How can we give more kids the opportunity to make things and bring them to exhibit at events like Maker Faire? That was the question asked first by Tony DeRose of Pixar, who realized how much he and his family enjoyed working on a project and exhibiting it at Maker Faire, and he and his family wanted to help provide a similar opportunity for others. In collaboration with Tony and the Exploratorium, we’ve organized the Young Makers Program, starting first in the Bay Area in 2010. In our second year we introduced the idea of local “Maker Clubs.” Meeting at schools or in a parent-run garage or workshop, 60 young makers and 30 adult volunteers participated in 20 or so clubs, and approximately 40 project teams exhibited at Bay Area Maker Faire 2011. In 2012 there were approximately 150 participants exhibiting 80 projects.
If you are a kid who loves sports, or drama, or music, there are well established communities for you to connect with. Not so for makers: over the last several decades as shop classes have closed and more of life has moved on-line, there are fewer opportunities for kids to make things in the real world. The Young Makers Program intends to bridge that gap by creating infrastructure, resources, and communities of makers.
We’re building a community that brings together like-minded young people, adult mentors, and fabrication facilities. Mentors help Young Makers find a project vision if they don’t already have one, and then work with youth to realize that vision. Along the way mentors expose the underlying math, science, and engineering principles behind the projects and teach tool usage and safety. Collectively the members and mentors foster a collaborative culture of creativity, innovation, and experimentation. Maker Faire becomes the deadline and offers a stage for the resulting projects to be exhibited and explained. Monthly regional meetings are used to build the kind of collaborative culture we feel is crucial to the program. Namely, an open-ended culture that encourages cross-disciplinary projects that meld math, science, and art, and a culture that teaches the importance of trial and error as a means to success.
Each monthly meeting consist of three parts. The first has come to be called Open MAKE, which is an opportunity to rub shoulders with makers who work with a wide variety of materials. It is also a chance to do some skills building, such as learning to solder, designing through sketching, or honing your prototyping skills using materials such as cardboard, foam core, Legos, or clay. The second part is called “plussing”, a term used at Pixar to mean find something interesting about an idea and make it better. Plussing sessions allow project teams to share their in-progress projects with other participants. Plussing sessions also provide teams practice talking about their project vision, the challenges they are facing, and how they intend overcome them. The final part of the monthly meetings are talks by a few Featured Makers who are accomplished individuals from extremely diverse backgrounds.
The Young Makers Program is different in several ways from other activities such as robotics competitions and science fairs. In particular, there are no winners and losers, and the projects are cross-disciplinary and youth-driven. And, just like Maker Faire, anything that’s cool is fair game.
The Young Makers program started as a pilot at the Exploratorium, with about 20 kids in its first year. Because they were scattered geographically, the next step for the program was to encourage participants from the pilot club to create clubs in their own local neighborhoods. By seeding new clubs in this way and finding some new club managers too, the program grew to about 100 Young Makers in the second year. The Exploratorium then was no longer a club site, but a “hub” for a dozen clubs around the Bay Area.
As the Maker movement in general and the Young Makers program in particular gains traction and interest in more regions, we expect that more and more regional hubs will emerge. If you’d like to find out more about starting a hub in your region, we’d love to hear from you. Just contact us.