Maker Ed awesomeness at the Austin Mini Maker Faire

Giveaway alert: A family pack of Austin Mini Maker Faire passes is up for grabs, plus free tickets for professional educators and a special discount code for homeschoolers! Read on.

I love the theme of this year’s Austin Mini Maker Faire, as expressed in the beautiful posters designed by Kat Townsend: We are all makers. Even more exciting for me (and the reason Alt Ed Austin is a proud sponsor of AMMF 2014) is its brilliant demonstration of another theme: We are all learners. We are all teachers.

Underlying its well-deserved reputation for outlandish fun in the tech, craft, art, robotics, and sustainability arenas, the heart of Austin’s annual maker extravaganza is education. At a time when our traditional school systems are deep in crisis, the Faire serves as a showcase for learning experiences as they should be: hands-on, interdisciplinary, learner directed, multi-age, naturally engaging, noncompetitive, playful, and focused on using critical thinking skills and imagination to address real-world problems.

With the generous support of our special area sponsor, WonderLab, we have expanded the Maker Ed section of the Faire in a big way and added some extra perks for educators. Here’s what’s in store:

Free admission for professional educators! Just show some proof that you are an educator at check-in. 

Special 20% discount for homeschooling families. Buy your adult and child tickets in advance using this code: AHS20OFF 

Educators’ Lounge. This year we’re giving teachers and other education professionals a comfy place at the Faire to take a break and meet new colleagues. We’ll also facilitate some quick and fun ways for educators to trade ideas about incorporating making into their learning environments and overcoming maker ed challenges. As a thank-you for participating in the Lounge, we’ll have some great teacher-oriented swag bags. Many thanks to supervolunteers Mike DeGraff, Claudia Pepper, and Laura Minnigerode and these sponsors for making all of this happen: Five Elements Furniture, SparkFun, Texas Instruments, and UTeach.

Three huge tents devoted to Maker Ed. Fairegoers will experience a dizzying array of hands-on activities and demonstrations presented by schools and other educational programs from pre-K through college levels. Anchored by AMMF sponsor Skybridge Academy, these edu-makers will give Fairegoers opportunities to sharpen their wilderness survival skills, practice the fine art of bubble making, learn how a couple of local high school kids have built a 3D printer, and much, much more. 

More edu-awesomeness outside the Maker Ed tents. Some of our event sponsors are bringing exhibits and activities so big they’ve claimed their own chunk of AMMF real estate:

  • In the ever-popular Austin Tinkering School pavilion, kids can make their own racecars and try their luck in the Nerdy Derby, or hang out in the Open Shop, deconstructing electronics and creating their own marvels with all kinds of interesting building materials.
  • The Thinkery’s Kid Zone will offer multiple STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) activities for young makers. Its hand-built trebuchet will be flinging things the old-fashioned way throughout the day.
  • On the outdoor stage, kids of all ages will be amazed and edified by the Mad Science show. Grownups will learn to safely wow their friends and enemies with the fiery arts at Tim Deagan’s Propane 101 for Artists and Makers. And everyone, I mean everyone, will have a blast at Steve Wolf’s multi-award-winning Science in the Movies show. Check out the performance schedule and plan your day at the Faire!
  • Inside the Expo Center arena, beyond the planetarium, aerial dancers, and the gajillion fascinating craft, tech, and arts exhibits, you’ll find a workshop space where you can learn to program a Raspberry Pi, ferment your own vinegar from table scraps, make a perfect hula-hoop, or turn your small business dreams into reality. Reserve your space in a workshop today!

This is only the tip of the iceberg, people. I’ve highlighted the overtly educational features of the Faire, but no matter how you choose to spend your time at AMMF, you’ll learn something. Jump off a tower into a giant marshmallow with the Stunt Ranch crew, find out how an intrepid professor is sustainably living in a dumpster for a year, or pedal like you’ve never pedaled before at the Austin Bike Zoo’s Interactive Wonderland and Carnival. I guarantee you’ll come away with that unmistakable feeling that we are all learners, we are all teachers. And for sure, we are all makers.


You have a bunch of ways to enter this random drawing, with up to 10 chances to win an AMMF family pack of 2 adult and 2 child passes. If you’ve already bought your tickets, be sure to let your friends know about this opportunity to attend the Austin Mini Maker Faire for free! Enter by midnight Thursday, May 1, and we’ll announce the lucky winner right here in a blog update on Friday morning. Good luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

UPDATE: Congratulations to giveaway winner Suzanne H.! We look forward to seeing you and your family on Saturday. And thanks to everyone who entered the drawing. You can still buy discounted AMMF tickets in advance (through 10am Saturday) here.

More Making at the Thinkery

Guest contributor Emily Weerts is the Innovators’ Workshop Manager at the Thinkery, the new Austin Children’s Museum. Emily grew up in Northern California and is the daughter of an avid crafter and a handy model maker. A “Maker” before there was a “Movement,” Emily attended the first Maker Faire in California in 2006 before moving that summer to Austin, where she subsequently attended the 2007 and 2008 Austin Maker Faires. Emily dabbles in many Maker pursuits including screen printing, traditional and e-textiles, glass arts, paper crafts, robotics, and kitchen concoctions.

If you’ve been to the Thinkery, you may have noticed the two-story climbing structure or the drenching water exhibit, but before you got to the Light Lab, did you stop by a project table? Maybe you chatted with a resident artist working on a sculpture made from recycled materials. Or perhaps you spent some time tinkering with some LED lights, batteries, and conductive play dough. Did you pop into Kitchen Lab and create something out of corn starch plastic?

Making is a fundamental experience that the Thinkery wants to encourage and share with visitors of all ages.

In 2007 when Maker Faire came to Austin, staff at the Austin Children’s Museum recognized a shared value of learning through Making. In 2008, the Museum partnered to bring an extensive Maker Kids area to the Faire, and in the summer of 2009, the Museum developed and presented a Maker Kids feature exhibit to bring the Maker experience to many more visitors.

In designing the new museum, opportunities for Making and hands-on creative problem solving were at the heart of the planning process. Since the Thinkery opened in late 2013, Making has taken many forms. Visitors stopping in for an hour or two are most likely to encounter Making at the project tables in the Innovators’ Workshop, Spark Shop, and Kitchen Lab.

Here at the Thinkery we define Making broadly and encourage all people to think of themselves as Makers. At its simplest, Making is the act of creating something; from a quilt to a batch of cookies, there are learning opportunities at every step of the way. Making emphasizes skill development, like learning how to properly use a power drill or how to stitch a seam.

When presented in the context of a project, difficult concepts become more manageable. Multiplying fractions makes a bit more sense when done in the service of quadrupling a recipe. Suddenly, while designing a quilt, finding the hypotenuse of a triangle really is as easy as a2 + b2 = c2.

In developing Maker activities and programs at the Thinkery, there are a few guidelines we like to follow. We hope these tips and principles ring true and prove useful for educators everywhere:

  • Use real tools. Toys are lots of fun, but there are also many safe ways to introduce real tools to novice learners. Use a wooden mallet instead of a hollow plastic toy hammer. Introduce a three-year-old to stitching by using a yarn needle and plastic canvas.
  • It’s okay to fail. No great Maker gets perfect results every time. Far from it! Often the best learning happens during the process of making something and learning from mistakes. Take (calculated) risks, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Making takes practice. Learning a new skill can be intimidating, but remember that the best Makers didn’t start out as experts; they had years of practice. With lots of practice, you can be great at anything.
  • When people are encouraged and equipped to make things themselves, they gain a strong ownership over their learning.  Let the Maker and the project guide the learning process.
  • Forget “Do-it-Yourself.” Making is most fun and productive when it’s done with others. Pair novice Makers with Maker Mentors to see how much everyone learns from each other. Let’s start a “Make-it-Together” movement!
  • Embrace your own “I don’t know” moments. It’s okay that you don’t know how to solder or use a sewing machine. You can still help learners by colearning, finding resources, or connecting them with Maker Mentors.
  • Resist the urge to “do it for them.” Keep your hands off the tools and materials as much as possible. Show learners how to do something and let them try it themselves.

If you aren’t sure where to get started, consider coming up with a Maker Resolution. At the Thinkery, we had all our staff set Maker Resolutions for 2014. Our diverse and creative team came up with a huge spectrum of projects for the new year, from creating a stop-motion animation music video to baking and decorating a three-tiered cake. One of our staff members resolved to learn how to make a website, and one of our Teen Volunteers plans to make her own prom dress.

May this year and all the years to come be filled with creativity, innovation, tinkering, and Making!

Emily Weerts

Join Emily and other Thinkery staff and volunteers on May 3 for some all-ages Making at this year’s Austin Mini Maker Faire!