St. Petersburg College Information Services Librarian Chad Mairn told the room full of children that when he was a kid, he was out making and jumping ramps on his bike. He went on to say that he wanted them to do that kind of thing, too, but with all the amazing new technology available to them, he also expected them to do greater things – anything they wanted – and no one should ever tell them that their ideas were bad ones. And so began the Maker Boot Camp, where 450 kids, ages 10-13, attended monthly sessions at the Seminole Community Library that sparked the students’ interest and creativity with topics including video game design, circuitry, robotics and video editing.
The Boot Camp came about when Mairn, with the help of Seminole’s Youth Services Supervisor Jill Storm and Library Director Mike Bryan, submitted a grant application to the Association for Library Service to Children for their Curiosity Creates grant, which supports creativity programming for libraries. Their application, one of 400, was one of the 77 nationwide selected to receive $7,500 for their Boot Camp.
The college’s Innovation Lab at the library was a strong candidate for the grant, since they already had some cool tech pieces there, such as 3D printer, a virtual reality headset called an Oculus Rift, and several robots.
“The grant allowed us to buy even more,” Mairn said. “Enough to continue the project for many years.”
Mairn said Storm handled the organization of the project, while he wrote the curriculum, ordered the technology, and did a lot of teaching – as well as learning.
“I had to learn everything,” he said. “And because I had to teach it, I had to learn it a couple of steps ahead of them.”
Some SPC staffers were enlisted to help out with the sessions. Paul Sutton, who teaches video game design, taught a session on that topic, and professional photographer and recent SPC graduate Chris Demmons filmed the sessions and taught the final workshop on video and sound editing, where they took some of his footage and made their own videos.
“My session went great,” Demmons said. “The kids were actually really sharp, and a lot of them already knew how to edit video, and the ones who didn’t picked it up really fast.”
In one session, the kids designed an invention, which they were allowed to print from the 3D printer.
“The kids came up with some great inventions,” Mairn said. “One student was invited to share her invention, a cup to catch the drips from an ice cream cone, at a competition in Washington D.C.”
The Boot Camp culminated with a fun day, Makerfest, where they invited everyone to come to the classroom and play with all the tech toys, have some snacks and watch a screening of the kids’ videos and a documentary put together from the footage and stills that Demmons shot. Demmons said he was inspired by the enthusiasm of the children.
“There were three kids who were always there early – sometimes before I was,” he said. “They were always just rearing to go and learn something new.”
Mairn says the program was so popular that it will be expanded, with intermediate sessions added in addition to the next introductory sessions.
“I don’t think I had one kid who was disappointed,” he said. “Many of them told us they’d never had access to this type of stuff before, like the Oculus Rift. They were able to experience it and get into it.”