This weekend's competition in Wisconsin is a bit more intense than it was in your grade school gym class.
Over the last decade, there has been an explosion in growth of what’s known as the “maker movement.”
So-called “hackerspaces” have opened all over the country where builders, crafters and computer nerds are making – and showing others how to make – everything from robots to a better can for Pringles. (You know how hard it can be to get the last ones out of the bottom.)
A new DIY (do it yourself) website has been created for kid do-it-yourselfers, so they can demonstrate their maker skills. Wired Magazine calls it “an online refrigerator” where kids can show off their projects.
The website, diy.org, allows children to upload photos and videos of their projects and awards “skill patches” – both virtual and cloth – after kids fulfill three challenges for each skill, ranging from Animator to Zoologist.
Motivating New Projects
“Our skills are designed to inspire kids to try new things that they’ve never tried,” said Isaiah Saxon, a professional animator and chief creative officer of the web site. “Our kind of backbone philosophy is that you can learn anything if you just start doing it. You don’t need prerequisite courses. As soon as you dive in, the learning begins and the number one asset in this environment is creative confidence to learn by doing.”
On the website’s Explore page, there are projects the website’s team has singled out for recognition – including photos of foraged pears, a cardboard bird house and a homemade marble run.
One of the projects singled out involves licorice sticks and small colored marshmallows fashioned into DNA strands. A kid known as Ogel earned eleven skill patches. He employed Oreo cookies to fulfill a challenge for the astronomer patch.
This project is called Oreo Phases of the Moon and he has shown the eight phases of the moon by eliminating different levels of Oreo cookie filling.
A Growing Community
When I visited the diy.org headquarters there were 20,000 kids registered with the site. Since then an animated video of the diy.org anthem was released and it spurred another 5,000 kids to sign on. The video features a boy making a kite out of a recycled grocery bag to fulfill the wind engineer challenge.
One of the website’s members is a sixth grader in Madison, Connecticut. She used a smartphone app to pursue her latest passion.
“Right now I really like making paper airplanes and origami. I have a whole fleet of paper airplanes, ” said 11 year-old Grace McFadden, who has a dozen projects on her diy.org web page, including a tooth pillow she sewed for her younger sister.
Grace has earned a patch for the Salvager skill. One of the challenges she completed for it involved making a pair of slippers out of felt and the sides of a carton of limeade.
“What I did was I just put my foot on a piece of brown felt and I wrapped the felt around my foot and I hot-glued it into place,” Grace said. “And then I cut out part of the limeade carton that fits to the bottom of the felt and I hot-glued that into place.”
Safe And Educational
Grace can upload photos of her projects to diy.org by herself. Her mom Jennifer said the site’s user interface is easy for kids to navigate, and she likes the way diy.org protects kids identities.
Any parent can feel comfortable from the get-go having their children contribute to the site and share all those fabulous things they’re making with other people.
One of the reasons Jennifer McFadden felt comfortable with the website, is that kids get a nickname and an animal head avatar. Anyone can give a kid a virtual sticker expressing positive support for a project. These stickers are posted on the kids’ webpage, as is the virtual version of patches earned after fulfilling three challenges for a specific skill.
Another way diy.org helps kids with their making is by producing how-to videos, such as “Straw Light Sword.”
The founders of diy.org see it as an organization that encourages kids to create neighborhood maker clubs in a way analogous to local scout troops.
The Business Model
By the end of the year, the website will roll out a premium service that will require a modest monthly subscription.
Subscribers to the premium service will be able to buy cloth patches for kids who fulfill skill challenges.
“We want this to be very much a real world organization in every way, so creating those sort of artifacts is definitely on our short list,” said Zach Klein, a former Eagle Scout who serves as CEO of diy.org.
Klein has no doubt that kids will be eager to sew their skill patches onto jackets and backpacks. When the first samples came in from the embroidery company, they were promptly swiped by some neighborhood kids visiting diy.org’s office.
Jon Kalish is a freelance journalist who covers the maker movement for NPR.
Watch the diy.org anthem “Build. Make. Hack. Grow.”