It’s a sunny spring day in Cape Town, the sky is clear and the setting for the inaugural Cape Town Maker Conference could not have been more idyllic.

With a view of Table Mountain to your left and Signal Hill to your right one might even call the view inspirational, which is beautifully apt as  the first discussion of the day at the Maker Conference presented by the lively and passionate Steve Sherman of Living Maths is all about how makers inspire and educate.

Where does his passion lie exactly? Well besides the obvious answer of the maker movement, Sherman has a passion for education. He kicks off by asking the assembled crowd whether they have heard of Caine’s Arcade. Not heard of it? You should.

Caine’s Arcade was the labour of nine year old boy Caine. He spent the summer holidays in his father used autoparts shop, building his own cardboard arcade. Handmade displays festooned with Caine’s own toy cars that he gave out as prizes and creatively made games littered the back room of the shop.

Given the part of town the Arcade was located in, East Los Angeles, Caine was left to play on his own until Nivan Mullick arrived to get a replacement door handle for his car. During the visit Caine asked Nirvan, as he did with all customers, whether he wanted to play in his arcade, which he did. After purchasing a “Fun Pass” for two dollars Nirvan recognised the entrepreneurial spirit within Caine and asked his father if he could make a documentary about the boy. The documentary went on to inspire the Cardboard Challenge which today, is hosted in 46 countries around the world.

caines_arcade_cropped
Caine’s Arcade, once unknown has today inspired the Global Cardboard Challenge.

It is this story of kindred spirits, Sherman points out to the conference, that embodies the spirit of the maker movement. The ability to see beyond what is and what can be.

The wonderful world of makers is not just about making cool customised objects or printing out Star Wars memorabilia, as Steve tells us, “Math and science enrichment come attached to making, and through this we want to try to get young kids inspired by numbers”.

With this goal in mind Sherman explains how getting South African schools involved in the Global Cardboard Challenge and being able to Skype with Caine, who inspired the challenge, has not only made an impact on their lives but go them interested in doing more and exploring the global maker movement.

As Sherman explains, the maker movement inspires five core values that are clearly linked to education.

The first is growth: as a maker you build skills through each project and leave these projects more skilled and more educated. Self efficacy teaches people to start small, and then build from there. It shows you your limits but through practice those limits begin to lessen.

“Curiosity may have killed the cat but in it is a core foundation of the maker movement. It creates a thirst for learning,” Steve says. Traditional education at high school level takes away and replaces with spoon fed, repetitive material that may do more harm than good to some learners.

By getting involved in the maker movement you have purpose, not to your life per se, but to use skills used in STEAM (Science, Technology, Art and Engineering, Maths) subjects.

Makers, it would seem, are not limited by age or ability
Makers, it would seem, are not limited by age or ability

And finally it teaches people that mistakes are tools, the nature of making is tinkering and creating, there are bound to be failures and makers take this failures in their stride hardly ever
coming to a grinding halt, and even if you do, the maker community is always, and we mean this, willing to help those that ask for it.

Steve spent sometime explaining to the crowd how new technologies such as the Arduino board, Galileo and Makey Makey are making it easier for people to become makers at a younger age which
is great news for the maths and science advocates.

Just like makers make tools to tinker and customise everyday items to better their own lives and the lives of others, incorporating the maker movement into education does the same. It gives learners tools that help them better understand STEAM subjects, better utilise the skills learned through these subjects and ultimately, lessen the ever growing skills shortage that South Africa is faced with.

makers.htxt.africa is attending Maker Faire Cape Town as a guest of CAD House and Sahara Systems, two of South Africa’s leading suppliers of 3D printers and maker gear.