Some kids discover the Maker movement with their head already full of ideas for projects they want to realize. Other kids need a little nudge, some way to focus on a subset of The Wide World of Whatever You Want. In this edition of Finding Starter Projects, we offer you the focus imposed by an external deadline: a challenge, a contest, or some kind of due date. Sometimes when you can make anything, you end up making nothing at all. We don’t want that! Let’s give our new makers a few clues to get started, some kind of shared focus.
In our last post, we shared sets of projects that have been designed or culled by a single author or institution in order to introduce new makers to a wide range of creative practices, and we’ve also focused on project starters made by Make:, project databases, and free software.
In Young Makers, we often like to remind our clubs that it’s about exhibition, not competition. Nonetheless, a lot of kids are motivated by being a part of something bigger with a deadline and a lot of pomp and circumstance celebrating the achievements of the participants.Our teachers have found that these work very well to give their new makers a shared vocabulary and camaraderie in their makerspace.
There are too many contests, deadlines, and dates to list here, but we know teachers and young makers who have participated in the following.
- BotBall: This competition has been praised by our teachers as a lower-bar alternative to more well-known, higher-priced tournaments.
- BROADCOM Masters: Ben Hylak, a teenager we know who is also fierce advocate for Maker Faire, rode his telepresence robot all the way from his Pennsylvania hometown to the White House Science Fair.
- Cognizant’s Making the Future design-based scholarship program recognizes originality and creativity in STEM-based projects.
- Destination Imagination (and its Global Finals) has long shared its whimsical project challenges through Maker Faire.
- FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) and FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), FIRST LEGO League (FLL) and JrFLL: FIRST has long been a powerhouse of robotics education, but joining this program is no easy feat! Be ready for lots of build sessions and even more fundraising. Fans of FIRST confirm that all the extra effort is 100% worth the work.
- Friday After Thanksgiving (FAT) at MIT is a hilarious, collaborative chain reaction event held annually on the day after, you guessed it, the 4th Thursday of November. Hosted by Makers Arthur Ganson and Jeff Lieberman and witnessed by more than 1,500 people who come from as far away as Michigan and California, participants range “from Girl Scout troops to artists and engineers, from MIT clubs to high schools and family teams.”
- Global Cardboard Challenge An annual event inspired by Caine’s Arcade, you can “play” anytime! This weekend: October 11th
- Google Science Fair: Sure, the competition is steep, but who can resist seeing what amazing, ambitious projects have sprung up from the busy neurons of young scientists and entrepreneurs around the world? We’ve hosted groups of finalists from the competition on Maker Camp, and they are lovely as well as talented!
- Instructables contests: These get changed up continuously so keep an eye out for one that fits what you are doing, and, let’s face it, contributing to this enormous resource is a skill every Maker should acquire.
- Intel International Science and Engineering Fair: like the Google Science Fair, this predecessor is chock-full of inspiration and cash prizes if you have a genius on your hands
- Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize honors promising young inventors around the country with recognition and $10-15K: the majority of team members must be undergraduates.
- MESA (Mathematics Science Engineering Achievement) hosts national competitions and more local / regional MESA Days elevated 72 winners from a pool of 49,000 largely low-income middle- and high-school students.
- Mini Maker Faires in your local community are an excellent way to share your students’ work, and they have their own set of quite inflexible deadlines for application and final exhibition. If your students aren’t done in time to show, they can work on their projects on-site at Maker Faire, and/or suffer the mild embarrassment (or intense shame!) of not achieving their project goal.
- NEED Project’s Annual Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement recognizes projects
- National Young Game Inventors Contest (NYGIC) for your kids who love to play and make up their own boardgames Deadline: October 15th
- RoboGames: An early staple of the first few Maker Faires, this is a force of its own. The Junior League has medal winners in seven categories: Lego (Bowling, Linefollow, TubePush, and Open), Sumo, Combat, and Best of Show.
- Rube Goldberg Machine Contest (RGMC) challenges student teams around the world from middle school on up to compete in building the most elaborate and hilarious Rube Goldberg Machine.
- Science Olympiad: 7,000 teams from all 50 states compete track-meet style in 23 team events that emphasize active, hands-on group participation.
- SparkLab Invent It! Challenge on ePals: Winners get a patent filed for their invention
- The Tech Challenge: I appreciate a lot of things about this design contest, but one thing in particular I like is how this challenge is judged. The score emerges not just from the in-the-moment performance of the device the team designs, but also a review of the team’s process and journal.
- Vex Robotics: Another pricier robotics system, it is quite popular with those who choose this competition over the far more intensely competitive FIRST universe.
Not interested in subjecting your students to the stresses of competition, contests, and deadlines? Even if you don’t participate in these programs, take a look at what these groups are doing. You can also look to the contest rules and winners for inspirational project sparks you can adapt to your club or classroom.
What did we miss? Tell us!
Check out our earlier posts in this series:
What’s your favorite resource for making projects? Add to our list by commenting below.