Last week, The New York Times Magazine asked, "Who Made That?" in its Innovations Issue. The delightful series explored the origins behind the commonplace and quirky inventions we take for granted, from airbags to webpages and cat videos to ziplines. "Few of the things we most value sprang from corporate labs or marketing labs...[but] came from people trying to solve a problem of their own," writes the authors. Strange and startling facts await. Did you know, for instance, that "this year average prom-going teenager racked up $1,139 in expenses?" (Imagine how many Chromebooks you could buy with that!)
In true Maker spirit, we've dug through our own cache of S'cool Tools and found new ones offering kids (and adults!) fun ways to tinker away this summer.
$$$ BARE CONDUCTIVE: Light up your art--literally. This UK-based company has been spotted at Maker Faires and other events showing off its non-toxic, electronically conductive paint that can be used on a variety of surfaces--including your skin! It runs a little pricey--but these greeting cards and light house kits provide a sense of what’s possible when you mix creativity with a dollop of conductive paint.
Beta! CIRCUITS.IO is hoping to reduce the complexity in building, designing, and discovering circuits. Young makers and engineering students will appreciate the in-browser circuit building tool. DIY electronics gurus can take it a step further by starting a “Bootstrap Campaign” to get their most interesting projects off the ground. In the spirit of open source hardware, each circuit design includes a list of required components and a free downloadable Gerber file for tweaking or manufacturing PCBs.
Free! COMMUNITY SCIENCE WORKSHOP NETWORK: The CSWN has a wealth of hands-on lessons ranging from creating a bookshelf to making a zoetrope--many of which cost just $1 per student! But it’s the organization’s modular electronics that really caught our eye. Using wood, alligator clips, and discarded electronics, they teach kids how to hammer together their own reusable electronics kits. There are lots to choose from in the world of modular electronics but CSWN gets the win in terms of craftiness, cost, and durability. And if you happen to live near one of their five California locations, you can try out their activities in person.
Free! DIY.ORG: Zach Klein, the founder of Vimeo (that nifty alternative to YouTube) has launched his next big thing and it’s close to our heart: DIY. It aims to be a (free) online community for kids who are part of the Maker movement. It encourages them to share pictures what they’ve made, earn “patches" for the work, and still gives parents a bit of oversight. All free and it features pretty kid-slick graphics. Aimed at the elementary and middle-school set.
Free! HACKTIVITY KITS is a collection of nine hands-on and web 2.0 activities intended to explain and reinforce the concept of web hacking--that is, the idea of remixing, reusing, and re-purposing existing content to create new material or glean interesting insights. Created by NYC HIVE, a MacArthur Foundation-supported group of civic-minded organizations (there's a Chicago one, too), the Hacktivity Kits are largely built upon Mozilla WebMaker tools: Popcorn Maker, Thimble, and X-Ray Goggles. Each Hacktivity includes a detailed list of learning goals and objectives, expected results, and supporting resources. There's also an extensive list of icebreakers to get the creative juices flowing and skills tutorials for the WebMaker tools. For example, look to the Online Storytelling kit which explains the SVT (Story, Vision, Tech) model for making "web native" stories. In addition to introductory tutorials on how to use the kit and associated technology, there's also the Spectrogram icebreaker, Popcorn Maker deep-dive, and an out-of-the-box design challenge for teachers just getting their feet wet.
Free! KHAN ON MAKING: Want to see your students build snazzy little robots? Teacher-maker extraordinaire, Karl Wendt, has been working under the covers at the Khan Academy to introduce a zest of project-based learning to the material offered. Here's a cool example: how 3rd grade students learned about (standards-based) concepts of matter and energy when building their very own adorable "Spout Bot." Best of all: Wendt has created a handy video to show you how you can lead this lesson in your classroom. Check it out here.
$$$ MAKEY MAKEY: With a pleasing retro controller shape, easy to use interface, and plenty of inputs, MaKey MaKey makes it pretty darn fun to turn any conductive material into a controller for your computer (banana-controlled piano anyone?). Just plug the credit card-sized device into your computer and clip wires from it to your produce of choice and you’re good to go! Those of you with an Arduino or Raspberry Pi can also get in on the capacitive touch experience with a little wiring.
$$$ MR. MCGROOVY’S CARDBOARD RIVETS: Inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2005, the cardboard box is one of the most venerable pieces of childhood entertainment in the world. For those looking to take their creations to the next level, Mr. McGroovy (who as far as we can tell is not real, but groovy nonetheless) produces plastic rivets to join sheets of cardboard together far easier than tape or glue. It’s a small innovation that scales projects quite well and is pretty reasonable at $18 for 100 rivets. Get ready to camp out at the local Best Buy and snag those refrigerator boxes!
Free! RAFT: With offices in the SF Bay Area, Sacramento, and Colorado, this non-profit is dedicated to inspire, engage, and educate children through the power of hands-on making. It’s a great resource for over 600 STEM activities that use everyday materials (glue bottles, beads, you name it) or things you’ll find for cheap at your local Home Depot. (Here’s a simple stethoscope!) It also has a store for Activity Kits if you’re a little short on supplies. And if you’re in the Bay Area, be sure to check out RAFT’s series of workshops!
$$$ SPARKFUN DOE: Colorado-based SparkFun Electronics, which claims to be the “largest manufacturer of Open Source Hardware in the world,” and so provides cool gadgetry to hardcore engineers and DIYers alike, has its very own Department of Education. The current highlight of the site is the growing list of free curriculum materials. We imagine this stuff will have Physics teachers drooling. Serious DIYers should also find it helpful, too. There are plans for tutorials and classes to help newbies get up to speed.