Most of us know that we live in a digital world today, and the internet has made the world a really small place now. However, when you stop and think about the fact that a fifth grader has never lived in a world without smartphones, it is enough to make us 30 and 40 something parents wonder how we prepare our children for the future. Well, one method gaining a lot of popularity is MakerSpaces. But do you realize you can easily make your own relatively inexpensive MakerSpace right in your home?
The concept of a MakerSpace is to allow a child to discover and create on their own in the world of tech and science. The public MakerSpaces you see today will normally consist of a 3D printer, a laser cutter, a computer with a bunch of apps, and maybe some type of robotics. For your tween and teen though, go simpler.
For a personal MakerSpace, go with robotics, movie-making, coding, and experiments. Starting with robotics, I include drones, remote control cars and helicopters, and all levels of robots in this category. Essentially, if you can program and maneuver a device through an obstacle course of some type, you are doing robotics. You can create your own obstacle course in a room using cardboard, wood, and other materials and then have timed road races with your remote control car. You can also go to your local park or playground and navigate your helicopter through it. Once you get good at controlling your helicopter, it might be time to look at drones which are basically programming helicopters with a camera. There are actually professional drone tournaments you can participate in but don’t go cheap if you are doing that. For robots, I love www.robotshop.com. They have anything you can think of. For starter robots, look at Ozobots, Spheros or the Wonder Dash robot. All three of these robots are durable, easy to use, and loads of fun with good support. And of course, the Lego Mindstorm EV3 is best in class for your higher level robot.
Next, get your movie making studio setup. All you need is a lime-green sheet of fabric, a good halogen light, and a tablet with the free Stop Motion app, the $7.99 Do Ink app, the free Pic Collage app, and a Youtube account through gmail. Lego characters have made stop motion movie cool again, and they are so easy to do if you are willing to spend the time. I have seen ten year olds spend weeks creating their 10 minute stop motion movie. When you consider the fact that you need to take 300 photos and about 30 seconds for each photo to create a 30 second stop motion movie, this will keep your child occupied for hours. Upload onto Youtube, add the free music and voila: you have a Youtube star. Pic Collage is a precursor to Adobe Photoshop and super easy to use. For that child who has an artistic eye but can’t draw, Pic Collage will allow them to really shine. Finally, green screen is the intro to computer generated imaging which all movies are using now. With Do Ink, your child can put any image in the background, add in animation, and create a really cool movie. It is becoming so popular that celebrities like Jean Claude Van Damme provide free moving images or gifs on Youtube which you can add into your green screen movie. All you need is that green fabric and a good light to get rid of shadows.
For coding, any laptop will work. Start with Hour of Code or Kodable. Once they get the hang of that, go to the next level. Windows Kodu, Apple Swift, MIT Scratch 2.0, Minecraft, or Google Coding with Chrome are all fabulous programs with great tutorials to walk any child through how to program. I prefer Scratch 2.0 because it is online and works with any system with Minecraft a close second. Both have been around a long time so every question possible has been answered online somewhere. Apple will also provide IT support for Swift as well.
Finally, don’t be afraid to play the Mad Scientist. On Youtube, I love watching Crazy Russian Hacker or Quirkology and copying their experiments. But my two favorite sites come from New Zealand. Powder Toy is a free downloadable virtual chemistry program with every chemical you can think of. You can mix anything together and then measure any type of reaction. For easy home experiments, go to Science Kids. I have done all these experiments, most of which are on my Youtube channel, and they truly work.
I find once the child has an opportunity to get exposed to these different fields, they tend to focus on the one or two things they are really passionate about. By the time they hit high school, they are ready to go to that next level up from these suggestions. And when they do that, you have achieved your objective because they don’t need your help anymore.
Rob More is the lead instructor for Beckwith Tech Camp and maintains a blog at Morehaven Makerspace Camp. He was named a Capital Region Educator Finalist last year for having a paperless classroom. He is also a contributor to the CEMC Grade 5/6 POTW resource and MathFrog and serves as an advocate for people impacted by FASD.