Maker Corps 2016 at Children’s Museum of Houston

Maker Ed is so excited to welcome Children’s Museum of Houston as a Maker Corps Partner Site in 2016. For the fourth year of Maker Corps, Maker Ed will collaborate with more than forty organizations across the globe to host Maker Corps Members throughout the summer to bring maker activities and approaches to the communities that they serve. Below is a glimpse into what Maker Corps will look like at Children’s Museum of Houston. If you are interested in spending the summer at the Children’s Museum, apply now to become a Maker Corps Member.

Everyone is a Maker: An Update of the Chevron Maker Annex at the Children’s Museum of Houston

By Christie Rodriguez, Maker Challenge Coordinator at the Children’s Museum of Houston

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It was a Thursday afternoon and I’d found myself sitting in room filled with teenagers from Booker T. Washington High School, each student prepared to Make in the Chevron Maker Annex at the Children’s Museum of Houston. At first, I observed these students from afar chatting amongst themselves, probably about a Facebook post their friend made or about that Tumblr meme that just went viral… You know, teenager stuff. Boy was I completely wrong. As I listened in on their conversation, I was amazed at what I heard: What spring constant will we calculate today for our mass measuring device? Where is that box of springs we measured last week? What materials are fair-game for our contraption? Can I use the hot glue gun? I know where it is. These students were actively collaborating, asking thought-provoking questions, and were excited to be in their makerspace for another time – and the event had just started! What student asks these questions after they’ve left school for the day?! From the time I spent with the high schoolers, I’m convinced that places like the Maker Annex help instill an irrevocable excitement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in youth today. The opportunities that students have to tinker, improve, build, and engineer has excited me about the endless possibilities for their futures. When I was a teenager, the only question I could muster before afterschool activities was: Will there be food? My parents must have been so proud.

Deep in (the heart of) the Children’s Museum of Houston lies the Invention Convention exhibit, sponsored by the David and Jean Wiley Foundation. This exhibit provides visitors with self-directed opportunities to explore their creative side through specific invention challenges and open-ended tinkering opportunities.  Children have plenty of opportunities to: make things, modify things, brainstorm individually and communally, use trial and error, and have fun. People of all ages experience the invention and problem solving processes through various activities and programs held in the Invention Convention.

During the summer of 2014, the Children’s Museum of Houston partnered with Chevron to open the Maker Annex (a part of the Invention Convention exhibit), a 450-square foot makerspace designed to foster creation, collaboration, and experimentation, while promoting STEM-related applications. The Chevron Maker Annex is a place for students to invent, construct and showcase their work. The space encourages makers to tap into their creative potential with access to resources such as 3D printing, casting, programming with Arduino and Scratch, building and soldering circuits, robotics, animation, game development, circuit bending, laser cutting and more. Each workshop is designed to expose participants to a handful of tools and materials, while providing them with a safe and fun work environment.

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Since it opened, thousands of students from 2nd – 12th grade have participated in workshops at the Chevron Maker Annex, including Girl Scout troops, Neighborhood Centers Incorporated programs, Wesley Community Center groups, public and private school classes, as well as many Museum visitors. Collectively, these youth have created many interesting projects including: rubber band-propelled laser-cut racecars, 3D-printed Lego figurines atop vac-u-form pedestals, woodworked nail art, LED-illuminated signs, home-made videogame controllers, and many other fun fabrications! The projects that students get to work on are all fun and exciting, but they all focus on STEM-related concepts that can be applied to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirements that they are expected to learn in school. In high school, I remember getting excited about building DNA replicas out of pretzels and marshmallows (mainly because I got to eat the left-over supplies).

The incorporation of Making in classrooms across America has led to an important and prolific transition in our education system. In anticipation of furthering the Maker Movement, the Children’s Museum has partnered with Chevron and the Houston Texans football team in an exciting new event: The Maker STEM Challenge. The Challenge serves to imbibe team-work, cooperation, and resourcefulness, while giving 6th, 7th, and 8th grade teachers and students the opportunity to enhance their learning atmosphere with an interesting STEM class project during the 2016-2017 school year. I can’t wait to see what these kids come up with!

If you are still nebulous on the Maker Movement or are questioning the effectiveness of Making in the classroom, I urge you to visit the Children’s Museum of Houston. I beg you to walk through the main-floor exhibits (they’re all wonderfully interesting), find the staircase leading to the basement, and walk through the Invention Convention gates. I implore you to test out your design skills as you create a rocket and launch it towards targets. I dare you to program a robot to do the hokey pokey (that’s what it’s all about, right?). I lastly ask that you visit the Chevron Maker Annex and observe the student groups that actively using their imagination, generating ideas, inventing new concepts, innovating pre-existing technologies, playing with their surroundings, learning through experimentation, collaborating with their peers, and sharing solutions to common, everyday problems.  No, there will not be food, however you will witness the excitement and curiosity that the Makerspace brings out in children. That will be far more satiating. I promise.

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