Game of Fire

For the three years that I was a producer of Maker Faire Milwaukee, I pined for a large fire effect to be at Milwaukee’s Faire.  Now that I have retired from producing, I have the time to make…GAME OF FIRE.  Stay tuned for updates and progress on this interactive multi-poofer fire challenge.

Crystalline Light Sculpture

A couple weekends before Maker Faire Milwaukee 2015 I was getting antsy and needed to do something creative.

Crystalline Sculpture

I wasn’t sure if there would be enough ambient lighting in the dark hall, and since it was our first year with a dark room dedicated to art and technology, I decided to make a contribution. A member of the Milwaukee Makerspace and I had been cutting hundreds of pine car bodies for the Nerdy Derby activity area and the process produced a lot of thin long strips of scrap wood.

The inspiration for the sculpture was a mix of the scrap materials on hand and the crystal light clusters used at at 31C3, a technology, security, and activism conference held in Hamburg, Germany.

31C3 crystal lights: inspiration

The crystals at 31C3 looked to be made of 1/4″ welded rods with a thick cheese cloth material covering them and colored up-lights illuminating the clusters.

view from inside of crystalline sculpture

My approach to making the crystalline sculpture was to create a base shape out of 2x4s  that could support an arching structure that would be about 8 -9 feet tall, and then build up and out using thin scraps of left over pine. A combination of a pneumatic nail gun and lots of triangles eventually produced a sturdy enough structure that it could be

building triangle upon triangle

dragged out of the woodshop and covered in cheese cloth. I started attaching the cheese cloth with hot glue, but it resulted in many burns when trying to remove wrinkles and wasn’t repositionable after it dried.  I then moved to spray glue which ended up covering my fingers and freezing up my scissors.  I had help from some people at the makerspace attaching the cheese cloth and eventually someone decided to try a glue stick, and it worked brilliantly.  The sculpture wouldn’t  have been finished for the event without the help of friends from the makerspace.   At the event, the sculpture was placed over a floor outlet with a party light plug  in and facing up.

Crystalline Sculpture, view 1
Crystalline Sculpture, view 2
Crystalline Sculpture, view 3
Crystalline Sculpture with light


Belated Hop Picking

It was that time of year again yesterday. The time of year, when I am about 3 weeks late for optimal hop harvesting. Since I did’t have any immediate takers for my nugget hops (floral, used in pale ales) this year I wasnIMG_4659‘t too concerned about the late harvest. I only cut off the bunches that had green springy feeling hops.

I still had a fair amount of green hops left, though as you can see from the picture in my hand there were some that had already turned brown and opened up.

Since the harvest was smaller this year, I decided to try a less labor intensive way to dry the hops.  In the past I have set up mulIMG_4655tiple bread racks with a layer of hops on each rack, but this year I just made a sack out of the netting and tied it to the fan.  Every 8 hours or so I rotate the sack and gently mix the hops.  After the first 10 hours they were considerable lighter in weight.

As I was separating the hops from the vines and leaves, I made two piles, one for the good looking green hops and one for the hops that had turned yellow or were partly brown. Hence the two bags hanging from my fan.  Once the hops are dried I will freeze them all to preserve their intensity, but I might try to use the yellow ones to make a hop scented soap.

Hops in July
Hops in October


I planted my hops in the early spring of 2011 – two Nugget rhizomes (alpha 11-14%) and two Fuggle (alpha 4-5.5%) rhizomes from The Thyme Garden, in OR.  Both hop types emerged when the ground was consistently warm and grew a few feet that first summer, but the Fuggle bines were not as thick or long as the Nugget. Neither produced hops that first year. The Fuggles didn’t make it past the first winter, but the Nuggets produced a small batch of hops the second year (which I did not harvest) and have been thriving with beautiful leaves the size of my head ever since.

Making: The Great Equalizer


Rewiring Lamps

“We Are All Makers” is one of the many tag lines that surround growing Maker Movement.  This tag line in particular has been made popular by Maker Media and the global Maker Faire program.  This is one of my favorite concepts related to the maker movement because it is an equalizer.  Whether you make things with the newest 3D printing technologies, greeting cards from paper scraps, a mean summer salsa, or ruby lasers in your living room, you are a maker.  Young, old, professional or hobbyist – it doesn’t matter to the maker community.  The important thing is that you did it with your hands and mind – you didn’t just buy it off of a shelf.

Some of my other favorite phrases commonly used within the maker movement are:

  • DIT (Do It Together) We all know the commonly used acronym DIY, but you and others will learn more effectively if you do it together rather than by yourself.
  • Skill Sharing– The act of sharing your skills and teaching others peer to peer.
  • Do-ocracy – Don’t ask others to do it.  If you think it is a good idea, do the necessary organizing, and make it happen – lead the collaboration.
  • Skill Collector– Someone who just wants to keep on learning new things. In another era this type of person may have been referred to as a “Jack of All Trades”

Can there be such a thing as rote hands-on learning?

Possibly not, but most kids already know that when you mix the vinegar and baking soda together, it is going to make the volcano erupt, the last class did it and the class before and the class before them.

circuit spiderman
Squishy Circuits at BBCM

Science Centers and Discovery Zones have been involved in the magic of informal education for sometime, but the maker movement and a push for open-ended inquiry has taken self-directed learning to the next level.  Instead of doing hand-on activities that have known outcomes, the maker movement encourages children to find their own problems to solve, to experiment with new materials, address real world challenges, and direct their own learning according to their own questions.

Maker experiences for children

BAM Secret Agent
Using an awl to make holes in cardboard disguise glasses

Dale Dougherty the founder of Maker Media, Make Magazine, and Maker Faire is an advocate for kids and making.  But before we move on, this raises a question – can you derive your livelihood from the very same thing you are campaigning for and still be a genuine activist.  I think so.  I sure hope so, because I would hate to take a boring job somewhere, in an feild I didn’t care about, just to make my advocacy for children, learning and making seem more genuine (I currently work for a children’s museum and help to organize the largest free maker faire in the US). Back to Dale. Dale has been pushing for more makerspaces for kids whether inside school, libraries, or community centers; he would like to see every kid have access to a makerspace.   If you want to know more about Dale and his thoughts on maker experiences for kids, I highly recommend reading a brief  interview  he did with Nicole Krueger for the International Society for Technology in Education.  It is very consistent with other pieces I have read by Dale and heard him speak on at Maker Faires.

Making and Constructivism: Not a new concept 

Educational theorists having been thinking and writing about the nature of learning as being experiential, social, and unique to an individual’s background and culture for almost a hundred years now.  Constructivist theory supports the importance of self-directed learning and responsibility for learning being with the learner.

Some of the most well known contributor to constructivist learning theory are John Dewey (1859–1952), Maria Montessori (1870–1952), Jean Piaget (1896–1980), and Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934).

George Hein’s “Constructivist Learning Theory” paper in The Museum and the Needs of People. CECA (International Committee of Museum Educators) Conference provided an overview of constructivist learning theory and what it’s implications are for informal learning in museums.  This article does not assert that museums are doing everything right, but it does bring up important concepts that are relevant both to museums and makerspaces for kids, such as:

  • Opportunities for meaningful conversations with the learner’s personal community (family & friends)
  • Time to reflect and return to activities and concepts as needed or desired
  • The presence of “experts” who are able to engage with the learning at their level of knowledge and help to stretch their understanding at a pace the learner is comfortable comfortable with.

Yes, the movement is important!

Table-top CNC router

In an age where technology moves at lightning speed and knowledge is growing and doubling like never before, it is going to require a new type of learner to compete in the global economy.  Makerspaces provide organic learning experiences that can adapt to new technologies, concepts, and theories faster than school boards and bureaucracy can approve new curriculum or the purchase of new technical equipments for schools.

On an individual level learners can explore the areas they are interested in.  There is no predefined curriculum, so if a learner wants to explore open source coding software, casting and moldmaking, or woodworking he or she will be encouraged to do so under the Do-ocracy concept.  If the tools and materials don’t exist at the space, the community acts as a resource for reaching out to the right people, websites, or organizations.

Society as a whole will benefit from a  generation of critical thinkers who understand how their world is made and are not blind consumers. Not only do makerspaces and maker communities teach about making objects and understanding new technology, but they also teach key elements for being a good community member.  The values of the maker movement include sharing knowledge openly, being decent and respectful to others, taking responsibility for your actions and safety, giving back to your learning community, and leading on projects that you believe in.

So what is it going to take to get more kids making in maker communities?

“Sticks & String: a family making project. What are all the things you can make with sticks and string?

Leadership: It is going to take community organizers to join forces and start exploring what a makerspace could look like in their community.  Makerspaces are happening all over place.  According to, a volunteer resource and global community for hackerspaces and makerspaces, there were over 1,800 hackerspaces and makerspaces registered from around the world at the time of this post.  Many spaces are in the planning phases, some are closed, while many others have been faithfully operating in their communities for years.  That can sound like a lot of makerspaces for someone who has just recently become familiar with the movement, but when you look at it globally, the 1000 largest cities in the world have populations of over 500,000. That isn’t even two spaces per large city, not to mention a good percentage of makerspaces require members to be at least 18 yrs old.

aaaIm a maker

Learning: We must model curiosity and learning to show that it is valued in our communities. If we expect to organize and grow makerspace communities for kids and families, we must be willing to learn from our failures and persevere. Use the other makerspaces as resources, reach out to libraries and schools who have informal learning spaces, the greatest learning environments come out of conversations and collaborations with like-minded people who share the same values and missions.

Service: “People make makerspaces, tools don’t make makerspaces” – another common saying within the maker movement.  This means that dedicated people who have skills or enthusiasm about the movement need to be part of the community of learners and be available to “skill share” one on one, teach a workshop, or provide training for tools and equipment.  Tools alone will just sit in a corner if no-one is there to teach other how to use it.  Service also means being will to be a resource for others who are looking to organize a makerspace in their own community.

What’s going on in my maker world this upcoming year?

Well, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and the Milwaukee Makerspace are deep in the planning for the second annual Maker Faire Milwaukee.  We work hard to be the nation’s largest free Maker Faire.  This year we are working to get more teachers and students aware of the movement, resources and community by offering field trips for the Friday before the event to get a behind the scenes look at setting up the Faire, meet local makers, and participate in maker workshops. We will offer a limited number of field trips for this first year by invitation only as we test the waters, but I am hoping this will be a successful way to share the movement with others who might not know to come to the Faire.

The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum has it’s own makerspace called Be A Maker that I volunteer in when time permits.  I am also a proud member of the Milwaukee Makerspace and recently ran mold-making and casting workshop. Working on collaborations between the two makerspaces allow us to share making with the community is one of the most rewarding things I do.