Diving Into the Buffet of Maker Tools

By Mike Carmon, WMSI Instructor

How many tools does a Maker have at their disposal? That amount is not necessarily a quantifiable one, as the array of tools is wide-ranging and ever-expanding! STEM Explorers got a taste of a number of these exciting tools during our last on-site camp in Bethlehem near the end of July: Maker Camp!

Appetizer Course: Animation

Stop Motion & Replacement Animation are fun and versatile tools to utilize in movie-making, and our campers had the opportunity to dabble in these techniques by creating their own movies using SAM Animation software. Replacement Animation (turning one object into another) was one technique in particular we emphasized during this week, and our campers' creativity took it from there! LEGO piece characters were casting spells on other characters, turning them into cats, mice, bridges, and buildings! We also had plastic balls appearing to melt into a heap of LEGO pieces, and pipe cleaners transforming into long, slithery animals!

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Second Course: Renewable Energy

Campers tackled a fun and new-to-WMSI challenge by attempting to “rescue” a “stranded” LEGO person by way of their own homemade wind-powered turbine. Using simple materials such as cardboard, wooden dowels, paper, tape, and string, our STEM Explorers crafted their designs and used simulated wind energy (a fan) to put them to the test! It was a great lesson in the power available in renewable energy resources, and also a fun way for our campers to unlock engineering feats with simple materials they can find around their home. And despite the precise premise, their was no shortage of creativity in the individual designs of each group--all of which were able to successfully rescue our LEGO person-in-distress!

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Third Course: Helicopters

Making things fly is an arguably unmatched feat of engineering, and during Maker camp we demonstrated the ability to accomplish such a task with everyday items once more! Straws, bottles, q-tips, rubber bands, and a bit of hot glue were all we needed for this one, and the excitement was contagious as we tested our rubber band helicopters outside, watching them soar higher and higher above! The rubber band acts as a clever method of storing potential energy, and by harnessing that energy and turning it into kinetic energy, the rubber bands of our helicopters were engineered to turn our propellers, allowing them to fly!

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Entree Course: Marble Runs

A roller coaster is a thrilling ride for humans, and to simulate this experience for a marble proved to be a fun and intricate project for our Makers at camp this year! We had cardboard pathways dangling from the ceiling with string reinforcements, runs that snaked around corners and looped beside walls, and funnels crafted from recycled bottles and plates! It was a great amount of fun helping out with the stringed-to-the-ceiling marble run, and it was also particularly enjoyable to see campers use tongue depressors in a novel way to increase friction and slow down the marble's ride! The challenge was to create a run that took 10 seconds for a marble to traverse, and our campers proved up to this re-MAR-ka-BLE challenge!

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Dessert Course: Moving Robots

Robotics is always an enjoyable, engrossing, and inspiring topic to tackle, and we spent the final day of Maker Camp making robots move in two ways: first, without wheels. Then, with the use of wheels, but with the added ability of traversing all sorts of terrain (a la ATV’s). Despite the weather’s lack of cooperation for outside testing, our instructors constructed a simulated indoor ATV course, and all of our campers wrapped up camp by testing out their creations on the course!

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In addition to these activities, we dabbled in other aspects of Maker tools: programming, game design, and more! It was a jam-packed week of excitement and engineering, and we’re already looking forward to our next Maker-course meal!!

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