As I joined the crowds to enter last weekend’s World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) in Queens, one of my first memorable encounters was with The Sashimi Tabernacle Choir, an old Volvo adorned with more than 250 computer-controlled 250 plastic fish and lobsters, singing and dancing to a repertoire spanning pop music to high opera. The car, the creation of a physicist and more than thirty volunteers, is one of the many crowd-pleasing – and technologically virtuosic – features of this “showcase of creative and cool technology that celebrates the DIY mindset” that is the brainchild of Dale Dougherty, general manager of the Maker Media Division of O’Reilly Media.
As one might expect, the Volvo, along with such mega-attractions as a life-sized, human-powered version of the Mousetrap game, attracted the attention of many of the thousands who poured through the Faire gates and roamed around the outside grounds and inside halls of NYSCI. But there were as many—perhaps more—people clustered around the the various ‘maker’ booths and pavilions where individual makers displayed their prowess and invited people of all ages to try their hands at making robots, building a miniature city, powering a doorbell, or creating a compost heap.
“Making” celebrates the growing do-it-yourself movement that includes students, artists, scientists, crafters, engineers, organic gardeners, and software developers. And the World Maker Faire brings members of this growing, diverse community of amateur and professional tinkerers, geeks, and artists together for a weekend of ‘serious fun,’ through performance, interactive learning, demonstrations, and presentations by some of the leaders in the field.
Maker Faires began in the Bay Area five years ago, and they are now a global phenomenon. In 2010, The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, and the New York Hall of Science hosted their first World Maker Faires, repeating them this year. [NYSCI hosted a post-Faire, NSF-funded workshop in September 2010 that brought together more than 80 education, STEM, and arts leaders to consider ways in which the Maker movement could spur learning innovation in- and out-of-school. Smaller, community-centered ‘maker spaces’ are sprouting up all over the country.
Why is ‘making’ important?
In April, 2009, in a speech at the national Academies of Science, President Obama said, “I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent—to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.” Maker activities foster the hands-on, interest-driven learning and exploration that characterizes learning that “sticks”.
Francisco D’Souza, NYSCI board member, World Maker Faire sponsor, and CEO of Cognizant, a Fortune 500 company specializing in information services, is spearheading a corporate foundation initiative on “Making the Future.” At one of the Faire presentations, he stated that “making is inspirational, hands-on, project-based learning that we need not only for STEM but for all types of learning, especially creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.” Tom Kalil, deputy director of the White House Science and Technology Policy, emphasized the historic and current role of grass roots innovation in giving the United States a competitive edge in the global economy. “We need to get our children excited about meeting the ‘grand challenges’ of the 21st century,” he said, and the ‘making’ mindset showcases and promotes that kind of enthusiasm and drive.
For IMLS, the maker movement exemplifies the creativity, technological proficiency, innovative problem solving, and STEM learning that characterize the 21st century skills that our people need and that our museums and libraries can promote. In July, we awarded a Museums for America grant to the New York Hall of Science. Queens Makes will extend the Maker Faire spirit among the makers and families of the diverse ethnic and cultural communities of Queens throughout the year, fostering invention, design, and experimental problem solving through a partnership between NYSCI, the Queens Museum of Art and borough residents. The results are sure to rival those singing sashimi.