Young Makers at the Exploratorium

Last Saturday, we had the first Open MAKE day at the Exploratorium as part of the Young Makers program. The day’s program focused on hands-on activities for building circuits.

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The program also featured BlinkyBugs and Bristlebots and welcomed their makers, Ken Murphy of Blinkybug.com, and Windell Oskay and Lenore Edman of Evil Mad Scientists Laboratories. lenore-windell-ken.jpg
(photo courtesy of Kent Barnes.)

Ken, Windell, and Lenore presented their work in the McBean Theatre and took questions from the audience. Ken also talked about his video installation at the Exploratorium, based on a camera he’s mounted on top of the building. It’s called History of the Sky, an array of these daily videos. (The video rig that he built is featured in MAKE, Volume 21.) Windell and Lenore presented a slideshow of their work, a fascinating catalog of work, from Cylon pumpkins to custom-printed Valentine’s cakes. I didn’t realize how much they like to play with food. Gever Tulley of The Tinkering School was in the audience and joined us onstage to answer a few questions.

A parent asked what kind of education they’d recommend for a child who likes to make things. Ken answered that he’d not been sure what he wanted from school, entering as an art major and ending up with a BA in film. Windell has a Ph.D in atomic experimental physics, and worked in a lab until deciding that he wanted to do something on his own. Lenore had a BA in English and Greek. Gever answered that he didn’t have a formal education past eighth grade, but sought out people he could apprentice with. His first job was programming in assembly code. It shows you just how many paths there are, and the idea is to figure out which one is best for you.

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Some of the folks from the Learning Studio at the Exploratorium built creative playfields for the bristlebots to explore. The young makers were soon tinkering with their robots to optimize them for the playfield. (I was really impressed by how much having a playfield changed how you’d think of building the bot.)

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We also had a sampling of makers who will be at this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire, including Fun with Robotics from Oakland. This after-school program brought a scorpion robot who’s stinger could pop rather helpless balloons.

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Nicole Catrett, who works at the Exploratium, brought a stroboscope that she’d built. It’s a rather simple but amazing device in which a toy motor keeps a disc moving in front of a camera. The disc has a slit in it so that each time it passes in front of the lens, it allows a new image to be recorded.

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Here’s a photo of a young boy tossing a deck of cards.

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You can look through the collection of these photos on Flickr at FlyingPiano.

However, most of the day’s activity can be summed up by seeing hands grasping tools and materials and young makers intently focusing on the project in front of them, such as building a circuit and lighting an LED.

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The next Open MAKE program at the Exploratorium will be on February 27.

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

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