Geeking out at the Northern Colorado Makers Faire

kids making cars at the noco makers faireI always look forward to the Makers Faires, though every time someone asks me to describe exactly what it is, I stumble and am unsure exactly what to say. It’s like a hands-on playground for geeky adults with lasers, 3D printers and robots. But it’s more than that and there’s a really important mission underlying all the Makers Faires and the entire makers movement: Increasing STEM participation and excitement in science and technology.

Don’t know what STEM stands for? You’re possibly not paying attention then, it’s the core of the next generation of careers throughout the world: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. And as a father to two girls, I am very aware of how they have both internalized messages that math’s too hard, science is too hard. Even my 15yo son is surprised that he’s getting an A+ in mathematics.

It’s really hard to hear because I absolutely do not believe that gender determines whether STEM is hard or easy. I do believe that some people are better at these hard sciences than others, but that shouldn’t break down by gender, though I’m aware that there are cultural messages, even well meaning ones, that can undermine a child’s confidence in their ability to grasp complex subjects. And then there are teachers. Unfortunately in my experience a lot of people good in math and sciences aren’t necessarily good at communication or good at teaching, which is a definite obstacle.

But let’s get back to the Makers Faire before I go off on too much of a tangent!

Suffice to say I was delighted to bring along my 11y daughter and her close friend to the NoCo Mini Makers Faire in Loveland, Colorado. It was really great to see them get pulled into the hands on exhibits and be happy to spend hours building, creating and experiencing all the chaos and fun.

I had an ulterior motive too: I was a judge for the DaVinci Inventor’s Showcase, which gave me a chance to experience a variety of interesting inventions some of which were really fascinating and others of which were, well, ready to go back to the drawing board for another iteration.

It’s great. The entire makers movement is wonderful and if you have children, boys or girls, take ’em and let them wander around and experience the fun, the craziness, and the play. Talk about what you did, what they were engaged by, and keep encouraging them to follow that road!

With that, here are some of my favorite photos, with commentary:

tardis? we have a tardis.

Says a lot about the event that there was a full size TARDIS (from Doctor Who, of course) sitting in the main exhibit area and no-one was even paying attention. I should have peeked inside, however, as they are reputed to be bigger on the inside…

screen printing a t-shirt at the noco makers faire

Making things, of course, can be a lot more than robots and lasers. I was taken by the vibrant colors of this t-shirt screening system, and the fact that the girl was hands-on making her own t-shirt. That’s what “making” is all about: doing it yourself, not just being a clueless consumer.

public library at the makers faire

Public libraries love makers faires, btw. And more power to ’em!

inside of a classic pinball machine, noco makers faire

Speaking of geeky fun, there’s always someone showing off pinball machine internals, an extraordinary spaghetti of servos, switches and sensors. Look at this photo and tell me you don’t want to peek inside while it’s working?

b52 simulator

A local club had built a remarkable B-52 “Mitchell” bomber simulator with lots of gear tucked into the cabin area. Guests got to be the pilot, bomber or gunner as the simulation covered a launch and mission. Very cool and a whole lotta attention to detail.

turtle graphics demo

In the “everything old is new again” category, this guy’s showing off a robot that draws on the paper underneath it and has a custom programming language to go with it (outlined on the sign behind the laptop). Apparently he hasn’t heard of turtle graphics and logo, a 1967 programming language to perform just this task (albeit with a on-screen turtle, not an actual robot).

Nonetheless, if it gets kids excited about programming? It’s a winner in my book!

my daughter's winning geeky derby car from noco makers faire

My daughter assembled an extraordinarily colorful “Geeky Derby” car, complete with cute kitten on the front and a 3d printer octopus driving. Oh, and the wheels? They were off a 3d printer too. Trés cool!

LEGO at the makers faire

I’m not exactly sure of the relationship between maker faires and LEGO, but there are always people demonstrating their amazing models, and this one took the prize for me. That’s just a whole lotta LEGO sets with a beautiful result.

paint trebouchet

There’s making and there’s making. And a paintball trebuchet? How is this not an art form? 🙂

laser cut wood signage

And, finally, one of the most beautiful examples of laser cutting I’ve ever seen, a three-dimensional wood plaque. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

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