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Explore ‘Maker Movement’ at February 24 STEM Café

February 18, 2015

Photo of a garage workshopInexpensive high-tech gadgets and online do-it-yourself instructions are enabling regular folks to move manufacturing and high-tech tinkering out of factories and labs and into basements and garages.

This can-do attitude and embrace of new technologies are at the heart of the Maker Movement, a growing subculture that shares ideas, tools and work spaces as they invent everything from robots to life hacks.

At the next STEM Café, experts will explain and explore “The Maker Movement: A Democracy of Doers!” The event will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24, at O’Leary’s Restaurant and Pub, 260 E. Lincoln Hwy. in DeKalb.

This month’s speaker is NIU alum Andrew Morrison. An expert in physics and astronomy, Morrison believes there is more to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) than reading textbooks and sitting through lectures. He is a founding member of Workshop 88, a community makerspace in Glen Ellyn where beginners and experts alike can collaborate and gain hands-on experience with a variety of tools and technology. Morrison, a professor at Joliet Junior College, says that learning by doing is key to understanding STEM concepts.

During the STEM Café, Morrison will be joined by Workshop 88 cofounder Russ Lankenau. The pair will discuss how the movement relates to STEM education in both formal and informal settings.

“We want people to get a greater understanding of the diversity of ideas and creativity embodied by the Maker Movement,” Morrison said. “People might be surprised to learn how easy and affordable it is to get started tinkering with modern electronics to build a sophisticated project.”

With shop and industrial technology classes no longer a regular part of school curriculum, a hands-on approach to learning can be hard to find. The skills gained through “making,” however, are as important as ever for students looking to work in STEM fields. A new report from Intel recommends that parents and schools “support and customize making projects based on the identities and interests of participants, whether aesthetic, joyful, or related to helping others … Making creates alternative pathways into the fields of computer science and engineering by building on individual interests.”

Workshop 88 logoBut it’s not just students who can benefit.

Experts say that the Maker Movement appeals to adults who feel increasingly alienated by consumer culture. With so many things available at the click of a mouse and so many friendships maintained through social networking websites, people may be looking for new ways to exercise creativity and build real-world community. Workshop 88 and other maker spaces like it, seem to provide such an outlet.

“It’s always a pleasure to bring in speakers who are not only experts in their area, but are actual practitioners actively working to develop these ideas on a grassroots level in the community,” said Judy Dymond, who coordinates STEM Café events. “You might have heard of the ‘maker movement,’ but it’s a group of ideas that can be hard to define … this event should serve as a great introduction.”

NIU’s STEM Cafés occur monthly, and are one of many programs offered through NIU STEM Outreach, part of the award-winning NIU Center for P-20 Engagement.

STEM Cafés are free and open to the public. Food and drinks are available for purchase from O’Leary’s. For more information, call (815) 753-4751 or email [email protected].