THE MAKER FAIRE AS A WHOLE
One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last two weeks it that planning an event takes a lot of time, communication, cooperation, and most importantly execution. My cohort and I put together a Mini Maker Faire on MSU’s campus on Thursday that we only had a week to plan. Fortunately, we were able to pull ourselves together and plan a Faire that had four stations run by partners, each with different ‘maker’ activities that people could take part in over the course of two hours.
- #1 was making paper circuit nametags
- #2 (our station) was building towers out of spaghetti and marshmallows
- #3 was exploring circuitry with Squishy Circuits
- #4 was building towers that could stand up to wind
OUR BOOTH AT THE MAKER FAIRE
Our purpose: The main purpose of our booth was to encourage problem solving and explore engineering concepts, using hands-on learning to build a tower. When learners hear, see, or in our case try something, they build new knowledge on top of their background knowledge (“Constructivism,” 2016).
Our learning objective: At our booth, students will explore the design process and learn about engineering principles (including trusses and cross braces). They will use this knowledge to build as tall a tower as they can. The essential question that we based our booth of of was “How can I create a tall and stable structure out of spaghetti and marshmallows?” This was a remixed version of Dorothy Hains Elementary Straw Tower Challenge.
Our making objective (or as I called it, ‘The Challenge’): Architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (builder of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai), is looking for engineers for their newest skyscraper project. They’ve decided to hire three people, and will make their choice based on who creates the tallest of each model: the triangle tower, the rectangle tower, and the square tower. Using the supplies provided, build the tallest possible freestanding tower that you can. If you manage to hold first place by the end of the Faire, you might very well find yourself with a new job!
Below is our lesson plan to help you recreate the activity!
We also have a crazy-looking brainstorming document where we wrote down anything and everything throughout the process.
Pictures of Progress & the Faire
My partner Sarah has a video at the bottom of her post about the Maker Faire of her trying out the building process when we first started. We had initially chosen to use straws and marshmallows, but after her experiences and some input from preliminary testers, we decided to change to spaghetti.
Our preliminary testers:
Our event participants:
I see a lot of value in the maker movement as a paradigm for teaching and learning. It melds well with a constructivist viewpoint as I mentioned above. The maker movement also allows students to explore complex ideas and use the energy and creativity they have stored in their incredible minds. Being able to explore and play in that way leads to divergent thinking and insightful, beautiful, and potentially world-changing questions (Berger, 2016).
I would say that the most important thing I learned about teaching, learning, and tech through doing this Maker Faire project was that I need to incorporate more lessons and activities that are hands on and encourage critical thinking and problem solving. I think hands-on learning is important because it gives students a chance to explore and experience without first being told how to do something.
Students need to struggle a bit and maybe even get stuck before they are ready to be taught (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).
In this way, they start to build problem solving skills all on their own as they work through finding a solution. I plan to include a lot more opportunities to ‘struggle’ moving forward than I have in the past.
Some advice I would give to others interested in using making activities at an event or in the classroom:
- Leave plenty of time to plan the event (at least two months)
- Communicate often with your planning committee and others you plan to involve in the event
- Let your attendees (or students) struggle, don’t give them all the answers
- Don’t be afraid to fail (because you might, and that is ok!)
I have to be honest here and say that this was a really challenging project for me that wasn’t one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. I am not a planner, and communication is a skill I struggle with. Combine those two together, and planning an entire Maker Faire seems almost impossible. However, we did get it done and I do feel like I contributed my fair share. I offered help where I thought it was needed, and accomplished tasks both for the entire team and for my own booth.
I’d say the most important thing I learned is that at some point, you have to move on to the execution stage of planning. I think many of us felt overwhelmed with the number of tasks we had to accomplish, and nobody wanted to step on anybody else’s toes. We focused in really hard on the aspects of the plan that could be done individually and from our comfort zone, and sort of neglected more physical things that needed to be done (like checking out the library, or making good signs).
Berger, W. (2016). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough
ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school: Expanded edition. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Constructivism. (2016, September 08). Retrieved from https://www.learning-theories.com/constructivism.html