Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#MakerFaire 2015 – Inspiration at a Price

Guest post by Lori Stahl-Van Brackle

I love Maker Faire! My car is covered in Maker Faire bumper stickers. The door to my computer lab is covered in Maker Faire postcards. I run Maker Camp over the summer in anticipation of Maker Faire. It is the weekend I look most forward to in the first month of the school year. You can find me at Maker Faire from open to close, both days, and I give Maker Faire as homework for all my students.

I should explain the homework assignment a little though. My school is located in Rego Park. We are exactly one mile for the NY Hall of Science, where the World Maker Faire is held. My students come from the surrounding area, Corona, Rego Park, Lefrak City, and Forest Hills. We have one of the most diverse populations in THE most diverse city in the world. That diversity includes over 40% low income students, 50+ different languages spoken, every continent represented in our student body, and every religion practiced. The diversity of my school is even more impressive when you take in the harmonious way our students, many of whom English is a second language, interact with each other.

My students have been attending World Maker Faire since the first one was held in 2010. Back then kids could get tickets for free through organizations such as MOUSE Squad. MOUSE Squad still offers students who are part of the program free tickets, but it’s become harder and harder to find free tickets for other students.

The price of tickets has risen as I’m sure, the cost of putting on the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth has risen. The faire started out in the parking lot of NY Sci and now takes over six fields. I’m not sure what the numbers were this year, but last year, when the Pope wasn’t in town, there were over 75,000 visitors each day. Among those were some of my over 300 students who had to find me and shout out “Halsey in the House!” to get extra credit.

This year I was inspired by Miss Piggy and decided to add to the extra credit assignment; students could take selfies with me. You can see some of them below.
Last year I saw more than 80 of my students over the course of the two days at faire. This year I saw about 30. When I asked my students who didn’t attend why they did not, the reason was disheartening:

The cost of the tickets.

This is their neighborhood and they can’t afford to attend a faire intended to stimulate and inspire them to become makers.

In July I went to the Maker Faire Town Hall meeting hoping to find some way of getting my kids free tickets, I knew the price of the tickets -- whether it’s $15 or $45 -- was too much for many of them. It was suggested that my students volunteer through the Travelers Program or the Green Team. Students could get in for free if they volunteered for four hours. It’s a deal, except… it’s for students who are older than my middle schoolers. I did have a few takers, who talked their parents into volunteering with them – the requirement for students under 13 – but most of my kids couldn’t.

I am a Maker teacher. My students design Websites, circuits with Arduinos, we have a Raspberry Pi server in our lab, a robot army, and two 3D Printers. I have been lucky enough to bring the Maker Faire into my classroom and keep it alive all year long.

The homework assignment, for the students who can go to Maker Faire, is to take pictures and get information for captions. In class we turn those photos into Web sites in 6th grade, HTML pages in 7th grade, and Javascript-enabled slideshows in 8th grade. Student work is often shared on the class website at http://www.halseybulldog.org. The students who didn’t get to go to Maker Faire did research on the 3D Printing revolution.

Once I described the two assignments this way: the research assignment is like looking at a picture of the most delicious slice of pizza when you’re hungry while going to Maker Faire is like eating that piece of pizza or even the whole pie.

In June I attend a music festival that was started by Pete Seeger called Clearwater. Tickets are free for children 12 and under. I would love to see tickets be free for children 12 and under at Maker Faire. It’s my goal to make that happen or at least start talking to the people who can make it happen.
Every child deserves to be inspired to make the most out of the technology that is in their daily lives. The mayor’s initiative to roll out Computer Science for All is a start, for sure, but Maker Faire is where students can find inspiration for and celebrate that goal.

Lori Stahl-Van Brackle is a Computer Science teacher in a New York City public middle school. Before she was a teacher she was a journalist and in 1995 created her first Web site for the magazine where she was on staff. She's been excited by digital making ever since. As a teacher she inspires her students to use computers as creative tools and make instead of just consume. She uses open-source programs like Scratch, hacks board-games, and has her students create 3D printed projects. Her school is a mile from World Maker Faire and she makes it a homework assignment for her students to attend every year.

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