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Young Makers Compare Science Fairs and Maker Faires

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Diversity Issues in K-12 and Pre-College Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Miles J. Mabey Arizona State University

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Miles Mabey (Yes that's his real last name) is a second year student at Arizona State University studying Robotic Engineering. He joined the Maker Research team last year and has been to the Bay Area and New York maker Faires.

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Micah Lande Arizona State University

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Micah Lande, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Engineering and Manufacturing Engineering programs at the Polytechnic School in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. He teaches human-centered engineering design thinking, making and design innovation project courses. Dr. Lande researches how technical and non-technical people learn and apply design thinking and making processes to their work.  He is interested in the intersection of designerly epistemic identities and vocational pathways. Dr. Lande received his B.S in Engineering (Product Design), M.A. in Education (Learning, Design and Technology) and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering (Design Education) from Stanford University.

Dr. Lande is the PI on the NSF-funded project Should Makers Be the Engineers of the Future? He is a co-PI on the NSF-funded projects: Might Young Makers Be the Engineers of the Future?, I-Corps for Learning: Leveraging Maker Pathways to Scale Steam + Making Outreach Programs, Instigating a Revolution of Additive Innovation: An Educational Ecosystem of Making and Risk Taking, and Increasing Learning and Efficacy about Emerging Technologies through Transmedia Engagement by the Public in Science-in-Society Activities. He was also a participant in the NSF Innovation Corps for Learning 2015 cohort (Leveraging Maker Pathways to Scale Steam + Making Outreach Programs) and served as senior personnel / instructional team on the 2014 pilot for NSF’s Innovation Corps for Learning (I-Corps-L).

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Shawn S. Jordan Arizona State University Orcid 16x16

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SHAWN JORDAN, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. He teaches context-centered electrical engineering and embedded systems design courses, and studies the use of context in both K-12 and undergraduate engineering design education. He received his Ph.D. in Engineering Education (2010) and M.S./B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Purdue University. Dr. Jordan is PI on several NSF-funded projects related to design, including an NSF Early CAREER Award entitled “CAREER: Engineering Design Across Navajo Culture, Community, and Society” and “Might Young Makers be the Engineers of the Future?” He has also been part of the teaching team for NSF’s Innovation Corps for Learning, and was named one of ASEE PRISM’s “20 Faculty Under 40” in 2014.

Dr. Jordan also founded and led teams to two collegiate National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest championships, and has co-developed the STEAM Labs™ program to engage middle and high school students in learning science, technology, engineering, arts, and math concepts through designing and building chain reaction machines. He has appeared on many TV shows (including Modern Marvels on The History Channel and Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC) and a movie with his Rube Goldberg machines, and worked as a behind-the scenes engineer for season 3 of the PBS engineering design reality TV show, Design Squad. He also held the Guinness World Record for the largest number of steps – 125 – in a working Rube Goldberg machine.

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Participation in the school-based science fair is ubiquitous to the middle-school student. Rising in popularity is the community based, extracurricular Maker Faire for the young tinkerer or maker. With this study, we share perceptions of these 2 canonical STEM events from the perspective of Young Makers. We report on the perceptions of science fairs and Maker Fairs from the perspective of 35 young Makers ages 7-18, who participated in a flagship Maker Faires in the United States. Using thematic analysis we analyze their responses during qualitative interviews and report on their impressions of their science fairs and Maker Faires experiences.

Both science fairs and Maker Faires present authentic STEM learning opportunities for the K-12 student. They have similar formats where the student presents work that they have done, both the process and end product or result. Opportunities often arise in both to engage and excite a student in an area of curiosity. Both types of fairs want their participants to interact with each other and provide each other with feedback and a learning environment. They also want the participants to well document their projects.

Emerging themes indicate both similarities and differences and how those affect the projects represented in each. Both types of fairs are unique and provide a learning experience for their respective participants. Participating in Maker Faires is, study participants believe, provides more applied learning about science, engineering, and community concepts as compared to their participation in science fairs. Maker Faires may provide an opportunity for schools to promote deeper learning. Additional analysis will explore this further.

An example of a science fair is the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, around since the 1950s. ISEF materials define science fair as “research [as]… a process by which people discover or create new knowledge about the world in which they live…Students design research projects that provide quantitative data through experimentation followed by analysis and application of that data.” Specific learning objectives are learning the scientific method, answering a question, and communicating their research clearly. The science fair also offers an opportunity for feedback on how their project compares to others in a competitive school setting (with awards at the local, regional and national competition level).

Organizers describe Maker Faire as “part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new, …an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors.” Maker Faires have become increasingly popular since inception more than 10 years ago, with attendance at flagship Bay Area Maker Faire reaching 130,000 and 85,000 at the flagship New York Maker Faire. Aims are promoting self-motivated learning, give makers a place to freely show of their project, and to be transformation educational experience.

An increasing trend is bringing making activities to K-12 in the classroom, in collaborative maker spaces, and through clubs. This may allow for opportunities to benefit from both science fairs and Maker Faires, including a new initiative to have Maker Faires at schools. We will present implications for STEM and STEAM informal learning and means to engage in STEM, and particularly engineering, in and outside of the science classroom in K-12 education.

Mabey, M. J., & Lande, M., & Jordan, S. S. (2016, June), Young Makers Compare Science Fairs and Maker Faires Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27066

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