The Chicago Northside Mini-Maker Faire that took place Saturday, April 21st was a frenzy of action. With over fifty makers or maker groups in attendance Schurz High School was overrun with action, robots, and plenty of discovery. Outside the weather was ideal for “blasting nerds” (National Honor Society students) with water balloons, flinging vegetables skyward or meeting makers from all over the city. Inside the hallways were ready for hoop-sinking robots, circuitry soldering, lock picking, and an afternoon of creation.
Spanning the front yard, cafeteria, and gym at Schurz, the Faire was alive with action. In the cafeteria, the Wanger Family Fab Lab housed at the Museum of Science and Industry was up and running as people began to filter in. They brought plenty of gadgets with them from the Museum of Science and Industry – printers, 3-D scanners, a robot insect, and freshly 3-D printed bracelets. We talked about their programming which is ramping up for what is sure to be a busy summer season.
Toward center of the cafeteria, the Lock Pick Village set up shop. They offered individual and group classes on the mechanics behind how locks work and how to pick them with some simple tools. Tables of students, families, and curious individuals sat down for lessons. They exchanged questions and answers, and quickly become experts on how locks work.
Across the room, Marc Irwin of Gage Park High School, had a lot to say about the various robotics programs he would be offering on the south side. He also brought along an impressive collection of large, small, simple, and complex robots. The crowd was large and everyone wanted to try their hand at taking the robots for a walk. Marc welcomed the crowds, letting minds wander with the robots. He also made some clear connections between the importance of robotics programs and science classes at CPS schools.
Meanwhile, down from the robots, Chris was in charge of the soldering table, representing Schurz with a quick wit and a sharp purple shirt. He commanded the table, explaining why soldering is significant, why it’s important to be safe while soldering, and how to do it. Between gel, fusing the resistor to the circuit, and putting up with my photo taking, Chris presented a clear, concise lesson on beginning soldering. I asked him to sum it up in a sentence for his internet audience. His response: “Anyone can do it.”
Down the hall from the cafeteria, Workshop 88 was present in large numbers at the Faire. They were featuring a table filled with air-guns. Andrew, a member at the Workshop, explained that he has been working on a cupcake (type of 3-D printer) for many months now. What will he make with it first, you may be wondering? Without hesitation he responded with more parts for his airguns – things he wouldn’t be able to buy or things that may not exist…yet. The beauty of the cupcake, he emphasized, is that “you can make more, to help you make even more. How cool is that?”
Outside, the Tinkering School of Chicago presented a catapult that delighted attendees, pedestrians, and drivers on Milwaukee Ave. Flinging things = popular. In addition to their popularity, there was a great of passion for everything that went into the catapult – how they built it, the physics behind it, and explaining how to target where your watermelon, orange, or other projectile will splatter. The clouds and sun were an ideal backdrop for towering launches all day long.
For the tech-weary there was a hands-on slam poetry table from Words Speak Louder, a Schurz student club. The students at the table were enthusiastic and eager to have passersby contribute some poetry about the day or anything else to their collection. It was a good reminder that making is more than just tinkering with technology.
Back inside, there was a lot of action around the iPads and Creativity table. More importantly, there was a lot of music coming from that corner of the building. The table leader advertised that you did not need any music experience to make a song. She waved crowds over and passed out headphones, iPads, and people got to work. Once a track was finished, if the author wanted, they would play the track on the speakers and big screen for all to see.
One of the larger tables was for the creation of blinkies, LED pattern design kits, sponsored by 2DKits. Some expert instructors were on hand to field questions and keep the ball rolling until visitors had their very own blinkie to take home!
Upstairs sunlight filtered into the gym where robots dominated the court. The Chicago Knights, a FIRST Robotics team, presented two basketball-shooting robots. Some students explained that the two robots featured two very different shooting mechanisms, but over the course of the afternoon they demonstrated that both could sink a shot in their own ways.
After spending time with so many tables, I was shocked to see how fast the afternoon flew by. I returned to the cafeteria to stop at the Wiimote-smartboard table. The crew there had rigged a Wiimote to capture motion with a projector, much like a smartboard. Talking both to the teacher and student there, they revealed 1.) how easy the making process was, 2.) the great features the interactive board offered, and 3.) how straightforward it was to use.
As nice as it was to hear this, those three statements were great summaries of everything I had seen during the Mini-Maker Faire that day. The range of interests, inventions, and re-creations was diverse and that was fantastic. Tables were teaching other tables about programming robots or making iPad apps. Younger attendees were eager to make flashlights, blinkies, or marvel at all the noise and excitement around them. High-school aged-attendees were free to dive into conversation with tinkerers, hobbyists, and some of the best advocates for DIY projects around the city. For all attendees it was an engaging environment with no shortage of idea exchange. The energy in and outside the walls of Schurz was undeniable.
If you missed this Maker Faire, do not worry. Keep your eyes peeled because more will be coming to the city soon. If you need to scratch that itch sooner than later – GREAT! – check out the list of Makers on our site and get in touch with them. There is plenty happening all over the city (and country, world) every week of the year.
Will Kent is a CyberNavigator with the Chicago Public Library and a Retention Coach for the University of Illinois. This was his first Maker Faire and he is looking forward to more.