The Buzz of Young Makers at Maker Faire 2015

Can you still feel the buzz? In addition to the shouts of joy and roaring bursts of gas-powered flames, there is always an energetic humming that surrounds Maker Faire Bay Area. This year, that buzz — for 3 days! — drew a lot of its inspiration and energy from young makers. The number of youth showcasing their own unique work at Maker Faire 2015 was downright thrilling, so much so that the production team opened up a whole new area to help accommodate their presence.

Young Makers - Paper MacheMaker Ed’s Young Makers program area welcomed 97 projects, made by 272 youth and supported by 162 mentors, to Maker Faire in 2015. Exhibiting in the northeast corner of Sequoia Hall, right next to the awe-inspiring installation of Tapigami, Young Makers situated themselves with their intricate and innovative projects — some small, some huge, some simple in concept, some complex in execution, all impressive. Throughout Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, if you walked past, there were likely 6-12 projects being shown off at the same time on tabletops, outside along the sidewalk, and even roaming throughout the Faire itself. Hailing from all over northern California (American Canyon, Yolo, and the greater Bay Area) and the Central Valley too, Young Makers represented small family groups, afterschool and community-centered clubs, school groups, and neighborhood clubs. Young Makers spent months working on their unique projects, relevant to their communities and individual interests, and they showcased them in beautiful ways at Maker Faire, often engaging visitors in hands-on interactive experiences. At regional gatherings in April, there were glimpses of these projects-in-progress, and it was delightful to see the prototypes transformed into displays of innovation, effort, and clear thought.

Projects spanned the spectrum from textiles and food to sustainable energy, farming, robotics, sports, architecture, and crafts. At Maker Ed, we often emphasize to educators and facilitators that making is inclusive of all types of creation, invention, and tinkering, and our Young Makers showcased that in the best ways. Almost all of the projects exhibited are included in our 2015 Young Makers @ Maker Faire Project Gallery, with just a few highlights below. They were ALL so good and celebrated Young Makers’ curiosities, interests, and abilities.

A pair of brothers from the South Bay drew inspiration for their projects from books and gift shop toys, resulting in mini homemade catapults (that secretly revealed physics and material properties!) and a rideable swivel car. Most adults stalled on the swivel car, going nowhere fast, but kids navigated the masking tape racetrack with speed and finesse.

A group of San Francisco high-schoolers from June Jordan School of Equity brought a fully functional skeeball machine, whose scoreboard was powered by a well-programmed Arduino. The project stopped visitors at the door to Sequoia Hall, as they were unable to resist playing a favorite old-school arcade game.

Young Makers - Skeeball

The Board of Advising Youth for The Mix, a new teen center at the San Francisco Public Library, kicked off Saturday morning and started the buzz — with their teen advisors engaging visitors in buttonmaking! A few cranks here and there, coupled with some carefully chosen graphics from recycled comics and magazines (and even other Maker Faire swag) — and voila! A button like no other in the world.

Young Makers - RichmondA crew of Young Makers brought an entire menagerie of amazing papier mache animals, including a t-rex, alien, penguin, and dragon headset. Those creations were just as awesome as the range of projects that the Richmond District YMCA/LEAP STEM Program built, which included a complex computer game, a pinball-type board game (that was a lot harder than it looked!), and probably the best cardboard/human fortune teller ever imagined. Most visitors walked away, giggling delightfully at their fortunes.

Thanks to generous support from our Google RISE award, some Young Makers and mentors had an opportunity to visit Google for tour in early March. Two of our youngest makers created individual versions of their own self-driving cars, complete with LEDs for decorations and a bunny passenger. Other makers, including many from the Davidson Middle School Maker Club, created small-scale, functional versions of R2D2, realistic RC car models, and quadcopters and tricopters.

Young Makers - Prom DressInspired yet? There wasn’t a single project, out of the 97 presented, that didn’t spark ideas, pride, and awe. Project Hacked Skateboards took 2 very normal-looking, almost plain skateboards and created one version that spewed sparks and another with a seat! Some Young Makers designed and built gorgeous handmade, wooden creations — boxes with secret compartments, cutting boards, and music boxes.

A few Young Makers veterans, back for their second, third, and fourth Maker Faires, returned with fine-tuned skills and new ideas. One made a Desktop Mini Aquaponic system that readily grew a healthy crop of basil while a fish happily cycled nutrients and water back and forth. Another designed a gorgeous, flowing prom dress, complete with steady stitches and a perfect zipper, for her sister, who made a fully functional touchscreen tablet, controlled by a Raspberry Pi.

Techbridge brought a number of incredible projects, including The Ultrasonic Celestial Eye, designed to help the blind navigate their surroundings, is a shoe that used ultrasonic sensors to detect objects within a 10-foot radius and servos to send warning vibrations.

There were so many unique projects, all truly youth-driven. In a simple post-event survey, it was no surprise that one Young Maker wrote —

Young Makers survey snapshotAnd we couldn’t agree more with LA Makerspace’s Tweet —

Young Makers Tweet

Maker Ed’s Young Makers program is made possible by the generous, ongoing support of Oracle, the Google RISE Award, and funds from the Google Bay Area Impact Challenge. It was also bolstered, refined, and expanded through the dedication of our Bay Area partners, who hosted Regional Coordinators through small seed grants this season, including Bay Area Video Coalition, Girl Scouts of Northern California, and YWCA Silicon Valley. With their insight, connections, and energy, the program reached new and wonderful communities this year. Lighthouse Community Charter School, whose Young Makers have their own exhibits at Maker Faire these days, continues to be an incredible host and partner as well.

Stay tuned for more Young Makers news — outside of the Bay Area! — in the upcoming months.

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