What Makes a Great Maker Fest

The 1st NWAIS Maker Fest is coming soon! While the May 1st application deadline is still almost two months away, it's a great time to start thinking about the kinds of projects or work that you might want to submit to this event. Because this is the first event of this kind for NWAIS, there are many questions about what makes a great Maker Fest project. We hope that these questions might help you get a better sense of what we hope to show at Maker Fest, and how you can tell the story of your project in a way that makes a great submission.

What is Maker Fest?

Maker Fest is an event for students to demonstrate creative work, skills or tools in a non-competitive environment. Students can show things that they made for a class, as part of an extra-curricular club, or just for fun. Categories at Maker Fest this year are:

  • Arts/Crafts
  • Engineering
  • Food
  • Green/Sustainability
  • Music
  • Science
  • Technology/Robotics
Seattle Mini Maker Faire, 2013. (Flickr: Majorbonnet)

Seattle Mini Maker Faire, 2013. (Flickr: Majorbonnet)

So it's like a Science Fair?

Science Fairs are showcases for students to demonstrate the scientific process, experiments and labs, and results and data. Events like Maker Fest showcase the creative process, and works of art or technology that students have made themselves (or the tools that they use). Some of the categories in Maker Fest have to do with science or technology, but they don't necessarily have to be technology-based projects. The heart of Maker Fest is in creating something unique and personal.

So it's like an Art Gallery?

Art Galleries allow artists to demonstrate their work, but aside from special events, you don't often get to talk to the artist when you see his or her work at the gallery. Maker Fest is about conversation, learning and demonstration--students will share with attendees how they made their projects, talk about the successes or failures along the way, and exchange ideas about their process.

What do you mean by "tool or skill?" What If I don't have a "product" to show?

Students can demonstrate skills or tools that are used to make or create as well. If you're interested in demonstrating a process rather than a product, that's fine, and our attendees will be able to learn from the demonstrations of how to make as well as what people made.

Are there examples we can look at?

There are lots of examples of Maker-type projects to use for inspiration. Look at the Seattle Mini Maker Faire or other Maker Faires as examples of the wide range of creative projects that can come out of our area. Make Magazine is a great resource with tutorials and examples, as are sites like Thingiverse, DIY and Instructables. The important thing to remember is that the most compelling projects are the ones that are unique and have your special spin on them-- don't just complete a tutorial on DIY and submit it, because you won't have much to say about your creative process. Use those guides as ideas of what's possible, and then ask yourself-- "What could I do like that?"

Why does a teacher have to sign off on it?

The application asks for a teacher contact so that our organizing group can a) have a good school contact if needed, and b) make sure that all students are connected to NWAIS schools. Teachers have to be willing to be a point-of-contact for students to get ready for the event, but are not required to be involved in making the project at all. It's great if teachers can be support resources if a student gets stuck, but sometimes that's as simple as picking up the phone to someone else in the area who's more knowledgeable in that field.

Would some class project be a good maker fest project?

Two good questions to ask about a class project: first, did the student make a real product in one of the categories above? For example, is the project a presentation about a dam (probably not a great project)? Or is the project a 3D-printed model of a dam? A virtual walkthrough? A CAD design for a new dam layout (all great products to be able to demonstrate)?

Second, who did all of the designing and research? Was it a student-designed piece, or teacher-designed? Did students own the process, or was it teacher-driven (with or without teacher guidance)?

What about my robotics team?

Competitive robotics programs, engineering teams, and hackathons are great ways to tackle real engineering, science and technology challenges. Sometimes these projects are also great examples of the creative process and are unique expressions of the people who made them, and they can be great Maker Fest projects. Sometimes these projects aren't great fits for events like Maker Fest, though, when the teams or students can't talk about the processes of exploration, design and creativity that went into them. Think about it like a bake sale-- we want to see the widest range of interesting, creative foods available-- not necessarily try and judge who made the best chocolate chip cookies.

I'm still not sure I get it...

Not a problem. Join the NWAIS Maker Spaces listserv and ask questions there. The organization committee follows that listserv and will discuss any questions that come up. You can also submit an application anyways-- they're free to submit-- and if the committee has a question about the appropriateness of your project, we'll get in touch and ask for some more detail. And if you don't have a project to submit this year, come attend the Maker Fest anyways and see the range of projects on display. Hopefully, you'll learn from the students and projects there and be ready to submit your own next year!