Teens Build, Tinker and Demo Digital Games and Inventions at World Maker Faire in New York

 

9.30.10 | At the World Maker Faire held earlier this month at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, N.Y., fish swam on dry land, a squid and a raven competed in a chariot race, and a larger-than-life version of the board game Mouse Trap, complete with a real claw-foot tub, made observers feel like extras in a remake of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” (Either that, or the giant mouse problem in New York City has gotten out of control.)

Behind the Research

Supported by MAKE Magazine and O’Reilly Media, Maker Faires bring together tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkers and hobbyists of all ages interested in sharing information and inventions.

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Among the visionaries and garage inventors in New York was Ruby Diaz, a high school student and nascent urban planner who attended with other students and instructors affiliated with the New Youth City Learning Network, a group of cultural institutions working to create and connect learning opportunities for middle and high school-aged youth in New York.

Diaz showed off prototypes for a multi-language information kiosk called the Navaway and a GreenWay Bus, a very Jetsonian take on green public transportation. [Read more about these and other New Youth City Learning Network efforts in “Creating a New Vision for Out-of-School Learning” at Spotlight.]

Diaz and his peers created these community-enhancing design solutions as part of A City of Neighborhoods summer design institute. The program—involving the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York Public Library, and DreamYard Project—extends classroom learning into the community and applies design education to a neighborhood context.

“I’ll be honest, at first I thought I wouldn’t like the program,” said Rudy, adding that he’s now considering pursuing urban planning. “It’s opened my eyes.”

A few booths over from Diaz, the makers of “Manahatta: The Game” were giving a demo. Created by students at Parsons The New School of Design, “Manahatta” is a location-based iPhone game that allows players to see what flora and fauna existed in New York City neighborhoods 400 years ago.

Colleen Macklin, chair of communication design and technology at Parsons, said that the first thing young players are amazed by are the mountain lions that once roamed the island that became Manhattan.

“From their initial excitement about mountain lions, they work backwards and realize that you need to have tons of plants to support one mountain lion,” she said. “So they learn how that system works.”

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Also showing kids the learning potential of smartphones were the directors of the New York Hall of Science’s Pollution Patrol science club. Anthony Negron, Hall of Science digital learning curriculum developer, displayed pollution detectors made by citizen scientists in grades 5 through 8 at a one-week summer camp. The devices record air levels of noise pollution, carbon monoxide and soot and upload the findings to the web in real time via an Android phone’s Bluetooth.

Negron said the students were so excited to test out the devices, they chased after buses to measure emissions.

“They pick up [the technology] faster than we do,” he said.

Looking around at the young tinkers learning and sharing at the World Maker Faire, who could doubt it?

Related: For more on the maker movement and how educators are using tinkering to re-engage kids in learning see “Re-Making Detroit” and “Tinkering the Classroom” at Spotlight.

Photos by Scott Beale/ Laughing Squid.

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