Taryn Shawback sat at a table that displayed an Ozobot—a small, plastic, self-propelled toy—as it followed a course of colored stripes on a board.
The Ozobot senses the colors and can be programmed to respond to them, explained the Elkhorn Middle School seventh-grader.
Taryn said she has been exposed to technology education in the last year and can’t get enough of making robots, computer coding and making Rube Goldberg devices.
“We have a really good technology club now. We are the Tech Ninjas,” she said, eyes shining.
Taryn sat in one corner of her school building Saturday as hundreds of people streamed by.
They came to see Elkhorn’s first ever Mini Maker Faire, an exposition of arts, crafts and technologies that local businesses, schools and crafters brought to display. In some cases, people could join in.
Maker Faires have been around for nearly 10 years. Milwaukee has held a large one since 2014.
Kathy Cannistra of Milwaukee has been involved in that effort. She is an artist and former children’s museum director who has gone into the STEAM education business. (STEAM stands for Science Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).
Cannistra brings hands-on, project-based learning to schools.
“The mixture of science and art has been a longtime passion of mine,” said Cannistra before explaining to children what it means to anodize metal.
Anodization involves hanging metal in a bath of sulphuric acid (“The same acid that’s in a car battery,” Cannistra explained.) while an electric current passes through it.
Kids took small rectangles of aluminum and punched holes in them, pounded them into curved shapes and etched designs into them. Then, Cannistra anodized their pieces to prepare them to be dyed.
Cannistra told the kids that the surface of the treated metal has microscopic tubes that would soak up the dye in a 140-degree dip.
Cannistra said she likes breaking down the walls people might erect in their minds between art and science. She endorses Maker Faires as a way to do that.
“I think it’s re-imagining how we educate children and teach them to problem-solve, so we’re ready for the tech age that we’re in,” Cannistra said.
When adults and children get together to experience Maker Faires, that adds a new dimension to learning, she added.
At the end of the day, all the kids’ work was to be combined into a work of art for the school: A sign showing a robot-like creature with an “M” on its chest. He is known as Makey, the symbol of the Maker movement.
Crafts on display Saturday included cake decorating, spinning, weaving, robotics, glass bead making and an art project that got surprising results by combining old vinyl albums and paint on a turntable.
Kids and adults could play with lasers, melted crayons, Legos or learn about ham radio.
Some of the exhibits were not hands-on but showed crafts that are seldom seen, such as fiber artists Erin and Steve Whalen of rural Whitewater. Steve makes beautiful felt hats, and Erin uses the hair of her llamas and alpacas to make high-end dolls and other attractive creatures.
Elkhorn Options Virtual Charter School was showing kids how to make “light sabers.”
The sabers were actually 4-inch-long translucent plastic straws with light bulbs in them, but building the power supply demonstrated the principle of an electric circuit.
Michael Reader, president of PrecisionPlus in Elkhorn, was a major sponsor of the event. He brought a table of the metal products his workers make: components used in deep-water oil drilling, medicine, farming, the military and paintball guns.
“The Elkhorn School District is doing some great things with technology education,” Reader said.
Reader takes students into his business in a career-exploration program, and some of them have become employees.
“There are so many opportunities in manufacturing,” Reader said.
Carrie Wettstein, a producer of Maker Faire Milwaukee, was there to plug that effort, which is much larger than the 100-plus exhibit event in Elkhorn.
“These events are happening all over the country,” Wettstein said, representing a movement that is “exploding.”
“Employers are just dying to get skilled workers,” and Maker Faires aim to generate interest in technology at a young age so kids get interested, Wettstein said.
Another focus of the Maker movement is to show young people that they can take charge of the technology around them, rather than being passive consumers, Wettstein said.
For example, you can make your own 3-D printer for $200, and then you have a tool that could reproduce a broken plastic clip on your backpack.
Or, like one exhibitor, you can be your own recycler by cutting up pet-food sacks and sewing them into shopping bags.
Seventh-grader Taryn, meanwhile, said she doesn’t know what she wants to do in life, but judging by her enthusiasm, it will include mastery of some aspect of technology that likely hasn’t been invented. Yet.