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The Joy of Nerdy Derby

This popular group project represents a useful design pattern for making and play

Nerdy Derby debuted at World Maker Faire in New York in 2012. Inspired by Pinewood Derby and developed by a group of NYU ITP students, led by Tak Cheung, Nerdy Derby gravity-racers became a popular feature at many Maker Faires. I saw it again this past weekend at Maker Faire Vienna.

At the building stations, there are the supplies and the instructions you need to build a racer.

At this Nerdy Derby, there was a sign encouraging kids to “schmücken” or decorate their racers. It’s not enough to have a functional car; it has too look good too.

I saw a young person who had taken “schmücken” seriously and was now ready to test it on the track.

As shown in the video above, she was happy to see how fast the car could go.

Nerdy Derby is an example of a well-designed maker project that can be done with large numbers of kids and adults as well. You not only make something, but you get to see it how it performs. Plus you get to take your car home with you. This is a design pattern for a successful group project for makers.

Nerdy Derby does take some effort in advance to build the track and prepare the building stations. At Maker Faire Tokyo, the Nerdy Derby had many types of tracks to test cars, including a loop the loop.

The complete instructions for organizing Nerdy Derby can be found on the Nerdy Derby web site. I consider it an open-source project because its excellent instructions are shared for free in the spirit that anyone can re-create it. That’s why it appears at so many Maker Faires and makes so many kids proud of their creation.

Our typical activities layout.
Dale Dougherty