Maker Corps: A Second Year in the Making

by Cassandra Stephens, Maker Corps G+ Community Facilitator

Cassandra was a Maker Corps member last year, and is currently our Maker Corps Google+ Community Facilitator. In this series of blog posts, she writes about her experience with the Maker Corps program.

In its second year, Maker Ed’s Maker Corps program continues to strive towards the vision of “Every Child a Maker.”  In 2013, the program reached over 90,000 children and families and sparked making in new communities throughout the U.S.

Maker Corps has remained similar to its pilot year. The five-week training is hosted entirely online where Maker Ed staff conducts weekly camp “hangouts” on Google +. Administrative staff, Maker Corps members and lauded guests join these online hangouts to discuss collaboratively-selected topics such as “Tools and Materials” or “Documentation and Curriculum Development.” Often set up as communal tinkering sessions with round-table discussions, the hangout is broadcast online so the rest of the community can participate in real-time. Outside of these Hangouts, lively conversation occurs in the Google+ community, which is a constant hive of activity. Maker Corps members post photos of their projects such as jumping art bots, buzzing MaKey MaKey instruments, LED pet bling or intricate light-up paper art. Acting as both a network and a form of documentation, the Maker Corps Google+ page connects members from across the nation as they reflect upon their work.

Scrolling through all of these posts is like mining an 18th century treasure trove; you are constantly amazed by the quantity, quality and diversity of projects. You will find resources that give tips on engineering facilitation with young learners, advanced instructions for the Galileo (a programmable computer interface), or a close-up snapshot of a frustrated maker with the caption, “grunt, growl, grr.” Capturing finished projects and sketched ideas alike, the community boasts an inclusive atmosphere that is not hindered by unwanted competitions. Beginner projects are proudly posted next to complex prototypes that require time and training to complete; there is no unspoken hierarchy and Maker Corps members from all backgrounds are encouraged to participate. Instilled with a common love for making, the members are driven to support each other and even collaborate despite their jagged time zones and disparity of experience levels. Encouraging +1’s dot the home page posts and “I LOVE this!” comments appear frequently. The Maker Corps Google+ page is a marvel of the digital age: a tight-knit group separated by 3,000 miles, a disparity of ages and a discrepancy of backgrounds.

This is a big difference from the program’s first year. After participating in the program as an educator trainee, or Maker Corps Member, last spring and coming back again as a Community Facilitator this year, I have had the privilege of watching the organization develop. Maker Ed frequently acknowledge the demanding schedules of students and encourage members to hop on or off the community accordingly. To embody this flexible attitude one week’s Google hangout was even conducted as a drop-in discussion panel. With such an emphasis on flexibility, the members have adapted the program to fit their lifestyle. Students will post about finals and their “productive procrastination” projects or they drop in on Google hangouts as they catch the bus home. The program now fluidly fits into people’s lives and it adapts to changing circumstances without feeling restricted by a forced curriculum.

As the program prepares to finish its second year this summer, educators across the country look forward to the change Maker Corps members will affect.

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