Twice a year, tinkerers of all ages converge at the World of Wonders Science Museum for MakerFest. The maker-space mini-festival brings activities that will delight amateur engineers, whether new to the maker movement or old hands at tinkering.
“It’s an empowering kind of experience, really,” said Nick Gray, the museum’s education director.
The fest includes all of the science museum’s regular activities, along with special exhibits like the fan favorite Marshmallow Shooters and the Crafting Corner.
At one station, students will be able to make “waddlebots,” little robots that dance around. Instead of the usual legs, visitors will use markers. Then, they can use their waddlebot to create unique artwork.
“It’s not just a STEM but a STEAM activity,” Gray said. STEAM takes the traditional STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and adds an “A” for art.
Waddlebot builders will be able to take their own artwork home. If they’re charmed by the robot companions, kits for making a waddlebot at home are sold in the museum’s gift shop.
There will also be a Squishy Circuits station. The museum creates its own play dough — one super-salty recipe is a conductor, and another recipe makes an insulator.
Visitors will be able to sculpt the clay and add LED lights and other electricity-powered items, then see if the circuit they laid out with the salty dough powers their creation.
A Toy Dissection area will allow visitors to take apart donated electronics from talking toy dolls and broken remotes to old game systems and DVD players. They’ll get an inside look at how everything works.
Visitors are welcome to bring their own, Gray said.
“Most people have old toasters, or old remote-controlled cars ... that are just taking up space,” he said.
One special exhibit is coming out of this week’s Mini Maker Mania summer camp, Gray said. The science museum has a hovercraft — really more of an “air chair” — built by the staff, but they’ve wanted a second one for a while.
This year’s group of makers stepped up to the challenge.
“They’re going to make a second hovercraft,” Gray said.
Using a folding chair, boards, and a few parts the campers will create and put together, they’ll create a chair that floats above the ground. The museum will show it off during MakerFest, then use it for outreach at schools, clubs and events.
Another new activity for this year can be found at the Cardboard Creation Station.
“Kids can make little DIY fidget spinners,” Gray said. The activity uses cardboard, pennies and nickels. They’re not as sturdy as the professionally made ones kids can buy just about anywhere, Gray admits, but making them is a lot of fun.
“The broad umbrella behind the whole makers movement is that kids are presented with these products as end products,” he said.
From toys to expensive electronics, kids and a lot of adults no longer know how the items they use every day are made. That means when something breaks, they don’t know how to repair it, Gray said. Instead, it’s thrown away.
The “Maker Movement” seeks to turn that on its head. If people learn how everyday items are made, they have more respect for the people who made them and know if something might be repaired.
“It’s a way of encouraging the kids and really people of any age to tinker with things, to take things apart and figure out how they work,” he said.