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What is a Maker Faire?

Dan Del Duca
On the morning of Saturday, April 21, over 30 Shipley Lower School students and their families participated in the first annual School Maker Faire hosted by The Baldwin School and The Agnes Irwin School. We had students representing each grade from Prekindergarten to Fifth Grade. The wonderful event took place on a glorious spring day outdoors on the playing fields at Baldwin. Multiple schools including Friends Central, Agnes Irwin, Baldwin, and Shipley were sharing their creative projects and engaging in maker activities.

At first glance, the event triggers memories of the classic indoor science fair in a gymnasium with ribbons and challenging questions from skeptical judges. A Maker Faire is a more joyous and spontaneous event. This engaging child-centered carnival celebrates the process of problem-solving and living in the present moment. Each school had several tables that act as an outdoor maker space for students of all ages.

Shipley’s table included interactive cardboard carnival games, a robotic spinning Ferris wheel, homemade parachutes, an electric littleBits guitar, and paper circuits. Shipley Makers shared their creative works with other students from participating schools and were able to visit other tables for guidance and inspiration. I brought plenty of materials and plans for interactive experiences to share with other students.

However, the greatest moments of the morning were the things I did not plan or anticipate. When we began sharing our projects, we found the lights were turning on for the littleBits guitar, but the sound was not working. Shipley Makers were frustrated, but the culture of a school makerspace makes our students agile problem solvers who can take on the challenge of disappointment. Multiple students took out my laptop and found the coding software for littleBits. They systematically eliminated possible problems through trial and error. Through determination and teamwork, they got the electronic guitar working and were excited to share their creation with students from participating schools.

I brought reams of paper and tissue paper for paper hoops and flyers I wanted our makers to create and share with the other schools. Three of my second graders, observing the windy day, took a look at the tissue paper, straws, string, and tape. “I want to make a kite,” one of the girls exclaimed. With that small bit of inspiration, the students began using the materials to create kites that would fly with the wind. Our working tables had become an outdoor makerspace for our students to explore ideas on their own.

It can be intimidating to share your ideas with other kids you might not know at a Maker Faire. The playful spirit of the day provides plenty of opportunities to share ideas and learn from kids that go to different schools. One of our first makers at Shipley is now in seventh grade, but her legacy lives on through her invention of “delusional goggles.” She found plastic sheets that diffracted light and cut them in shapes to fit on top of science goggles. The game she invented involves having the person wearing the delusional goggles try to high five someone not wearing the goggles. Our team brought a box of these goggles to the fair and our Shipley Makers walked up to students from other schools and had them play the game. The interactive activity brought laughter to the group of students, helping to break the ice to help out students make meaningful connections with makers from other schools.

The Maker Faire was successful because of the amazing teamwork our student makers and families displayed on the morning of the Maker Faire. Students helped me organize the materials and share their carnival projects with other schools. Families took time on their busy Saturday to find ways to get their children to the event. Students were going to swimming lessons, squash practice, and piano recitals on the same day, but were determined to attend. Families stepped up during the event when needed to make the morning a great success. Several Shipley Makers helped pack up the wagon and return all the boxes, bins, and projects back to my car. Why did students want to come to a school event on a Saturday morning? Our students are excited to think, design, create, and build on their own without limitations. All students and adults have the power to be creative and the Maker Faire is a great way to showcase the strengths and talents of all our students. We can’t wait until next year’s School Maker Faire at Agnes Irwin!
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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.