In Reston, Mini Maker Faire encourages creativity


Dan Mascenik and his son Wesley, 9, attempt to locate the expression on the face of a dragon at a booth at the Northern Virginia Mini Maker Faire at South Lakes High School and Langston Hughes School in Reston. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

On Sunday afternoon, 7-year-old Russell Welland built a parachute out of coffee filters, cups and pipe cleaners. He wanted to make it fly.

So the amateur aeronautical engineer tested the parachute by putting it in the bottom of a tall plastic tube set atop an electrical fan in a South Lakes High School auditorium.

“Whee!” he said, his eyes following as his creation circled up and out of the wind tunnel. “I made that!”

Russell was one of the thousands of people who came to the Reston school to make things and to admire the creations of others at Northern Virginia’s first official Mini Maker Faire.

Part science fair, part craft fair, the event, which featured creations by designers and engineers up to age 92, was organized to inspire more creations.

“What would you invent?” read a giant poster in the school’s hallway.

There were model airplanes built from aluminum cans, homemade drones and a solar- powered car at the expo, which spilled over into neighboring Langston Hughes Middle School.

One group offered to scan images of passersby with help from a video camera and a rotating chair, and then print them out using a 3-D printer.

And of course there were lots of things you could make yourself, including hand-spun yarn, belts made of bicycle tires and decorative butterflies made from recycled milk jugs.

The first Maker Faire was organized in the San Francisco Bay area nearly a decade ago by a do-it-yourself-themed magazine called Make. Since then, scores of affiliated events have been organized around the globe.

Silver Spring hosted a Mini Maker Faire last fall. The White House announced in February that it plans to host its own Maker Faire to encourage a generation of students to become, as President Obama has said, “makers of things, not just consumers of things.”

“Every young person is a designer, engineer and tinkerer, but eventually, unfortunately, we lose that wonder,” said Matt Barinholtz, an educator with the group FutureMakers.

“Our job is to coach them so they can hold on to it,” he said.

Many educators are committed to finding ways to infuse science and math classes with more hands-on activities so students will stay interested in the subjects and understand how they relate to the real world. After-school robotics clubs and Lego leagues are taking off.

“Making things is the best way to learn,” said Fairfax County school board member Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill). “Our challenge is to make the classroom more like these great opportunities that children have outside the classroom.”

Many adults also are gravitating toward tinkering because they feel a void in their jobs.

Nova Labs, the main sponsor of the Northern Virginia fair, is a warehouse space in Reston where people can share tools and ideas and create things.

President Brian Jacoby said the lab fills a void for a lot of white-collar workers.

“A lot of people around here have an IT or desk job, where they tap, tap, tap away at a computer. At the end of the day, it’s hard to point to what you actually did,” Jacoby said. “It turns out that’s really frustrating for people.”

Jacoby grew up on a farm in Minnesota where he built things. As an adult, he lived in the suburbs and worked as a manager of network engineers. At Nova Labs he builds 3-D printers and helps other people make them.

“We give people a bucket of parts and say go build this,” he said.

Robert E. Simon Jr., the 99-year-old founder and designer of the town of Reston, spoke at the Maker Faire. He was introduced as a “community-maker,” and he encouraged people to think more creatively.

“Worthwhile projects come from imagination,” he said.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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