EDISON, NJ - Ever wonder how to build a computer? Or what ice cream made with dry ice would taste like? Or how algae would react to a caffeine diet? These are just a few of the questions that St. Thomas Aquinas High School students answered at the 2nd Annual STA Maker Faire, an all-day event held on March 10. Often referred to as, “the greatest show-and-tell on Earth,” Maker Faires have taken off around the world because they allow students the opportunity to show off the products of their know-how and imagination.
This year’s Maker Faire featured over 50 exhibits, carefully planned and brought to reality by over 140 STA student makers, not to mention six displays designed by students from three local grammar schools. These displays included a homemade spirometry device; an investigation into the effect of caffeine on algae; “dry ice cream;” customizable homemade soap; DIY invisible ink; cardboard bridge building; a Spin-Art bike; an intro to woodworking; PC building; and robotics demonstrations. The exhibits continued outdoors as students demonstrated blacksmithing skills while others used a repurposed 8-foot tall trebuchet to create process art. One could not leave the Maker Faire without a feeling of curiosity and intrigue. In fact, some students were already formulating what kind of contraption or project they could put on display at next year’s event.
A Maker Faire is about even more than STEM, though; it’s also about STEAM (with the A standing for art). Some students unleashed their creativity in artistic ways, demoing their works of art or setting up shop to produce objets d'art that visitors could take away with them. The Photography Club assembled a springtime photo booth and the Art Club offered DIY shamrocks while other students crocheted, laser cut ornaments, made origami, and designed sneakers. And to celebrate National Catholic Sisters Week, the Christian Social Action Club teamed up with STEM students to create a special light-up card for the sisters at the retirement home in Lodi. Over 100 students stopped by to write a high-tech card for a Sister. Senior Ryan Gluchowski, who demonstrated the “Wonders of Dry Ice,” commented on the event, “This year for the Maker Faire we had a great turnout, both for the makers and the people who attended the event. We had over double the number of makers from last year, which was very exciting. It was great that so many people wanted to show their creativity in all different areas.”
Regardless of the nature of the exhibit, each one required a considerable investment in person hours and could not have been accomplished without the help of classmates and teachers. The Spin-Art Bike alone took over 35 person-hours to plan and create. Landen Gonzalez '23 and Josh Hebbe '22 undertook the majority of the planning and fabrication of that project, but over 15 students lent their ideas or hands in some way.
“School Maker Faire really gives students a chance to shine, to explore something new that interests them, and to build skills,” said Maker Fair Co-Coordinator Ms. Casey Walker. “Students aren't just building projects and skills; they are building confidence. I’ve seen students who shy when they come into the program develop the confidence to hold the attention of groups and confidently instruct them on how to do a project. It means a lot to be able to take pride in your work and share that with others. It's even more memorable when you can teach what you've learned to your peers.”
STA Director of STEM Mr. Dan Mulvihill had this to add: “I was impressed by how many parents attend this year. We made an effort to reach out and let the parents in the STA community know that they were invited, and it was great to meet so many of our makers' family members. I'm glad we got to give families a chance to see their students in their element.”
Not all students who were involved in the Maker Faire set up shop. As was also the case last year, there was a small band of student volunteers and leaders who worked alongside teachers and classmates to make the Maker Faire a reality. This year's event allowed students to become even more empowered in leadership roles and to learn about project management. Megan Kibalo '22 acted as the event’s student coordinator, the right-hand woman who managed all the project data, delegated responsibilities, and communicated with each exhibitor just as much as the teachers did. Kibalo was backed up by a contingent of “STEM Techs,” a group of highly trained students who work in the Lab throughout the year and who put in countless hours to make this event a success.
The STA Maker Faire is a key component of STA’s broader STEM initiatives, which were inaugurated several years ago with the opening of its state-of-the-art STEM Learning Lab (also known as a Makerspace), featuring the latest hardware and tools such as a laser inscriber, 3D printer, power tools, touchscreen tablets, and more. The Lab is a hub of activity both during and after the school day. During the day, classes such as Graphic Design, Principles of Engineering Design, and Intro to Engineering fill the space with experimentation, curiosity, and hands-on, collaborative learning. In the afternoon, the space is bustling with activity as students of all grade levels and interests participate in different club events or open lab, allowing them to work on personal interest projects under the supervision our highly trained STEM educators.
The STA Maker Faire was the culmination of years of curiosity, months of learning, and weeks of planning and preparation. It gave visitors a glimpse of the diverse talents and interests that are held by STA students, talents and interests that will evolve and improve as students learn and experiment more. And maybe someday contribute to changing the worlds of science, technology, engineering, art, or math.
Anyone interested in the STA STEM program can learn more at stahs.net/academics. And for a firsthand look, tours and interactive events in the STEM Learning Lab will take place during the STA spring open house on Thursday, April 23 at 7:00 p.m.