If you're a maker, inventor, or lover of all things S.T.E.A.M., you may already be aware that Milwaukee is home to one of the largest Maker Faires in the entire world.
And if you're new to the maker movement in Milwaukee, you and your kids are in for an exciting day of interactive, educational fun - with NO admission fee!
Maker Faire Milwaukee can best be described as a giant show & tell, and it is coming to the Wisconsin Center September 14th and 15th. It will be chock-full of hands-on opportunities for kids of all ages (and their adults!).
We talked with Carrie Wettstein, chief operating officer of the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and Maker Faire Milwaukee producer about what families with kids can expect at this unique annual event.
First things first, what exactly is the Maker Faire?
The best way to describe it is "The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth". There are about 250 exhibitors demonstrating everything from spinning wool to people who have built their own 3D printers, manufacturing technology, new materials, robotics, and more.
It's all about hands-on opportunities, talking to the makers about their projects, how they made it, what tools they used, how they got the idea, etc. There are just all kinds of interesting demonstrations, workshops, talks, and performances.
Is this an event for young kids?
Absolutely. It is very family-friendly. There are aways a lot of kids in strollers, and it's really fun for adults, too.
Visually, it's mind-boggling. There will be workshops and activities for the earliest learners, and lots of things to look at and play with and try. First Robotics will be there showcasing all of their program levels which start in kindergarten and go through high school.
All of our exhibitors are super welcoming, and it's very casual. It's like a giant science fair with a county fair kind of feeling.
Can you tell us more about who the makers are?
There are several categories and we try to maintain a balance between commercial and non-commercial makers.
A non commercial maker is a hobbyist, a student, or an educator who just wants to come and share what they do. They're exhibiting because they love it and they want to be a part of the community.
Then there are commercial makers, people who are selling what they make, small manufacturers, artisans, and start-ups, that are showing technology applications, gaming development, or software development. An example is Propellor Health. They make an app for asthma patients, using technology as a tool to impact education, the workforce, training, and quality of life.
What is new this year?
There are always new makers coming on!
Power Racing Series is a national circuit of teams that modify children's ride-on toys for racing based on a rule book. We have 17 teams coming this year. Everyone enters cars that have all kinds of crazy names. They have themes, and they wear costumes, so it's really fun to watch and talk to the teams.
The Tesla Knight is a fan favorite every year, and will be back this year.
We have maker spaces coming from around the midwest, from Akron, OH and throughout Wisconsin. The group in Akron has built a giant Skee Ball game that they are bringing, scaled up to use a bowling ball.
There are a lot of hobbyist robotics people coming who have built their own robots, 3D printers, and ceramic 3D printing.
You can see a full list of the makers at the Maker Faire Milwaukee website.
We're also doing a new program called Hack Hunger MKE as a partnership with a few other organizations in town. It's about using creativity and innovation to address community issues. Teams will be developing a system, a tool, or a communications plans around issues of hunger the community. Social impact is a big part of the global maker movement.
Who's the youngest maker who has ever exhibited?
Seven year old Henry came to one of our early Maker Faires. His father helped him build a robot statue out of PVC and he connected some electronic toys to it, and he exhibited it on his own.
Last year we had a 7th grader who has his own YouTube channel and he talked about all the different projects he makes and demonstrated them.
We have a 7th grader named Max this year. It will be his 5th year presenting, and he demonstrates micro-controllers called raspberry pis. They are mini computers about the size of a credit card, and he started the raspberry pie users group at the Greenfield Public Library. He'll be exhibiting right next to someone who does this professionally.
What are some of the craziest, wackiest inventions you've seen?
There's always something that stops us in our tracks. People are so incredibly creative. One year there was a metal worker from Wildrose, WI who made an Iron Giant about 30 feet tall out of used car parts at his home in his driveway. We pleaded with him to bring it but it wasn't built to travel. Instead, he brought the dragon from "How To Train Your Dragon" on a flat bed. The thing was huge!
Tell us about your new venue.
We'll be on the third floor of the Wisconsin Center this year. We've gotten a lot of positive feedback about being downtown. We feel it's important for us in terms of visibility. The maker movement has a big impact on Milwaukee's development as a tech hub and all of the other community and economic development going on, so we are excited to be downtown and shine a light on the Maker Community.
Wisconsin Center is a beautiful venue, so we're really excited to welcome past visitors, and new visitors who may be thinking "What's going on here?"
And this is a free event?
Yes, it is free admission. It's part of the museums outreach commitment, so it's free admission, and we rely on sponsor support and support from the community to keep it going.
Do you expect the event to be crowded?
The event has always been comfortable. Saturday tends to be a little more crowded. There's a Packer game on Sunday this year, so you may be able to beat the crowds.
How did it get started in Milwaukee?
Maker Faire is actually a global program, but this is our sixth year hosting one in Milwaukee.
The global program started in 2006 and fairs started to pop up around the country. In 2013, some colleagues and I went to the flagship Maker Faire in San Mateo, California. It translated so well to our mission, and maker education was really starting to impact informal learning environments like children's museums. We saw it, we loved it, and we brought the fair to Milwaukee. It's a licensed event, and we've had the license for 6 years.
And we've grown what we call our maker education initiatives right along side it. We do year round maker education programming, field trips for grades 5-12, teaching training, and family workshops.
The Be A Maker Space at the museum is for families with young children and our field trips for k-4th grade, and we have a new maker space in Bay View called Brinn Labs where we do all of our programming for middle school and high school and teacher training programs.
So the Maker Faire is just one important component of this overall initiative to bring the maker mentality to Milwaukee?
Yes, we call it "The Maker Mindset". It's all about fostering intellectual skills and creativity and problem solving. It has been shown to have a tremendous impact on academic performance and it's really encouraging those 21st century skills like conceptual thinking and being able to apply knowledge to new situations. And that's really what we're about. That is our core mission.
To learn more about the Maker Faire Milwaukee, visit milwaukee.makerfaire.com.