Squishy Circuits? Paper Animatronics? Waco is Making and Tinkering at the Design Den!
By Emily Clark
The Mayborn Museum has just opened Design Den, a new permanent exhibit space that focuses on making and tinkering with real tools, real technology, and real materials. As Design Den Coordinator, I get to spend my days testing fun new projects, like designing paper masks with LED circuits and building marble roller coasters out of toilet paper rolls! It’s seriously a dream job, but it can be hard to explain to people what it means to make and tinker.
The “Maker Movement” has been gaining in popularity across the nation and around the world, but it’s really nothing new. As humans, we have always been makers. That’s how we have come to live in such a technologically rich world! The only downside? Technology has really spoiled us. Why would I make my own when I can just buy it at the store? The Maker Movement and Do-It-Yourself culture have recently gained traction as a way to reclaim our inventive nature. Make your own soap! Make your own furniture! Make your own robot! (Or at least put the tutorials on your Pinterest board and totally make them later.) There’s a pride and sense of accomplishment in creating something all on your own. Not to mention, it is fun!
Museums have picked up on this trend of making and tinkering. Places like the New York Hall of Science’s Makerspace and the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio have lead the charge, and they have noticed something that is pretty cool: we learn best by doing! Making and tinkering are especially effective ways to learn because we become invested in our projects. I may use math to measure the perfect piece of cardboard. I apply physics when I realize that my marble roller coaster needs a steeper incline. I hone my communication skills when someone asks about my project and I have to explain my own thought process. Perhaps most obviously, I learn to problem solve. If my LED mask isn’t lighting up, there may be something wrong with my copper tape circuit. I move a few pieces of tape and adjust the battery and…. Voila! It works!
Here at the Mayborn Museum, we have been busy making and tinkering in Design Den since we announced the new space in May. We began this summer by prototyping different activities with the help of our teen volunteers. After observing visitors and listening to their comments, we found that making and tinkering activities were very popular. Some of our favorite activities were Inflatables, Squishy Circuits, and Paper Animatronics.
This fall, Design Den has opened in its permanent exhibit space. We have a front area of Design Den where guests can drop in anytime to build their own creations using different types of blocks. The back area of Design Den is a new workshop space where we invite guests to make and tinker for special events and programs. At our Halloween event, guests made their own LED paper masks in the workshop.
Design Den has also been busy this fall connecting with the Waco community. In October, we made LED Wearable Pins with festival goers at Science Fest. Later that month, we talked with high school students about careers in museums and invited them to tinker with Squishy Circuits at City of Waco STEAM Day. We even made stop motion videos at the Farmer’s Market in a partnership with the Museum Association of Waco’s Traveling Museum, a project coordinated by Matt Doyen, Baylor Museum Studies graduate student and Graduate Assistant for Design Den.
In late October, Design Den joined the rest of the museum in welcoming families from Brook Avenue Elementary and West Avenue Elementary at our first Family Science Night, planned in conjunction with Prosper Waco. At Family Science Night, one of our activities had participants use recycled materials to make something to add to our Happy City. We asked, “What do you think a city needs to be happy?” You can see in the photo below that we had an airport, an art gallery, coffee shops, a hospital, and even a science museum!
Our last event for 2016 will be our Christmas at the Mayborn event on December 1. In Design Den, we will be making pop-up holiday cards and ornaments. We have a special activity, making stockings decorated with sewing circuits and LEDs, reserved for guests ages 8 and up.
The coolest thing of all is that making is happening all over Waco. Places like Maker’s Edge on Austin Avenue, Waco ISD’s Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy (GWAMA), and even Midway Middle School’s new makerspace have begun to engage the community in making and tinkering. At Design Den, we love the idea of introducing our guests to a making and tinkering mindset that leads to bigger and better and even more awesome making, whether that’s at the Mayborn or somewhere else in Waco. Happy making!
Emily Clark is originally from Joshua, TX, but moved to Waco in 2009 to go to Baylor. She has two degrees from Baylor, her B.S. in Biology and her M.A. in Museum Studies. She was hired on at the Mayborn Museum in May after working there for two years as a graduate assistant. Her husband, Andy, is in his last year at Truett Seminary. They live near campus with their silly pup, Pepper, adopted from the Humane Society of Central Texas. Emily loves to binge watch TV shows, eat queso, and listen to the Eagles.
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