STEM-friendly labs gain popularity with learners of all ages

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published June 28, 2017

 Kids try out student-created video games at last year’s Maker Faire Detroit.

Kids try out student-created video games at last year’s Maker Faire Detroit.

Photo provided by Lish Dorset, of the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

METRO DETROIT — It’s a trend that sort of combines art class with science class and math class, with a twist of comic book sci-fi.

Or it could be totally different from that. 

It’s all about what you make it.

It, of course, being the maker trend that’s been sweeping the nation for the past decade, with everything from 3-D printers to knitters to mechanical fire-breathing dragons — no, really. Makers and their wares are becoming popular enough that event planners and even municipal governments are taking notice.

Like Baldwin Public Library, for instance. Two years ago, the Friends of the Library booster group threw a fundraising gala to finance the addition of a new makerspace in the upcoming renovation, which was just completed a few weeks ago.

That “Idea Lab” will be up and running by August, and BPL Assistant Library Director Rebekah Craft said residents can’t wait to get in and create.

“These makerspaces are becoming more and more popular in libraries. It’s the idea of moving from a place where you store books to a community center where people are coming to learn new things,” Craft explained.

The Idea Lab will include a 3-D printer, a laser engraver, a vacuum sublimation machine, and a robotics bench with tools for electrical work and circuits, all available for the public to use for a small supplies fee. Craft said the high-tech gadgets complement the curriculum taught in nearby schools in a number of ways.

“A lot of the schools have makerspaces to support the STEM (programs), and kids can come here and use these machines if they don’t have enough time to use the lab at school,” she said, discussing studies in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. “And (makerspaces) help build problem-solving skills and teaches kids to think in different ways. It empowers the nontraditional learner who may not be much of a reader. This is just another mode of learning.”

And you never know what all that learning and building could lead to one day. 

“We always say the Henry Ford is home to the original makers, like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers,” said Shauna Wilson, senior manager of national events and community engagement for the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn. 

That’s why the museum has for the past eight years been the ideal location, Wilson said, to host the annual Maker Faire of Detroit. Cities around the country host their own events to bring local creators and their great ideas out of makerspaces and into the spotlight. But Wilson said Detroit has been named a featured faire on par with cities like San Francisco, Rome and New York City.

“We host it inside the museum and out into the parking lot, where we kind of set up a midway, since some of these things just can’t be contained indoors,” she said. “We have everything from crafts to fire arts to homemade vehicles to (vertical) farming; it kind of runs the gamut. Think of your old-school science fair meets the county fair, without animals, meets an air fair. Add a little bit of Burning Man to that, and you’ve got Maker Faire.”

This year’s festivities will take place July 29-30 at the museum, located at 20900 Oakwood Blvd. in Dearborn. Wilson said it’s always a popular event since, unlike with many of the museum’s historic artifacts, guests — particularly kids — can meet and interact with the makers, giving them a chance to learn and even be inspired by the inventions. 

“As they say, it’s the greatest show-and-tell on Earth,” she added.