San Diego’s Vintage Tech Makers Inspire Modern Educators

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San Diego’s Vintage Tech Makers Inspire Modern Educators

It’s well known in the maker community that Maker Faires are an exciting way to grab a sneak peak into what is new and exciting in the minds of tinkerers. While Maker Faires have been going on worldwide for several years, there is incredible value for teachers looking to shake up their classroom experience. The hands on project ideas that these makers create have the potential to be hugely beneficial in generating new curriculum ideas for the upcoming school year. Take the recent Mini Maker Faire in Vista, California that occurred over Fathers Day weekend. It was an amazing showcase and display of local makers doing what they do best — showing and telling.

These were not the makers who we know so well. Curators and connoisseurs of Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and 3D printing. Located at the Antique Steam Gas Engine Museum is a treasure trove of the lost arts of vocational training or now called career & technical education (CTE). This place serves as a great example of going back to basics when it comes to teaching innovation and invention through project-based learning. One attendee humorously said, “This place feels like we are in the time when ‘making’ was just simply called ‘living.’” He was on to something. What is unique about the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum are the collection of machines, many from the early 20th century, that hobbyists, engineers and mechanics have all rehabilitated and made operable. This wasn’t just a regular day for modern makers since it brought together new makers and old makers alike, a convenient theme of this year’s mini faire, “Where new makers and old makers join forces!”

We met John Sawyer from the Cigar Box Guitars. He created a DIY cigar box guitar kits that sounded superb and easy to make at a price point that didn’t break the bank. He demonstrated some of the ways he decorates his guitars but using the scientific Lichtenberg principle to create beautiful and unique patterns.

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We met Jeff Sparksworthy of the San Diego Argonauts who discussed World War II battle ship replicas and the painstaking detail that they took to build these beauties, only to destroy them on the battlefield for our viewing pleasure.

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Or take the handloom weavers guild at the museum, a collective of weavers who make textiles by using antique looms. They restore old machines, get them working, learn how to use them, and keep them working. I spoke with one teacher who hopes to bring her class to learn this old style of making one day. May of the weavers hope to teach the next generation the lost art of weaving.

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There are also the California Blacksmith Guild, a workshop group that offers classes to teach the art of blacksmithing. The idea of using your hands and body completely in a way that makes you realize the hard work and effort you are putting into something is powerful to see. It makes writing this blogpost in the comfort of an air-conditioned airplane seem sad and pathetic. Where is the grit in that?

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There are lessons, history, and curriculum associated with making that develop a truly authentic and meaningful student and teacher experience. Can we begin to teach through experience in a way that makes the lesson relevant to and would resonate with the student? Teachers can start on the path of project based learning and maker education by simply observing other makers in action. This will allow them to fully embrace the culture, spirit, and application of making inside and outside the classroom.

Come to a local faire and see what it’s all about. Guaranteed there will be some creative ways to reignite the energy, imagination and authenticity in your classroom.

Join the annual Maker Faire San Diego in Balboa Park on October 7–8 and observe for yourself how makers roll. Buy tickets today!

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Becky LeBret

Becky is Executive Director of Next Ed Research, an education nonprofit which collaborates with makers, educators, and science aficionados to uncover innovative models in education. She works to create a precision-based learning environment through human-centered design. As a maker she relishes in succulent arrangements, edible gardens, and indulges in the fine art of vermicompost.

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