The Global Cardboard Challenge happens in piles of boxes around the world this Saturday, October 11th. Craft your own arcade!
Some kids discover the Maker movement with their head already full of ideas for projects they want to realize. Other kids need a little nudge, some way to focus on a subset of The Wide World of Whatever You Want. In this edition of Finding Starter Projects, we offer you the focus imposed by an external deadline: a challenge, a contest, or some kind of due date. Sometimes when you can make anything, you end up making nothing at all. We don’t want that! Let’s give our new makers a few clues to get started, some kind of shared focus.
In our last post, we shared sets of projects that have been designed or culled by a single author or institution in order to introduce new makers to a wide range of creative practices, and we’ve also focused on project starters made by Make:, project databases, and free software.
In Young Makers, we often like to remind our clubs that it’s about exhibition, not competition. Nonetheless, a lot of kids are motivated by being a part of something bigger with a deadline and a lot of pomp and circumstance celebrating the achievements of the participants.Our teachers have found that these work very well to give their new makers a shared vocabulary and camaraderie in their makerspace.
There are too many contests, deadlines, and dates to list here, but we know teachers and young makers who have participated in the following.
- BotBall: This competition has been praised by our teachers as a lower-bar alternative to more well-known, higher-priced tournaments.
- BROADCOM Masters: Ben Hylak, a teenager we know who is also fierce advocate for Maker Faire, rode his telepresence robot all the way from his Pennsylvania hometown to the White House Science Fair.
- Cognizant’s Making the Future design-based scholarship program recognizes originality and creativity in STEM-based projects.
- Destination Imagination (and its Global Finals) has long shared its whimsical project challenges through Maker Faire.
- FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) and FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), FIRST LEGO League (FLL) and JrFLL: FIRST has long been a powerhouse of robotics education, but joining this program is no easy feat! Be ready for lots of build sessions and even more fundraising. Fans of FIRST confirm that all the extra effort is 100% worth the work.
- Friday After Thanksgiving (FAT) at MIT is a hilarious, collaborative chain reaction event held annually on the day after, you guessed it, the 4th Thursday of November. Hosted by Makers Arthur Ganson and Jeff Lieberman and witnessed by more than 1,500 people who come from as far away as Michigan and California, participants range “from Girl Scout troops to artists and engineers, from MIT clubs to high schools and family teams.”
- Global Cardboard Challenge An annual event inspired by Caine’s Arcade, you can “play” anytime! This weekend: October 11th
- Google Science Fair: Sure, the competition is steep, but who can resist seeing what amazing, ambitious projects have sprung up from the busy neurons of young scientists and entrepreneurs around the world? We’ve hosted groups of finalists from the competition on Maker Camp, and they are lovely as well as talented!
- Instructables contests: These get changed up continuously so keep an eye out for one that fits what you are doing, and, let’s face it, contributing to this enormous resource is a skill every Maker should acquire.
- Intel International Science and Engineering Fair: like the Google Science Fair, this predecessor is chock-full of inspiration and cash prizes if you have a genius on your hands
- Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize honors promising young inventors around the country with recognition and $10-15K: the majority of team members must be undergraduates.
- MESA (Mathematics Science Engineering Achievement) hosts national competitions and more local / regional MESA Days elevated 72 winners from a pool of 49,000 largely low-income middle- and high-school students.
- Mini Maker Faires in your local community are an excellent way to share your students’ work, and they have their own set of quite inflexible deadlines for application and final exhibition. If your students aren’t done in time to show, they can work on their projects on-site at Maker Faire, and/or suffer the mild embarrassment (or intense shame!) of not achieving their project goal.
- NEED Project’s Annual Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement recognizes projects
- National Young Game Inventors Contest (NYGIC) for your kids who love to play and make up their own boardgames Deadline: October 15th
- RoboGames: An early staple of the first few Maker Faires, this is a force of its own. The Junior League has medal winners in seven categories: Lego (Bowling, Linefollow, TubePush, and Open), Sumo, Combat, and Best of Show.
- Rube Goldberg Machine Contest (RGMC) challenges student teams around the world from middle school on up to compete in building the most elaborate and hilarious Rube Goldberg Machine.
- Science Olympiad: 7,000 teams from all 50 states compete track-meet style in 23 team events that emphasize active, hands-on group participation.
- SparkLab Invent It! Challenge on ePals: Winners get a patent filed for their invention
- The Tech Challenge: I appreciate a lot of things about this design contest, but one thing in particular I like is how this challenge is judged. The score emerges not just from the in-the-moment performance of the device the team designs, but also a review of the team’s process and journal.
- Vex Robotics: Another pricier robotics system, it is quite popular with those who choose this competition over the far more intensely competitive FIRST universe.
Not interested in subjecting your students to the stresses of competition, contests, and deadlines? Even if you don’t participate in these programs, take a look at what these groups are doing. You can also look to the contest rules and winners for inspirational project sparks you can adapt to your club or classroom.
What did we miss? Tell us!
Check out our earlier posts in this series:
Be sure to check out the growing resource library built by our friends at the Maker Education Initiative.
What’s your favorite resource for making projects? Add to our list by commenting below.
This week’s eclipse, anim. by Tomruen / earthsky.org
Looking for pointers to protect your pupils before the partial solar eclipse? Read on.
The lunar eclipse Wednesday morning kicks off a series of blood moons, just in time to get in the Halloween spirit. Set your alarm clocks: you have to get up before the crack of dawn to witness this extraterrestrial marvel.
But then…. when the Moon swings around to the other side of the Earth in a little less than two weeks, most of the United States (and Mexico) get a peek at a partial solar eclipse on Thursday, October 23rd! (Sorry, New England! Looks like you’ll miss it.)
I have such fond memories of the last partial solar eclipse in my region, which peaked as we packed up at the end of Maker Faire Bay Area 2012. The sun snuck behind the moon, and the scene dimmed and was infused with the magic of this rare moment. Through every tiny hole, spooky crescent projections appeared. Thousands of natural apertures made by overlapping leaves created especially delightful shadows, as on the outer walls of Paleotool’s Vardo caravan trailer, pictured below.
Those final few moments of the event coincided with a partial solar eclipse viewable in San Mateo. Joy of joys, fabulous Maker Club Love & Rockets, far more prepared for this great coincidence of Makers and sunworshippers than I was, handed me a pair of paperboard and plastic solar viewing glasses that I continue to cherish and share with others. Love & Rockets’ Natalie van Valkenberg took a great picture of the eclipse through her pair of glasses, right. You can buy five-packs of these to get your whole neighborhood looking up at the sky with you on October 23rd.
I pulled these glasses out for the Transit of Venus a short while after Maker Faire, and I brought them to my sons’ preschool so they could see the event too. I figured four-year-olds aren’t so good at holding them without accidentally taking them off and looking at the sun. (Natalie’s daughter, left, knows what she’s doing.)
So, worried that the silly kiddos wouldn’t pay heed to the instructions, I built something of a welding helmet made out of a box and the glasses. I made a hole in a box and taped the glasses inside the box. The kids put the box around their heads. Below, you’ll find a quick step-by-step of my eclipse glasses box, but now that I think about it it would probably work just as well by just attaching them in the middle of a much larger piece of cardboard. Little kids just have such a hard time keeping their fragile eyes covered since those viewing glasses are so small. I’d be eager to see others’ ideas!
I also brought along a pair of binoculars to use NOT to look at the sun directly but to use to project an image of the venutian eclipse onto a large white paper (which worked quite well, even if the preschool teacher mistook the image of the sun as Venus itself, rather than understanding the dot was the faraway planet. Sigh. Just think of the kids‘ misconceptions I fostered that day!)
You can use welding goggles to view an eclipse as long as you are certain they are rated 15 or higher.
But you don’t need to use fancy equipment to play with and witness this beautiful moment. All you need is a tiny hole. Take a piece of opaque board or foil to project the image of the obscured sun, pinhole-style, onto a flat, white surface the right distance away. Forget your hole at home? You can even make a tiny aperture with a curled finger or fist (as Will of Maker Club Love & Rockets showed us, right), or criss-cross your hands to create a matrix of moonshadows, as our friends at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories demonstrated in 2012, below.
These four sites offer some excellent tips for packing your sun-viewing gear. Click around to start your plan for constructing your tools for seeing this phenomenon (without looking at the sun–so tricky!)
We’ve given you fair warning to build your gear! In exchange for this cosmic courtesy, we ask you to please take photos and video of what you make and how you make it and how it worked so that we can populate Make: with lots of great tips for ecliptical apparati ahead of the next solar eclipses. (I’m “totally” making my plans for a visit to Kentucky/Tennessee in August 2017 right now!)
Add links to your favorite eclipse-viewing tools and your own project write-ups in the comments below.
Tel Makers’ Optical Theremin project made during Maker Camp 2014. (Thanks, Cindy!)
Teachers are looking for projects to get their kids into the Maker movement! Today, we share project sets carefully selected by a few of the many groups who care deeply about making. Together, each of these sets take a stab at something of a “curriculum” — or, if that word makes you bristle, then maybe you could think of each of these project sets as just a plain ol’ good introduction to making.
To compile the lists in this series, we asked teachers where they go to get ideas of what to make in the classroom, and they shared with us a few of their favorite resources.
In this edition of Finding Starter Projects, we share sets of projects that have been designed or culled by a single author or institution. While there are many project sets out there, we like that these introduce students to a wide range of making and engineering. In a future post we’ll share project sites that focus on one particular kind of project (such as single-goal contests and challenges.) In the last post we shared databases you could use to search for Instructables, Make It @ Your Library, Howtosmile, OER Commons, RAFT, and Pinterest.
There are so many wonderful choices, today we’re going to share them alphabetically. Any one of these would be a good place to start, but you’ll find that some of the same projects crop up again and again so you’ll want to pick and choose when you sample from multiple sources.
Community Science Workshops
We have long admired the work of Community Science Workshops, so much so that Make: published the book Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff by one of CSW’s teachers, Curt Gabrielson, pulling together many of their most successful activities that they have been using in communities all over California over the past few decades. I can still feel the light in my heart when I came across their bus at an early Maker Faire, and they had tables full of kids busily building buzzing bees and flapping birds. Their projects use easily obtained materials for great effect.
Iridescent created the Curiosity Machine to bring together scientists, engineers, and kids. Their very attractively designed materials are a delight to read. In addition to the challenges, make sure you take a look at their Curiosity Kit, which includes an overview of their take on the engineering design process (inspiration, plan, build, test, redesign, reflect), mentoring tips, a preparation checklist, and a curriculum planning guide. Challenge categories range widely: aerospace, art of science, biomechanics, biomimicry, civil engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, food science, mechanical engineering, neuroscience, ocean engineering, robotics, and satellite systems.
DIY.org is a site organized around skill-building, with about 115 skills from actor to zoologist. This includes such unusual roles as Darkness Engineer, Yeti, Forager, Radographer, and Tape Ninja. Kids who take on challenges build their skill sets and portfolios while soliciting feedback from their peers and snagging snazzy embroidered patches. The language of the site is open and fun: “When you’re ready to stop getting everything in a bag from the store, you’re a Pioneer. We’re the brave and crazy ones with the skills to provide for ourselves, to make new places, to build our own world.”
I met the folks behind DIY.org as they were getting started a few years back. I was impressed to hear that they weren’t interested in teaming up with any other adults for a while. They weren’t taking funding or any kind of input from others, besides the team of four who founded it. They told me something along the lines of: their priority is listening to the kids, as their primary audience, to start. Partners, grants, investors could all muddy the waters a bit. Now a few years later, this approach clearly has paid off.
Engineering is Elementary
A friend (and former colleague on Makerspace), Joel Rosenberg, worked on a curriculum called Engineering is Elementary. It introduces design challenges only after the teacher first reads a book with a relevant story in a book. Rather than first diving into exploration and tinkering, the kids step back to hear the design constraints of the story (also known as the use case), and only then do they tackle the problem. I really appreciate this approach of giving young makers a narrative into which they can tie their experiences. We live for stories. (And this is part of the reason why we tell stories behind the projects and the makers in our magazine and the blog, so tell us the stories of what your kids make, why, and how.)
Courtesy of The Tinkering Studio
The Exploratorium has long been a go-to source for our teachers for its After School Activities and Snacks, decades before the Maker movement came to be. Some even work with their students to build their own versions of the classic exhibits using the three volumes of Exploratorium Cookbooks. Make:‘s closest collaborators within the museum can be found amongst the heaps of inspiration in The Tinkering Studio. The studio shares their projects on its blog and in its beautiful, recent book The Art of Tinkering (read my review of that here.) You can also retrieve older PDFs of PIE ideas — similar work that pre-dates The Tinkering Studio but done by the same creative and conscientious group of people back when they ran the Playful Invention and Exploration Network with the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group and others.)
Speaking of the MIT Media Lab, be sure to check out the set of projects produced in Leah Buechley’s group a few years ago, especially Emily Lovell’s Getting Hands-On with Soft Circuits and the book Sew Electric by Leah Buechley, Kanjun Qiu, and Sonja de Boer.
Howtoons is a distinct feature of Make:, combining the form of comic books with some friendly how-to and girded up with some solid real-life science and engineering principles. We used them in Maker Camp, and we know lots of teachers find them to be an especially appealing entryway into making for their students, many of whom devour graphic novels and comics. “Challenged to make something ‘other than trouble,’” a brother and sister use everyday objects to invent toys and change the world around them. Read my full review of their recent collection here.
Instructables’ Workshop for Young Engineers
The Workshop for Young Engineers focuses on project-based engineering lessons for kids. This collection of a few dozen project-based lessons focus on basic principles of physics, structural, and mechanical engineering. Your students will build physical models from a shared set of easily found material.
K12 Lab Network
Many teachers who have told us they are excited to get making in the classroom have also introduced Design Thinking to their students. The K12 Lab Network is a great place to get started in this endeavor, getting your kids into the process of empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping, and testing. (Make sure you bulk-order some sticky notes before you get started, though, as your room will soon be covered with them!) If you are already very familiar with Design Thinking, Bootcamp Bootleg is a good set of worksheets to use with your students as a refresher.
We covered our own resources in the first post in this series, but it in this context we’d like to remind you of a few of them:
The Open Materials
research group promotes with a wide variety of materials and share dozens of activities through which you too can investigate and experiment. The website—started 5 years ago by Catarina Mota and Kirsty Boyle—shares knowledge, resources and discoveries and documents experiments and processes. For each material
in their repository, they describe physical properties, tricks and hacks, where to get it, who’s using it, who’s improving it, and what it’s good for and what it’s not.
On their About page, you can limit your materials by category: paper
, ceramics & glass
. Also, a check out their collection of circuits
. The site is open under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA.)
Start Making! @ Clubhouses
The Intel Computer Clubhouse Network of about 100 international community centers devoted to mentoring youth to express themselves creatively through technology. Mentors use the Start Making! @ Clubhouses Activity Guide to facilitate a series of Maker activities, including basic circuitry, coding, crafting, and engineering. Introductory “spark” activities lead into individual and small group “open make” self-designed projects. The Intel Start Making! initiative piloted this program with girls ages 10-14 in five diverse Clubhouses. The network will further develop and evaluate it with both boys and girls in 40 more Clubhouses all over the world through 2015. Adapt this Guide for your own learning context and add your input as they further develop this guide.
NOVA: Making Stuff
NOVA: Making Stuff shares a set of four very well-documented activities on the themes of materials that are stronger, smaller, cleaner, and smarter. Each unit connects to an episode in the series that aired on NOVA (produced by PBS station WGBH), and the lessons were designed for ‘tweens but can be adapted to older and younger children. The site offers video clips, toolkits, demos, information sheets, prep materials, and even a few black and white masters for printing worksheets. (By the way, that’s not Stephen Colbert, pictured left, but rather the show’s host David Pogue.)
NYSci Design Lab
NYSci Design Lab offers DIY videos, Design Starter Activities, and Extended Design Projects. The Extended group challenges kids to create real-world solutions: Car Idling, Emergency Shelters, Floating Cities, Neutral Buoyancy, Pothole Problems, Refrigeration, Solar Ovens (pictured right), Sound Reduction, and Window Farms… oh and also Surprise Bots, always a fun project even if it’s not solving some dire problem facing humankind. These projects emerged from years of work with dozens of teachers.
PBS Design Squad Nation
WGBH produced Design Squad Nation as a 10-part series introducing kids to some of the key topics in engineering: electricity, force/energy, green, health, simple machines, sound/music, space/transportation, sports/games, structures, technology/materials. The producers added 20 related activities to the site, including hovercraft, lunchboxes, balloon jousting, air cannons, slingshots, puppets, marshmallow blaster, and a variety of cars and pop-up cards.
Project MASH Toolkits focus on a few areas: Learning Through Internships, Citizen Science, Tinkering & Making, Engagement Games, Problem-Based Learning, and Design Thinking. Each one is a set of activities unto itself. For example, the toolkit on Tinkering and Making, written by The Exploratory, includes three project examples: Industrial Shark Tank, My Body eTextiles, and Spy vs. Spy. The Design Thinking toolkit, on the other hand, has another three maker-friendly projects: Trashketball, Night Hawks Nest, and Spoken Walls.
Spark Truck‘s Tool Cards have projects organized by the tool you’d like to use, with five suggested projects for each tool: laser cutter, vinyl cutter, shop tools, hot glue gun, laptop, 3D printer, clay oven, laminator, as well as a group of simple circuits projects and three collections of projects to do with crafts supplies (paper, popsicle stick, and creatures.)
The Tech’s Design Challenges
For nearly three decades, The Tech Museum of Innovation has been running an annual design challenge, The Tech Challenge. Some of these are archived into timeless Design Challenge lessons which teachers use to lead their students through science and engineering lessons. They also make very fun and effective team-building activities for groups of teachers.
Psst… Capture the Flag (or: Stealing from Camps)
Summer camps are hotbeds of making, so at our home we pick up brochures from local summer camps and use them as a way to decide on a set of projects we want to do as a family. Camp counselors and planners invest a lot of youthful energy into coming up with a great lineup of fun projects, and these projects come kid-tested. It’s a bit like collecting menus as you learn to become a chef.
As camps are often planning for dozens to hundreds of kids at a time, these activities can often easily be adapted into the making classroom. So check out the descriptions of what some of the most maker-friendly camps in your region are offering. The projects chosen are rarely completely unique, and with a bit of Internet sleuthing you can find instructions for doing similar projects in your Maker Club or classroom. I won’t name names here, but here are a few links to give you an idea: a very clever camp, another super genius camp, and a third outstanding camp that I have found inspiring, but honestly you can’t go wrong by learning from camp. (And I’ll mention our own Maker Camp here again, why not?)
What did we miss? Tell us!
Check out our earlier posts in this series:
In our next post we’ll include more specific project sets like Makey Makey, Nerdy Derby, and lots more.
Be sure to check out the growing resource library built by our friends at the Maker Education Initiative.
What’s your favorite resource for making projects? Add to our list by commenting below.
A large part of obtaining Eagle scout status is to do a project that benefits the community. Often these are things like park benches, drinking fountains, etc. Jacob Bruner had different ideas though. He wanted to bring 3D printing to his community. I especially loved the fact that this project doesn’t just provide something to the community, but also encourages other people to make things!
Jacob, can you tell me a little bit about what you’ve put together?
For my Project I created a 3D printing Lab in my Local Public Library. It took me about 9 months from start to finish. In that time I attendend board meetings, raised awareness, taught the public about 3D printing, fund raised almost $3,500 and built the lab and put it into the library. I also am in charge of finding volunteers to run the area because the library cant quite yet devote a staff member full time.
How did you end up deciding to do a 3D printing space in your library?
Originally for my project I was just going to put in park benches, but one day over dinner I had this idea, and I just HAD to do it. I am really passionate about 3D printing. It’s been a huge hobby of mine for about 3 years now. It started when i saved up my money to buy and build a Thing-o-matic, and since then its sort of taken over. Ive built two 3D printers, and I also got one in our school. Ive done presentations in the library and local clubs that im involved in, and I think its something that everyone should have access to. It’s just so cool, and I really think its the future, and I want to bring people into the future.
What kinds of things are people printing there?
Well right now we have a whole range of things. Mostly toys printer buy younger visitors, but as word spread that the printer is available we have been getting requests by artists for pieces they’re working on, another person needed a new hinge for a boat window that can no longer be bought, and i spoke to a person who is interested in printer parts for his custom guitars he makes. I can foresee a greater variety in prints as time goes on, after all its just coming up on it 1 month birthday.
Where is this located, just in case a Make reader happens to be local and would like to visit?