs? Are they drop-in programs, closed workshops, or both? I will have lots to discuss with the rest of our staff as we come up with strategies for bringing more of these projects to the museum.

Our closing keynote address was by Sylvia Lebow Martinez, author of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Sylvia gave us a valuable reminder that, as much as we see maker projects as inherently fun and valuable, we need to do the hard work of implementing them in ways that align with the existing standards and assessments (and, more broadly, explaining the value of making to school leaders, community partners, and parents who may have a narrower view of education).

I had fun today making things. That much was almost a given before the day even started. But unless I can translate it into workable programs for the kids I educate, my fun isn’t all that valuable. I’m inspired by the hundreds of other teachers who have found ways to put making into practice, and I’m excited to make it happen at the Science Factory.IMG_20140515_140212_716

Thanks to Intel and Maker Education Initiative for making today’s event possible. Tomorrow: Mini Maker Faire Producers!

About that other Maker Faire

1553364_10152608867104115_962137736_oOkay, folks. Confession time.

Have I formally introduced myself? I’m Nick Spicher, the Education Director at the Science Factory. I write most of the posts you read here. This is my third time organizing the Eugene Mini Maker Faire.

I have been a huge fan of the Maker Movement and all that it has to offer to the museum world. I sought out the help of Eugene Maker Space just as it was starting up in order to bring their projects and enthusiasm for making to our audience. I have created new educational programs that incorporate Maker principles, and I have added Maker activities to our existing programs. I strongly believe that one of the very best ways to ensure that the next generation is scientifically and technologically literate is to give them every opportunity to discover their inner Maker. I have visited and supported local and regional Maker activities, and in my spare time I’ve tried my hand at some DIY projects (mostly in my kitchen).

But I have never been to Maker Faire.

Until now, that is. This week, as the 9th annual Maker Faire Bay Area kicks off, I will be headed to San Mateo to see the projects, meet the makers, and revel in the sights, sounds, and spectacle of “the greatest show (and tell) on Earth.”

Before Maker Faire officially kicks off on Saturday, I will have two extra opportunities to engage with the Maker world. On Thursday, I will be attending the Maker Education Initiative‘s first-ever Making Possibilities Workshop, where I will meet other educators passionate about making and exchange ideas on how to incorporate the Maker movement into our classes and programs. And on Friday, I will attend the Mini Maker Faire Producers’ Workshop, where I will learn from those who have put together Mini Maker Faires around the world about their successes and challenges.

I am ridiculously excited to take part in all of this, and I can’t wait to bring what I learn back here to Eugene. I will be updating this blog to share my experiences along the way, and I will be on Twitter (@nickspicher) doing my best to report on things as they happen. If you will be in San Mateo as well, I invite you to get in touch… especially if you have any navigation tips for a Maker Faire newbie. Because I think I’m going to need all the help I can get.

One month to go!

1001651_10151973756154115_1880858688_nThe Eugene Mini Maker Faire is only a month away! This is your last chance to submit your project and be a part of the Faire. Fill out our maker application by Friday, May 16th in order to let us know about the amazing things you’re making.

In addition to all of the old and new makers that we’ve been featuring here on the blog, we wanted to make sure you knew that some more of our old friends from last year will be joining us again! Ed Gunderson will once again bring his velomobile. Fertilab Thinkubator, Eugene’s first biotech startup incubator, will again host a table of activities.

And LagerBot will be back! While the beverage-dispensing robot wasn’t quite up for dispensing last year, it’s come a long way since then. After appearances at the Portland Mini Maker Faire and the KLCC Microbrew Festival, LagerBot is fully functional and ready to dispense a refreshing drink!

You’ll be able to see all of these inventions in action, along with projects from our partners at Eugene Maker Space, on Saturday, June 7th. Let us know you’ll be attending on Facebook, and stay tuned for advance ticket sales coming soon!

Featured Maker: Ken Olsen, Dawson Station Model Railroad

IMG_3682If you were at last year’s Eugene Mini Maker Faire, you may have noticed a table with an interesting juxtaposition of technologies — a model train set, right alongside the computer game Minecraft. The man responsible for putting these two projects was Ken Olsen. Ken is a hobbyist in such classic fields as model trains and rockets, but he is also fluent in the technologies that are now ubiquitous in the Maker world — Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

Ken created Dawson Station as a way to showcase how Arduino could be incorporated into traditional model train sets to add a greater level of control. He tells us that “I was so excited by the idea that I just wanted to share it with as many people as possible.” This led him to exhibit at area model railroad shows even before he discovered Maker Faire.

(Oh, and the Minecraft? That was an experiment in getting kids interested in programming using the Raspberry Pi version of the popular game.)

Since developing Dawson Station, Ken has been involved in a variety of projects that use Arduino, and has offered workshops in Corvallis and around the Willamette Valley to get young people involved in using them. Lately he’s been working with ChickTech, a Portland-based organization that gets girls and women interested in technology.

After last year’s Faire, Ken took Dawson Station to the Portland Mini, where he exhibited for his largest audience to date. Ken reports that it was “exhausting, and a little overwhelming at times, especially being a two day event.” But he was amazed by “the energy and the diversity of exhibits.”

We’re very pleased to have Ken back in Eugene again this year, where he will be exhibiting Dawson Station again, as well as offering a live presentation on why “it’s an amazing time to be a maker!” If you’d like to meet Ken and see Dawson Station in action, be sure to join us on June 7. And if you have an Arduino project like Ken’s that you’d like to share with our visitors, there’s still time to apply to be a maker. We hope to see you here!

Featured Makers: Eugene Weavers’ Guild


Maker Faire is a celebration of technology — both old and new. Although 3D printing, robotics, and other relatively new technologies seem to get the lion’s share of attention, the Maker Movement has also helped to spark renewed interest in traditional crafts. Researchers in education are coming to realize the value of “arts and crafts” in STEM learning, and are advocating for the reinstatement of arts education in the curriculum.

That’s why we’re very excited to host the Eugene Weavers’ Guild at this year’s Eugene Mini Maker Faire. The Guild has supported the weaving community in Eugene since 1946 with meetings, workshops, equipment sharing, a lending library, and much more. Guild members include both professional and hobbyist weavers at all skill levels. Meetings are held monthly, and nonmembers are welcome to attend. Make sure to check their photo gallery for some spectacular examples of their work.

The Guild will bring a variety of display items, as well as “weavettes,” which will allow visitors to try their own hands at a 5-minute weaving project and take home the result! We look forward to hosting the Eugene Weavers’ Guild on June 7. If you’d like to join them as a maker, it’s not too late! Visit our maker application page to submit your own exhibit idea for the Eugene Mini Maker Faire.

Your Annual Robotics Update

It’s been a great year for the South Eugene Robotics Team! You may remember them from previous Maker Faires… in 2012, their robot shot basketballs, and in 2013 it threw frisbees and climbed scaffolding. This year’s competition… well, it’s tricky to describe, but it involved the robots passing a giant ball among their teammates and scoring goals. It’s quite amazing to watch!

On March 21, SERT went to Wilsonville for their first district event of the season, and for the first time in the team’s history, they made it all the way to the final round! You can watch the second half of the two-match final below:

They followed up this performance with an impressive fourth-place finish at the Oregon State district event. All of this adds up to a ranking of 20th in the Pacific Northwest Region, and an invitation to the regional tournament in Portland this week! Congratulations to SERT on a great season thus far, and best of luck in Portland!

SERT isn’t the only local team that has had success in the robotics arena. The teams from Pleasant Hill High School and Junction City High School compete in the First Tech Challenge, a league that consists of smaller teams building smaller robots — this year, robots that can pick up and place blocks in a pendulum goal, among other things. Here’s Pleasant Hill in action:

The Gromit’s Grommets from Pleasant Hill had a spectacular season and placed first in this year’s state tournament. Both Pleasant Hill and Junction City attended the first-ever FTC West super-regional championship in Sacramento last month. 72 teams from 12 states competed in the tournament. Congrats to all of our local schools on a great season!

And if you want to see these robots in action, make sure to attend the Eugene Mini Maker Faire just two months from today! SERT and Pleasant Hill will both be represented, and we hope to see other teams as well.

This week at the Science Factory: Making Stuff!

outreach-community-logoAt the Science Factory, we don’t just save our maker activities for one day a year. Aside from all of our regular workshops and summer camps that feature building and tinkering, we’ve got a brand-new program for all of our visitors over Spring Break. We’ve partnered with the PBS NOVA series Making Stuff to bring a week of engineering activities to the museum floor. Join us each afternoon anytime from 1PM to 4PM as we try our hands at designing safer structures, faster cars, wilder “claws,” and colder air flow. Each activity is included with regular exhibit hall admission. We hope to see you here!

Why Making Matters

971980_10151973755784115_145808677_nHave you noticed how everyone’s been talking about makers lately? Last week at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, mythbuster and maker Adam Savage gave the keynote address (you can watch it here, but beware a few bits of salty language). Hardly a week goes by without 3d printers making the news — as a tool for improved plastic surgery, an all-in-one house builder, or even a maker of lifesaving surgical implants. As we found out a few months ago, even the White House wants to get in on the making game.

Obviously, we’re pretty excited when we see so much attention given to makers and making. But it’s worth stopping to remember the bigger picture: what does the “maker movement” do for us? Among many others, I see three main reasons why making matters:

  1. It reconnects art and science under the banner of creativity. As Adam Savage noted in his keynote, “Art and science have always been the twin engines pushing us forward as a species.” Only in recent years have we seen art and science as intellectual opposites. The more we can recognize them as creative endeavors, the more likely people will be to engage with them.
  2. It empowers individuals, especially kids, to pursue their creative instincts. Caine’s Arcade was big news last year, and this amazing creative project by a young boy certainly warranted the attention. On a smaller scale, we see this kind of pride in creativity at the Science Factory every time one of our visitors or campers yells, “Look what I made!” Families with children also join Eugene Maker Space in order to pursue their own building projects that a standard school curriculum wouldn’t allow. Kids who are encouraged in their creative pursuits are likely to continue them as adults.
  3. It has the power to change lives and communities for the better. A volunteer and member recently pointed me to this video about Kelvin Doe, a 15-year-old from Sierra Leone who builds electronics from recycled and reclaimed parts. This hobby led him to create his own low-power radio station for his community, a project that earned him a visit to MIT. Kelvin’s story is just one of many, many examples of makers who have improved their communities through their creativity and ingenuity.

What do you think? How does making matter to you? How does the maker movement improve the Eugene community? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! (And if you’re ready to show off what you’ve been making, don’t forget to get your application in to the Eugene Mini Maker Faire on June 7!)