Making and STEM
They came together hand in hand at the City of STEM / LA Maker Faire
Last Saturday, I was in Los Angeles for an event on April Fool’s Day with dual-branding, City of STEM and LA Maker Faire — a science festival combined with a Maker Faire. There were 182 booths spread outside in a park, the Los Angeles State Historic Park with views of downtown on one side and snow-capped mountains on the other. Around 20,000 people of all ages came out to the event.
City of Stem is an organization that “celebrates science, technology, engineering, and math throughout Greater Los Angeles.” Ben Dickow, who is President and Executive Director of Columbia Memorial Science in Downey, CA, put together the City of STEM to organize large science festivals in LA in years past.
Since 2015, the Los Angeles Public Library has organized Maker Faire at their downtown central library location, expanding it each year. Three delightful women bring it all together: Eva Mitnick, Diane Olivo-Posner and Vivienne Bird.
In 2019, they began talking to Ben about doing a larger, combined event at a new location. They had to wait because of the pandemic but last Saturday, it finally happened. After a lot of rain, which saturated the field, the day itself was sunny and warm. Lots of families came out — I look for the number of strollers.
Bill Nye, the Science Guy, was the keynote speaker, kicking off the event. He asked the audience if they could choose any time to be alive, which time would they choose. He answered that right now was the most exciting time ever to be alive. Despite our having many, real problems, he said that we knew so much more about the world and we can work on these problems. He said in a moo-hahah voice that: “yes, you can change the world.”
Every now and then, an LA Metro train would pass just behind where he stood on stage and he would stop and marvel at all the science that goes into making a train run efficiently and quietly.
I must admit that I didn’t see any of the attendees worried about the relationship between STEM and Making. What they experienced were lots of hands-on activities to engage kids, like making your own paper rocket and sending it skyward from a compressed-air launcher.
The Oakwood School had many student-led hands-on activities. My favorite was the bubble printer. You could see these small clouds of bubbles floating upward like balloons.
Early in the morning, I was tasked with talking to an impatient TV reporter. She understood STEM to mean Science but she didn’t know what “maker” was or what it meant. “I have to explain it in only a few words,” she said, somewhat agitated. The word I used was “creative” and she got it. “I’m creative,” she said rather proudly, adding: “That’s why I work in this job.” My answer seemed to satisfy her. I pointed her towards a young girl who made colorful, smelly slime and she went over there and soon had it in her own hands, stretching it out. The young girl got on the air for the live broadcast and I was let go.
In the perfect world, we’d see how all of this fits together, but we often put science in one corner and creativity in another to keep them apart, like two rambunctious children, and then we realize how we need both of them. It’s like separating engineering and design as disciplines and then struggling to bring them together in the workplace.
I loved this one exhibit, which was intended to promote an electric car but I saw it as a mobile coloring book. Putting a stencil on a car, they created an unexpected opportunity to color, and it wasn’t just kids enjoying it.
When I was walking around with Ben, a woman approached him to ask a question: the signs said that there was both STEM and Maker Faire. She wanted to know how she could tell which booths were one or the other. Ben said to her, enthusiastically: “They are all mixed together.” She seemed satisfied with that answer, and went happily on her way to explore.
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