Maker Faire New York

Outside the auditorium, in between the rockets and the trapeze artists, a twenty six-foot tall remote-controlled metal hand was crushing cars for fun. Under a series of nearby tents educators, entrepreneurs, and engineers demonstrated their latest inventions, pitted robots against each other in combat, and taught programming to grade schoolers lucky enough to have been brought to what is billed as “The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth.” There is a unique sort of energy when 90,000 nerds get together to share what they’ve been working on with each other (the other “flagship” event in San Francisco brings in upwards of 125,000, and there are smaller events all over the world in all seasons). This subculture nurtures enthusiasm for the weird and offbeat as well as the useful and world-changing. A booth for making puppets from recycled materials feels right at home next to display showing off a student-built micro satellite.

A quick note: the notion of Making and Maker Faires, while based on some old ideas, specifically refers to a modern method of using both traditional and new technologies (woodworking, 3D printing, electronics etc.) to enable students of all ages to build useful projects or media materials while learning new skills and teaching them to others. It is a fundamentally collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach to learning that encourages people to explore, fail, share ideas, and when they’re done, seek new challenges. This sort of problem-solving work is critical for students entering today’s education and workforce markets; these are skills that cannot be taught to robots, and are not generally included in traditional modes of instruction, but are almost universally sought after by employers.

I spent the first day of World Maker Faire this year mostly inside the auditorium, listening to the Education Forum series of talks and panels about the changing nature of education and how the practice of making could be harnessed to address these sorts of gaps in our student’s current experience. And while some schools have embraced the possibilities of this movement – for instance, MIT encourages applicants to submit a Maker Portfolio detailing “projects that require creative insight, technical skill, and a hands-on approach to learning by doing” – most schools and school districts remain attached to the traditional mode of merely dispensing information and then testing students on how well they retained it.

At the Open Lab we have been attending events like World Maker Faire in order to build up a broad base of experience and knowledge in these new technologies and techniques. Do you have an idea for a new multi-modal project, or a curiosity about what sorts of new tools are available? You can contact our staff through our online request form, or email us at open-lab@pitt.edu.

[ Photo credit: Maker Faire New York. ]