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Maker Camp: Online projects for teens

Maker Camp instructors show students what they'll

Maker Camp instructors show students what they'll be working on that day. Credit: Maker Camp instructors show students what they'll be working on that day.

Eager teens interested in making things this summer need only an Internet connection and a few household items. Maker Camp (, a collaboration between Google+ and MAKE magazine, launched earlier this month and is an antidote to the summer doldrums for teens looking to exercise their minds.

The aim of Maker Camp is two-fold: to encourage interested teenagers to get involved with making things and learn more about science and engineering, and to build an open, inclusive community of people around the maker culture.

“That’s really the goal, to introduce the kids ... to the broad spectrum of what’s possible,” said Mark Frauenfelder, editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine.
Each morning, participants log in to Maker Camp and find out the daily project, and can find a materials list and directions. At 11 a.m., the Maker Camp virtual hangout begins on Google+, with live instruction from a MAKE magazine “alpha maker.” After the projects are completed, students are encouraged to share their work on Google+ and other social media.

Last year more than a million teens age 13-18 took part in Maker Camp, and organizers expect more to join the camp this summer, which runs through Aug. 16. Any teen 13-18 can sign up and take part in as many or as few projects as they like. Each week culminates with a Friday Field Trip, conducted virtually in a Google+ Hangout. Already this summer, students visited NASA. They will soon check out Google’s Project Loon to learn about creating balloon-powered Internet access, and visit some musicians’ studios.

This year Maker Camp has introduced a network of “camp sites,” locations where camp affiliates host students in order to facilitate hands-on collaboration. The closest sites to New York City are in Central Islip on Long Island or Middletown, N.J. While nurturing science-curious kids is important to all involved, the fact that the camp is free and available to all teens is also crucial to the success of the project.

“We’re looking to extend this program and this notion of learning to as many people as possible,” said Laura Nicholl of Google+. “We want to make this fun, accessible, interactive and approachable.”

According to Frauenfelder, bringing students together who are interested in science and technology — typically subjects learned and experimented with alone — will help young people to enjoy the skills more. He related it to kids taking swimming lessons.

“When they’re in a pool with other kids they magically know how to swim,” he said. “If your peers are doing it [too] in turns on a switch.”
One of the most important criteria for projects is there has to be some use for what gets made. If an object has no purpose after being built, the goal of inspiring young people to stay committed to making things will be harder to achieve.

“Introducing these concepts to kids at an early age [means] they’ll really gain skills they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives,” said Frauenfelder.

And while Maker Camp may sound like it’s only for students who are makers already, the organizers hope it will attract the curious, too.

“There are a lot of latent makers out there,” said Frauenfelder. “We’re hoping this is something that a broad spectrum of the population will be interested in.”


Maker Camp projects
Here is a sampling of daily projects Maker Campers can sign up for this summer.

-- Toy Design & Fabrication July 23
Using materials lying around your house, build a mini, rubber band-powered toy car launcher

-- Maker Fashion July 30
Try your hand at DIY clothing design

-- Music in Tubes Aug. 8
Make a didgeridoo out of PVC and wax

-- Make: Believe Aug. 12-16
For the last week of Maker Camp, learn about special effects, makeup and other Hollywood tricks that bring the imagination to life.

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