NSights Blog

Reno Mini Maker Faire: An opportunity to invent, create and learn

Making (and learning) can happen anywhere, at any time, in any locale, including during Saturday's Reno Mini Maker Faire

On July 8 the annual Reno Mini Maker Faire will once again turn Idlewild Park into a bazaar full of artists, scientists, crafters, engineers, musicians, and more - all in celebration of making. Burning Man artists will rub elbows with University students and faculty.

Kids will fly drones and build rockets. Musicians will make beautiful music and moms and dads will learn to solder and knit. It's a fun day in the sunshine watching amazing local makers do their thing and an opportunity to learn a few new skills yourself. But why should we in the University and educational communities care?

I grew up in a rural community of 800 people in northwestern Minnesota. It is not so different from many of the small towns scattered across Nevada. It was at least an hour drive to a big box store and the richest people we knew were sugar beet farmers. We never thought of ourselves as makers but my mom, a math teacher, made many of my clothes when I was young, is easily the best baker I know, and taught me how to sew and crochet. My dad, a social sciences teacher, spent summers building houses, made most of the wood furniture in his house and mine, and can build or fix just about anything.

My brother and I grew up with a love for learning and a love for making. It's no surprise that he is now an engineering professor at Oregon State University and that I am an engineering librarian here at Nevada. Educators at every level should care about making because it provides an engaging and creative avenue for true learning. My brother and I learned firsthand that when making something we needed to understand the tools and materials required, the laws of physics that would allow (or not allow) it to work, and that we had the power to look critically at problems and make solutions to address them.

I still remember being assigned to invent something for class in elementary school. I invented an apparatus that hung off my bedroom door and held a small mirror that let me see the back of my head while braiding my hair. Through that simple project I learned about the innovation cycle. I had an idea, I looked at existing items and materials, I made a first prototype, and then, it didn't work. I circled back. I made adjustments to my design and materials and prototyped something a little different. That iterative process of learning from and moving past setbacks, instead of being stopped short by them, is something we all need to learn in order to succeed both academically and in life in general.

Making allows us to use the knowledge we acquire in a very real way. It also gives us back the power in learning. Instead of passively absorbing information, makers actively engage with their knowledge and the world around them to create physical objects that have real impact. Making can also play an important role in getting students interested in the STEM disciplines. Making breaks down complex concepts into actionable steps and takes science and technology out of the abstract and moves them into the realm of possibility for many students. Students who may have struggled in math class or felt left behind in physics, can become engaged and excited when given the opportunity to make something utilizing those knowledge and skill sets in a way that is meaningful to them.

The best part about making is that it doesn't need to happen in a million-dollar makerspace with 3D printers and laser cutters. While high tech equipment like these are allowing makers to create near-production quality prototypes, making, and it's subsequent learning, can happen in small town classrooms with paper, straws, and glue. It can happen in community education woodshop and art classes.

And it will happen in a beautiful park this weekend in Reno. For the fourth straight year, the Reno Mini Maker Faire's largest sponsor is the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries. Its executive producer is Chrissy Klenke, Geosciences & Maps Librarian here at Nevada. There will be countless volunteers from the University manning ticket and activity booths. There will be Maker Exhibitors from the Physics department, the Libraries, STEM student clubs, and other University departments. I invite you and your friends and family to join us at the Reno Mini Maker Faire this Saturday, July 8, from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. in Idlewild Park. Come with a sense of curiosity and join people of all ages and backgrounds at our festival celebrating invention, creativity, and learning.

Tara Radniecki