The Science Factory had a table in the concourse area of the Matthew Knight Arena last Friday March 15, 2013. They brought along with them some homemade conductive and non-conductive play dough. Attendees were invited to stop by the table and build real working electrical circuits out of play dough, batteries, and LED’s.
Play Dough Circuits!
People piling into the theater
The Science Factory also built their own ping pong ball cannon that uses the power of air pressure the accelerate a ping pong ball to several hundred miles per hour! They used the cannon to blast holes in 1/8″ plywood and to puncture three empty soda cans at once. This was all just using an ordinary ping pong ball and air pressure.
When Thomas Hudson contacted me just prior to last year’s Mini Maker Faire, I thought that our lineup of makers was already more or less complete. Little did I know that what we really needed to round out our program was a bee counter.
A bee counter? Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Or maybe a “bee turnstile” would be more appropriate. Put simply, the device is an entrance/exit to a beehive that uses an array of sensors to keep track of the number of bees entering and exiting the hive. Given the proliferation of urban beekeepers in Portland and concerns about declining honeybee populations, it’s no surprise that there would be inherent interest in such a project.
Tom is no stranger to the maker movement. He tells me that he attended his first Bay Area Maker Faire in 2007, and was instantly hooked. With such a wide array of projects, it seemed that “everyone was at play… a curious type of play that was electrifying.” After that experience, Tom became a member of DorkbotPDX and began contributing his projects to Instructables.
Eugene was Tom’s first opportunity to show off his honeybee counter at a Mini Maker Faire. Tom reports that he had a great time in Eugene, loved seeing the diversity of maker projects, and was especially pleased to help bring the fun of Maker Faire to an audience that was largely unfamiliar with it.
Tom explains his bee counter to visitors at the Vancouver Island Mini Maker Faire.
After exhibiting at our Faire last June, Tom went on to other Pacific Northwest minis over the summer, including Vancouver Island and Portland. By that time, he had connected with some of the people who would be most interested in his project: beekeepers! In Portland, member of the Willamette Valley Beekeepers Association provided an observational hive (with 40,000 bees!) to which Tom could attach his counter.
Eugene and Portland were preludes to Tom’s next big event: The World Maker Faire in New York! With over 50,000 visitors passing through to see the exhibits, Tom felt “completely drained and exhilarated at the same time. People spent time with me one on one out of all the chaos to impress on me their ideas and in the end it was another extremely positive experience.” He even had the chance to converse with a big name in the computer world: Stephen Wolfram, designer of Mathematica. Tom also talked to people in the fields of education and marketing, as well as other beekeeping experts. Such an exchange of ideas among people from such diverse fields is something that you only find at Maker Faire!
Tom at World Maker Faire New York!
Tom has continued working with apiary experts at Oregon State University to improve his design and market it to potential customers. He is also working on other projects, such as an LED strip bike light. He has also become involved in education, offering classes in Arduino in and around Portland.
I’m genuinely thrilled that Tom’s bee counter project seems to be off and running, and I’m especially glad that the Eugene Mini Maker Faire could serve as a stepping stone to his success. Tom’s project embodies the ideals of Maker Faire in so many ways: a simple and elegant solution to a real-world problem, the chance to network with amateur and professional experts to improve the solution, and an eagerness to share the results with others to come up with even better designs.
Our partners at Eugene Maker Space have been busy lately! Last Saturday, they had their first-ever Make-O-Rama open house, which featured soldering lessons, 3D printer demos, and much more. Most of the membership was on hand to show off past and current projects.
The makers also spent an afternoon at the downtown Eugene Public Library earlier this month, where they launched paper rockets and allowed kids to play with other toys. We love partnering with EMS not only because of their awesome projects, but because of their dedication to getting young people involved in making as evidenced by these events.
Looking for something to do this summer? How about a summer job where you can be a mentor to future makers?
One of the newest projects from the people who brought you Maker Faire is the Maker Education Initiative. This new non-profit initiative has just launched Maker Corps, a summer program for young adult makers. If you are accepted into this competitive program, you will work at one of one of dozens of host sites around the country (including OMSI in Portland) to present maker-centered educational programs for kids. (In other words, the coolest summer job ever!)
Find out more about Maker Corps on their website, or read about some of this summer’s host sites on their blog. Applications are due March 1st. We’re very excited to see how this program takes off in its inaugural year. Inspiring the next generation of makers is a mission we can really get behind!
Last Friday at the Science Factory, we hosted the second in a new series of no-school-day programs all about robotics. In these programs, kids in grades 3 to 6 have the chance to work in teams to build and program their own LEGO Mindstorms robot that will complete a given mission. Within the constraints of the robotics system itself, kids have an amazingly wide array of possibilities that allow them to make a robot that is truly their own creation.
While we have included building and tinkering activities in many of our lessons before, this series represents our first attempt at building an entire day around “making” something from the ground up. As much as we hope the students are learning from it (more on that later), it has certainly been a learning experience for us. Some kids are LEGO experts, while others have hardly played with them in their lives. Some have a little bit of programming knowledge, but most have none at all. Some are more than willing to jump in and get their hands deep into the Legos, while others are more timid and need encouragement and direction.
Perhaps hardest of all, some kids are comfortable working in teams while others would much rather do all the work themselves. On an intense, complex project such as this one, going it alone is simply not an option. Finding ways to make these kids work together is crucial to the success of the project. I talked to one kid in the middle of the afternoon who was nearly in tears because of frustration with his teammates. He was not the first of our kids to be in this state, nor do I expect that he’ll be the last.
Why go through all of this frustration? Surely there must be easier ways to convey engineering concepts. While there are plenty of ways to give kids the information that will let them pass a test or get an “A” in class (and these are important too!), there is no substitute for diving head-first into a project that will teach all of this information and more in the process of completing the project.
Learning by making is really hard. It’s hard for the students, who might take lots of wrong turns and meet many dead ends before finally finding a solution. It’s hard for the teachers, who must be comfortable being a guide and mentor for a project where the finished product isn’t known ahead of time. But I believe that the lessons learned through making — not just in programming and building concepts, but in cooperation, teamwork, and perseverance — are a payoff well worth the trouble. By the end, that kid on the verge of tears was beaming with pride in his team’s completed robot.
We are hardly the first museum to realize the potential for bringing maker culture into our educational programs. Many large museums are creating innovative exhibits and events around making and building things, including the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio and Open Make at the Tech Museum. By hosting the Eugene Mini Maker Faire and bringing other making-oriented programs to our visitors, the Science Factory aims to join these museums as places where children and adults can find their inner maker and learn by doing. We hope you’ll join us, too!
Last year’s keynote speaker at Maker Faire Bay Area was Adam Savage, co-host of Mythbusters. In a lively talk filled with personal stories from his past, Adam explained why he is passionate about making things, and why it is essential that we all participate in a culture of making.
I really enjoyed the way that Adam approached the question of making something truly new versus making “what pop culture feeds you.” I think that we often define “creativity” too narrowly, leading us to put too much value on the products of creating and not enough on the process. The act of making “what you can’t not make” is an extremely valuable learning experience, even if the end product originally came from someone else’s imagination.
Adam Savage and his mythbusting partner Jamie Hyneman will bring their live show to Eugene this March. Tickets are on sale now, and your Mythbusters tour tickets will get you a discount on admission to the Eugene Mini Maker Faire. If you’re excited about Adam and Jamie, we hope you’ll be just as excited to see how our local community is carrying out Adam’s vision of “a generational shift back to making.” And if you’re really inspired by Adam, maybe you’ll consider making something of your own to show off at our faire!
We’re thrilled to announce that the 2013 Eugene Mini Maker Faire is ON! The second-annual faire will be held on Saturday, June 15th at the Science Factory. Even though it’s six whole months away, you can still make a commitment to take part in any of the following ways:
Huge thanks to all of the makers and visitors who made the inaugural Eugene Maker Faire a success! Special thanks to Brookelynn of MAKE magazine for setting up our live Google Hangout with the good folks at Maker Faire North Carolina. We’ll post some follow-ups next week… after we’ve recovered.
The front lawn of the Science Factory is looking awfully quiet this afternoon. But tomorrow, it will be a whole different story! We have rocket launches scheduled for noon and 2PM, and who knows what else will be flying across the lawn all day!
There’s plenty more to see and do tomorrow as well, from electric bicycles to basketball-playing robots, from knitting and crocheting to geometric constructions, from marshmallow shooters to optical illusions, and lots more! We’ll even have a bee counter!