Meet Madelaine, one of our resident Makers with a background in education. Madelaine sat down with us to talk about the day in the life of a Maker, what she was surprised about when starting at SCI and her favorite projects for the Summer of Making. This interview was edited to make it more concise and clarified.
SCI: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started at the Science Center?
Madelaine: I graduated from Iowa State with a degree in Elementary Education last December. I subbed and worked in Des Moines Public Schools. I accepted a teaching job for next year, but it doesn’t start until August. I started looking for opportunities this summer to work with kids, but I didn’t want to have to worry about taking control of a classroom. Being a Maker is a great option for that!
SCI: You still get to educate people about making, but you don’t have the pressure of being in charge of a classroom.
Madelaine: Exactly. While I was student teaching, I did a special science program called “Trinect.” It focused on better science instruction in the classroom. Because it was so fresh in my brain, I thought working at the Science Center of Iowa would help me continue to grow.
SCI: What got you interested in the world of making?
Madelaine: When I first applied at the science center, I didn’t have the chance to apply for the Maker position. I was applying to help with the outreach programs, which I thought would be an interesting way to get involved in science and still work with children. In the interview, Ellie (https://www.sciowa.org/about-sci/sci-blog/make-sci/meet-our-maker-ellie-willhoit/) described the Maker job to me, and because I’ve always been a creative person, I went for it. I love to make things outside of work.
SCI: What types of things have you made?
Madelaine: My mom is a big quilter, so I make a lot of things with fabric. I also led a sewing camp for kids a few summers ago, which is one of the most fun things I’ve done.
SCI: That’s awesome! Creating things is always a lot of fun. Can you describe the day-to-day life as a Maker?
Madelaine: I start off in the morning by getting my bearings. I see what we have planned for the day. I also get out on the floor and do Tool Time shifts in the Maker Studio early in the day when I get the chance. This lets me interact with curious participants. After that, I start prepping for Studio Time, which means gathering materials, making sure we have examples and seeing if there’s any way we can improve what we did the day before. I sit down for lunch, and then I hop into the Studio Time sessions from 1:00- 3:00 PM. In the afternoon, I spend my time collecting data of how Studio Time went and to see if there’s anything we can improve.
SCI: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Madelaine: Each day is a different adventure. We always get to try and do stuff totally different. It’s not a dull job at all. I get to do some really cool things most people don’t get to do at their jobs. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like work at all!
SCI: People assume you come in and do the same project every day in a week, but in reality, you’re constantly tweaking the process.
Madelaine: Yeah, we did parachutes this week. We had some obvious successes like plastic bags which float down great. On the other hand, fabric doesn’t work so well, so we did some searching for something more aerodynamic, and we found coffee filters! All these little tweaks help it go smoother and smoother each day.
SCI: When you started as a Maker, what surprised you about your job that you didn’t think would happen?
Madelaine: I was very surprised at how flexible the job is in its nature. We have a lot of freedom to take an idea and run with it. For example, the Living Wall we’re putting together (see Sabrina’s interview). We started off with the concept of a living wall, and we didn’t know what that would look like. So we sat down and brainstormed. We threw out some idea until we found one that would work the best.
SCI: What projects are you most looking forward to working on?
Madelaine: We’re working with a camp called “Challenge Accepted,” and I think the idea we came up with is really exciting. We call it an “Instant Challenge.” We put out 3 dice. The first dice tells you the material you have to use, the second one tells you what to build, and the third one tells you the purpose that your creation has to have. For example, you might get something that tells you to build a diaper out of paper plates that makes you laugh, or build a boat out of straws that can dance. I think this will be a lot of fun, and it has a lot of room for creativity.
SCI: That sounds like a lot of fun! How did you come up with that idea?
Madelaine: When I was younger, I participated in this program called “Destination Imagination,” and we did a lot of instant challenges. So that’s probably where I got the idea from.
SCI: If you’re stuck in the middle of a project, and you can’t figure out what to do next, what do you do?
Madelaine: I’m lucky because there are so many people in this office that are full of awesome ideas, so if I’m stuck on something, I’ll usually go ask someone that’s been here a little longer than I have. For everyone else, make sure you have people around to collaborate with. I call myself a social scientist!
SCI: What can you recommend to someone who possibly just went to a Studio Time session and wants to do more?
Madelaine: It’s really important to just get started with something. I think people get stuck on the idea that making is just one thing, but really anyone could be a maker. You can make with clay, paper, circuits… Making can be so many different things, so really, anyone can be a maker. Just getting started and trying something is the most important part!
The Summer of Making will be going on throughout the summer at the Science Center of Iowa. While you stop by to create, invent and explore, be sure to mark your calendars on Monday, September 3! The Des Moines Mini Maker Faire features dozens of exhibitors, tons of projects, games, food trucks and (most importantly) fun! Click here to learn more about the Des Moines Mini Maker Faire.
We sat down with one of our resident Makers, Sabrina Carper. She talked to us about what it’s like to be a Maker, what she’s working on, and what she’s looking forward to the most. This interview was edited to make it more concise and clarified
SCI: Can you tell us a little bit about what you do at the Science Center?
Sabrina: Sure! I am a Maker, which means I get to make fun things. We also organize Studio Time, which takes place from 1:00-3:00 PM on Mondays through Fridays. Every week, we have different activities that all have a science or STEM goal associated with them. For example, this week we’re making “seed bombs,” or “seed bags,” and using those to talk about pollinators and the way plants grow. It’s a fun way to help visitors to the science center make new things and learn about the Maker Movement and help connect it back to science topics they might have learned a bit about in school or at home.
SCI: How do you come up with the experiments?
Sabrina: The head of our team, Ellie, organizes the Studio Time activities. We make sure to prototype all of them before we bring them to the floor, so a lot of my time in the office is spent testing things out to see what does and doesn’t work. This way, when we help participants on the floor make their projects, it’s easier to troubleshoot to make sure everything’s going smoothly.
SCI: What got you interested in making in the first place?
Sabrina: My dad is a maker who has a 3D printer at home, so making has been a part of my life and my household for a while. I started working at SCI because I’m interested in education and have done a lot of work in summer camps and art. I’m a studio arts major, so I’m not really in the education field – I’m just very passionate about it. The “maker” aspect of this job draws everything in like together, so this is perfect for me!
SCI: What do you do with your 3D printer at home?
Sabrina: My dad designs things with it by using a piece of software called “Blender.” It’s a free, open source piece of software you can do 3D modeling in. My dad and I both use it to design board games together for fun. He also makes toys for my little brother, dice for games we have and all sorts of crazy stuff like that. It’s really cool.
SCI: What do you consider the best part of your job?
Sabrina: That’s a hard one. If I had to settle on a few, I’d say Studio Time is the most fun, but it’s also great to talk to visitors and tell people about Make. The act of making the things is also a great part. Prototyping is also a lot of fun, because you’re testing something you’ve never done before. You think to yourself: “This is either going to fail horribly and explode in my face” or “It’s going to work and be super-duper cool!”
SCI: There’s probably a fine line between the two, right?
Sabrina: Yeah! Sometimes you get to the prototyping stage and realize there’s no way this will work, which means you’ll have to go through the test and design process again to make sure you find out what went wrong with it in the beginning. It’s great talking to kids through that process, also, because a lot of times kids get in the mindset of “it didn’t work, that means I should give up.” We get the chance to tell them to stop thinking like that and help them come up with something different and reimagine their project to make it work.
SCI: What are some of your favorite projects you’ve created here?
Sabrina: My favorite project was something we did last year and we’re going to do again this year: finger puppets! It’s a lot of fun because you get to teach kids how to sew, and at least for me, sewing is one of the most basic aspects of making because it’s one of the most basic ways to build things. It’s a lot of fun to watch young kids learn sewing, because it can be intimidating at first. When they realize how simple it can be, you can see it click in their heads and they realize that they’re making something happen, which is very exciting!
It’s also a skill that’s inherently useful. If a button pops off your shirt or you need to stitch up your bag, you’ll know how to do it. It’s a great life skill, and I’m really happy we can teach it to younger kids.
SCI: In addition to the finger puppet project, are there any other future projects you’re especially excited about?
Sabrina: Right now, we’re working on putting together our collaborative art project. We haven’t ironed out all the details yet, but we’re planning on having a plant-related aspect to it. We have these test tubes, and we put water jelly crystals in them. You can grow plants through the crystals, which is called “hydroponic growing.” We want to put them on suction cups and put them on the window. Then, plants will start growing in them, which will let us see the root structure inside them, and we’ll let visitors bring in their own seeds and grow them on the windows in the Makers Studio. It should be really cool! We’re working our best to try to get this done, and we’re pretty excited about it.
Something else cool is we’ll be able to color the water jelly crystals with food coloring, and make it look like a big mural.
SCI: What are some of the most creative things you’ve seen the visitors do in the Maker Studio?
Sabrina: We’ve seen people build some really cool stuff at Tool Time (which is an area in the Makers Studio where people can experiment with tools and different materials in a safe and controlled environment). A lot of people build really cool bird houses. I’ve even seen a person build a chair for their doll, which was creative. People have also made some cool stuff at Studio Time. One thing we did was something called “light painting,” where you take long-exposure photography while you’re moving glow sticks around. It leaves a streak of light in the photo, and people can move around a person and make lines and shapes by them. We saw someone make their brother a pirate. Someone drew butterfly wings around their friend. It was really cool to see the people working together in groups and making interesting things.
SCI: As a Maker, what can you recommend to people who want to learn more about making?
Sabrina: There’s a lot of resources, especially in the Des Moines area. If you want to dive headfirst into the field, check out Area 515. It’s a makerspace, and they have a lot of space with laser cutters, 3D printers, all sorts of stuff. Drake just opened up another makerspace, which has a lot of similar stuff to ours. Obviously, checking out our Maker Studio is a really great place to start, because we make it really accessible to all people. There’s also a lot of great resources online, like the Make Magazine (https://makezine.com/), which have a lot of 1-2-3 projects, which is step-by step instructions on how to make something cool. They have a lot of books, articles and all sorts of cool stuff. It’s nice to see the Maker Movement growing, because it makes it a lot more accessible for people.
The Summer of Making will be going on throughout the summer at the Science Center of Iowa. While you stop by to create, invent and explore, be sure to save the date on Monday, September 3 to come to our Maker Faire! The Des Moines Mini Maker Faire features dozens of exhibitors, tons of projects, games, food trucks and most importantly, fun! To learn more (or to sign up to be an exhibitor), visit http://desmoines.makerfaire.com/ , and be sure to check our social media channels for exciting news and updates!