Last October the MAKERFAIRE electrified the old World’s Fair site in Queens. Students, parents, teachers – changed their plans to attend, enjoy, and learn from the event.
Part street festival, part country fair, part traveling circus, part technology auction and business incubator; the Fair is a lot of things having to do with entrepreneurship, do-it-yourself, and hands-on craft development. The event is a fun, accessible way to see that building things, making things, hands-on work, DIY, and creativity survive.
Among the standouts projects at last year’s event;
A 20 foot-tall, homemade robot with fire-spitting fingers.
A “drone zone” where (thankfully non-lethal) drones showed the versatility and the peaceful uses of the technology.
A (human) life-sized mousetrap, capable of capturing the human mice in your life.
A power tool drag racing course. And the ever popular “volcanic” eruption created by mentos candy and the cola of your choice.
This event is part of the Maker Movement. It should be particularly helpful and welcomed in New York’s communities of color, who were unfortunately, but not surprisingly conspicuous by their absence at last fall’s event. As is usual in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field, a small number of Africans is struggling to create and consolidate a space for everyone to participate in the technology development process.
These are the career areas with high pay, bright futures, and employee satisfaction.
As these exhibits (and the people who made them) demonstrate, technology, craft, engineering, and construction are both fun and open to participation by people at all levels of formal education. Most of the presenters and researchers at the event were formally and highly trained. However, a large number of the most creative presenters were self taught, self motivated, and ready to share their experiences with anyone who will listen.
This event is of particular importance to “inner city” communities and the school-aged population within. As the last round of high stakes tests told us (again), New York’s Black and Brown majority are far behind in math skills. And math is the starting point for science and engineering (using science to make things people need).
Science education has been pretty much removed form the K-8 curriculum, in order to clear more time for high stakes test preparation. A casualty of this policy is the nation’s leadership in technological innovation.
One of the many negative impacts of our crumbling education system is America’s declining production of scientists and engineers. According to UNESCO/World Economic Forum data, America, 2015 graduated 230,000 engineers, less than half the number of our Russian counterparts, and only slightly more than Iran.
The MAKERFAIRE and similar projects are one way to get around the system’s inability or unwillingness to make science a part of the school curriculum. You visit, you take the kids, you walk around, you talk to the presenters. You will be amazed at how easy it is to make something – whatever your child’s standardized test score.
Next step? Light your torch, grab your pitchfork, and rally at Chancellor Farina’s office.
It’s time to demand a meaningful science curriculum and an end to testing and failure.