The Maker Movement: What It Means For Young Inventors

A young Maker tinkers with a microcontroller.

A young Maker tinkers with a microcontroller.

The Maker Movement: What It Means For Young Inventors

Author: Nkem Modu, Chief Curator of

We here at TeenBusiness have been keeping an eye on the maker movement recently. While there are incredible new opportunities for young inventors to take part in exciting new Maker projects around the country and across the globe, your first question might me: what is the Maker movement and why do I care?

Some may tell you that the Maker movement is a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) initiative. 

And if you frame it that way, there is nothing new about Maker culture. Hobbyists have been tinkering away in their basements for centuries, creating inventions out of wood, metal and circuit boards.

However, the Maker movement is much more than a DIY initiative. While the Maker movement is comprised of individual hobbyists and creators, the movement gets its strength from the social connections that it fosters and from the remarkable decrease in price of new tools.  

3D Printers and Lasers: Not Just For NASA

An article about the Maker movement in the most recent issue of Newsweek describes how Henry Simonoff took his creative passion and built something:

So he sold his laptop on eBay, added to those proceeds all of the birthday money and allowance he had saved over the years, and took out a loan from the Bank of Dad to buy the cheapest 3-D printer he could find online. By the end of seventh grade, he had paid his father back entirely—all from the sales of his customized iPhone cases and little cone toys that he’d designed to flip around like benign butterfly knives.

Even if Henry were the world’s greatest #TeenVestor (in which case, he would have probably spent a considerable amount of time on this website), the story above would have been impossible five to ten years ago. Tools such as 3-D printers, laser cutters and micro controllers were too expensive for the average hobbyist. 

Nowadawys there are great options for young inventors interested in getting their hands dirty. There’s the Arduino, an open source micro-controller that has been used to create 3D printers, robots, earthquake sensors, sewing machines, model helicopters,  and so many more objects. There are desktop 3D printers that sell for under $750, like the XYZ Da Vinci 2.0 duo. There are also desktop milling machines - useful for cutting and shaving wood and plastic - for under $2000.

But what if you want to get your hands dirty today. The great part is that you might not even have to buy these yourself to begin playing with them because...

Maker Spaces: An Inventor's Playground

Cheaper tools made the Maker movement possible. Maker Spaces and Maker Faires made the Maker movement fun.

A Maker Space is exactly what the name suggests: a space for individuals to make things, together. Maker Spaces have their roots in Hackerspaces, places where programmers come together and use their skills to tackle issues and build new things. While many people think that advances in computer science come from fancy comp sci degrees, Hackerspaces have played an integral part in innovations in programming and computer science. The Homebrew Computer Club, an early hackerspace/hobbyist group in Silicon Valley, played an integral role in creating the first personal computers.

Makerspaces expand on the concept of Hackerspaces to include anyone interested in making anything, not just computer software and hardware. First popularized by the creation of MAKE Magazine in 2005, a Makerspace is a community workshop or craft area for both hobbyists and professionals. A typical Makerspace contains tools for many types of crafts - such as physical computing, sewing, woodworking, metalworkings, milling, etc. - and offers classes for those interested in learning how to use them.

There are many versions of Maker Spaces. As a young inventor, you may be interested in these three variations:

Young Maker Program: The Young Makers program is "a community that brings together like-minded young people, experienced adult mentors, and fabrication facilities to help more kids make things". Bring your idea to a club (search the directory to find a club near you) and work with a mentor to make that idea a reality. If you can't find a club near you, round up some like-minded friends and start your own. For more information on starting a Young Maker club, read the Maker Club Playbook.

For-Profit Maker Spaces: TechShop is a chain of Makerspaces that charge monthly membership fees and offer workshops classes. The monthly fees carry hefty price tag, but the classes that they offer are a bit more affordable. Classes include Arduino 101, Woodworking Basics and Metalworking 101.

School Programs: Schools across the country are finally catching on and building their own mini-Makerspaces. Henry Simonoff, the young inventor from the Newsweek excerpt above, discovered his passion for design and electronics after using his school's makerspace. You're school may have one too:

It’s not just private school kids who are using this technology. Public schools are also beginning to experiment. Albemarle County Public Schools, for example, a 27-school district serving nearly 13,000 students in the area surrounding Charlottesville, Virginia, is developing classes like the one Simonoff took at St. Ann’s and assignments like the giant wheel project at High Tech High. The superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools, Pam Moran, says many of her students are beginning to “see themselves as designers, makers.” She says they’re now “constantly looking at the world in terms of problems that they can solve.”

Whether you join a Young Makers club, start your own club, attend Techshop classes or start using your school's makers ace, you might eventually want to show the world what you've made. In that case,  you should head to a Maker Faire near you.

A Science Fair, Only 1000x Cooler

President Obama hosted a Maker Faire at the White House this past summer

President Obama hosted a Maker Faire at the White House this past summer

Maker Faires are giant science fairs sponsored by MAKE magazine. There are eight flagship fairs that occur throughout the year and across the globe. The most recent fair was in New York City on September 20th-21st, where 85,000 people gathered to share their creations

All types of inventions have been displayed at Maker Faires. As explained by a TIME Magazine article:

As I walked the many show floors and looked at the various exhibits, I found out that the maker movement, which started like the Homebrew Computer Clubs of the past, is made up of makers who can be defined as anyone that makes things. While its roots are tech-related, there were people at the show teaching how to crochet, make jewelry, and even one area called Home Grown, where do-it-yourselfers showed how to pickle vegetables, can fruits and vegetables, as well as make jams and jellies. There was another area focused on eco-sustainability, bee keeping, composting and growing your own food.

In addition to the flagship Maker Faires, there are independent and community-sponsored Mini-Maker Faires popping up everywhere. Check out this Maker Faire map to find one near you.

While the Maker Faires and makerspaces are available to everyone, it might also be a great idea to use crowd funding to get the money to create your own makerspace. If you and your friends are interested in creating a makerspace, and can find some great adult mentors to guide you along as you build it, check out our upcoming article about how to leverage corwdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. See our list of crowdfunding platforms.