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The Maker Spirit 

click to enlarge Mira at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire - ALISON NOVAK
  • alison novak
  • Mira at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire

At the end of September, my husband, Jeff, and I took our kids to the Champlain Mini Maker Faire at Shelburne Farms, an annual celebration of creative, do-it-yourself projects and innovation.

Mira, 9, piloted a drone, helped create computer code that turned vegetables and fruits into electronic instruments, and used hot glue and recycled materials to construct a machine. Six-year-old Theo made and launched a rocket and marveled as robots with lasers battled each other. They both enjoyed playing with the PinBox 3000, a customizable cardboard pinball machine created by a pair of local inventors.

In reflecting on our time there, Jeff and I agreed it was a perfect mix of fun and learning. Maker faires weren't around when we were kids; the first one took place in the Bay Area in 2006, long after we had graduated from college. And though news headlines often stress the negative effects technology has on kids, events like maker faires make it easy to see the positive ones. It's exciting that our kids are growing up at a time when technology is creating so many new learning opportunities.

In this annual Tech Issue, we write about five programs that are giving Vermont kids and teens the chance to use tech tools in interesting and meaningful ways ("Screen Doors"). From the Young Writers Project, an online community where middle and high school students can share and receive feedback on their writing, to FIRST LEGO League, a competition that incorporates problem-solving, teamwork and robotics, our kids are developing skills we never even dreamed about when we were their age.

Continuing on the tech theme, click here to read about geocaching — an outdoor treasure hunt where the map is on your phone. Executive editor Cathy Resmer downloaded the free geocaching app and gave it a try. In "Balancing Act," the executive director of the Burlington Generator maker space and his wife discuss their work-life balance. And in "One to Watch," Mary Ann Lickteig talks with an up-and-coming digital filmmaker who got some sweet encouragement from actor/director Lena Dunham.

If low-tech entertainment is what you're after, turn to "The Art of Tabletop Games." Megan James talks to Scott Gemignani, owner of Middlebury gaming store Tinker & Smithy, who offers suggestions for engaging card and board games to play with kids. Or check out "Habitat," where Janet Essman Franz writes about the 89-year-old Shelburne woman who's been creating a playful display of smiling scarecrows on her front yard for the past 20 years.

The Tech Issue is timed to coincide with the Vermont Tech Jam, which takes place on Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22, at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. Seven Days, our sister publication, organizes this free job fair and tech expo. Students from across the state attend with their schools on Friday, when the jam hosts a school maker faire. Kids and families are welcome on Saturday to see robotics demonstrations and meet Bina48, one of the world's most advanced social robots. There are also reps from colleges and companies to talk with, and presentations to attend.

It's not for young kids, like the Maker Faire at Shelburne Farms, but it'll give tech-savvy teens a chance to plug in and power up.


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