The Bay Area Maker Faire took place this past weekend in San Mateo, Calif., bringing together a collection of tinkerers, experimenters, researchers and developers looking to share what can be made with a little ingenuity for a small cost.
Looking at the schedule of the show and seeing what had took place in previous years, I surmised that it would be a fun event for my two young girls — one that a nine-year-old third grader, the other a five year old in transitional kindergarten. I hoped it would be a way to expand their interest in something that they don’t get exposed to on a regular basis.
I have been trying to get them more interested in STEAM (science, technology, electronics, arts, math) activities slowly in an effort to hopefully, gradually, generate an organic interest. I have already achieved some success with my older daughter in watching the PBS show “NOVA” on her own and she seems to enjoy the awesome engineering feats they present in a documentary style format. We also have a drone she enjoys piloting, and she is very anxious to experience and learn about new technology.
My younger daughter loves to create anything from buildings for her toys, to puzzles or cardboard animals. And because her sister enjoys technology she at the least pretends to like it too. So the Faire seemed like it would be a home run.
When we arrived, I quickly realized it would be a struggle between getting their hands on cool stuff to tinker with and the weapons of mass distraction everywhere. Surrounding us was everything from a giant robot, to cars that look like something from “Alice in Wonderland,” or even crazy, imaginative bikes they could ride.
Luckily, these distractions were fleeting and it turns out that tinkering with a simple assembly board connected to batteries is far more fun. These types of hands-on experiments are everywhere at the Maker Faire. It involves a simple battery board with alligator clips that can be connected to other boards that are activated when connected. This could be a small motor, LED, a speaker that plays music, or even makeshift robots.
Had I allowed them, they probably would have stayed at these most of the day. But with so much more to see, we moved on and found the black-out tent where numerous creations involving lights reside. My oldest quickly found she wanted to do more tinkering and took part in making a light box picture project. This involved a cardboard box with a backlight projecting images through the box. Again, a simple battery powers the device that is connected via alligator wires. She then added a plastic crab, a see-through star and spinning wheel to create a pretty cool image. Later, she would tell me this was her favorite part of the show.
Meanwhile, my five-year old found much to do in the black-out tent, playing in a gigantic LED forest, dancing to the rainbow spotlights and enjoying seeing the colors change shape on a makeshift LED dance floor.
Soon it was time to move on, and we went to another maker tent complete with an amazing LEGO City, a functioning LEGO marble factory and, maybe, the largest collection of Legos that the girls could use to construct their own creations, taking up way too much of the short time we had at the Faire. Both girls told me later they regretted spending too long building Legos and not doing other things we missed.
What we didn’t miss was creating a DIY bubble blowing tool made of string and chopsticks, seeing the inner workings of a DIY pinball machine, watching a submersible drone in action and life-sized cupcakes on wheels struggling to make headway against a huge crowd, discovering a pyrotechnic beating heart and a metal octopus that can be controlled using spinning nobs and much more. We even found the time to take a ride in a snail car.
While the visuals definitely were more of an eye grabber, the two couldn’t stop talking about being able to use electronics to connect objects and, of course, when we could go back. Not surprisingly, they were saddened to hear they had to wait an entire year for the Faire to return.
In the meantime, I’m seriously thinking of investing in one of the numerous creation kits that were on display and are available online in order to continue to foster STEAM thinking and continue their love to creation.