I attended DC’s inaugural National Maker Faire this weekend, where I got the opportunity to see a wide array of creative and innovative projects, as well as listen to a number of speakers talk about the importance and potential of the Maker Movement.
The first Maker Faire was held in the Bay Area in 2006. There are now yearly Maker Faires held all over the world that celebrate the spirit of invention, ingenuity, and hands-on creation. This year, DC held its first National Maker Faire, following the success of 2014’s DC Mini Maker Faire and the White House Maker Faire. The festival coincided with President Obama’s National Week of Making.
Makers in Action
There were over one hundred booths demonstrating the wide variety of ways to be a maker. There were a lot of tech-influenced DIY projects, like 3D printers, hand-built robots, and virtual reality simulators. But at the same time, there were a number of old school projects, like wood-working, crafting, and sewing. Big companies like Lego and NASA were there as well as entrepreneurs just getting started. There were activities aimed at inspiring children as well as ones for adults.
Makers and 3D Printing
One technology that was everywhere was 3D printers. People were using 3D printers to design and make everything from jewelry and sculptures to prosthetics. There was even an entire speaker panel on 3D printing in the medical field. The new technology is relatively cheap and extremely customizable and precise. Users can also open source their designs in order to share their work with others. In the case of prosthetics, 3D printing is making them more accessible and customizable. Children, in particular, constantly need new prosthetics as they grow, and 3D printing is making them more affordable and available than ever.
Museums are also using 3D printers in interesting ways. The Smithsonian has started using laser scanners to document fragile objects from their collection. These scans are available to be downloaded and 3D printed at home, making these objects easily available to be experienced by the public. The popularity of 3D printing is soaring, and it will be exciting to see what new innovations will be made possible in the future with this new technology.
Makers in Education
Another big topic of discussion at the National Maker Faire was the importance of making and hands-on learning in education. Hands-on learning is a great way to make abstract concepts relevant and to get kids engaged in their education. For example, activities like building circuit boards or writing code for robots are powerful ways to engage students in the all-important STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) subjects. At the “Making in Communities and Education” panel, educators talked about the importance of giving their students access to opportunities to become makers. Making and tinkering is in the spirit of everyone, and it’s important to let kids explore and unlock their own creativity. And innovation has always been an important part of both the American culture and the American economy.
Another issue that was brought up during the panel is the benefits of formal versus informal education for teaching maker skills. While the educators agreed that hands-on learning in the classroom is great, they also acknowledged that bureaucracy, strict curricular standards, and budget often get in the way. Informal education — such as afternoon, weekend, and summer programs outside of school — can be an alternative avenue for helping kids find their maker passion. The best scenario is when there is a partnership between informal learning environments and the schools. I personally remember the positive impact that hands-on learning experiences had on me in school, and it was inspiring to hear educators talk so passionately about their own teaching experiences.
Side note: During the speaker panels, there was a woman on the stage creating live infographics of the presentations. I’d heard of this before, but I’d never seen it in action. It was very cool. Here is a (mediocre) picture that I snapped of her work:
Her name is Stephanie Brown, and you can check out her work at @StephScribes.
Attending National Maker Faire was quite an interesting experience. I left feeling inspired by the work of all the innovators and creators. I look forward to seeing what they will have come up with next year.