“Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a stepping stone.” Arianna Huffington
On Saturday March 4th, 52 high school students, most from Manhattan with a fair representation of all the other boroughs of NYC, joined together for the high school version of the Manhattan Make-a-thon. It was a glorious failure, gorgeous mess, and just about the most amazing STEAM event ever!
Building on the original Make-a-thon concept I wanted to give an added challenge to older students. The elementary students had such wonderful support from parents and teachers in making their paper roller coasters, the middle school students had minimal help from teachers, so the high school students had to have more of a challenge. Making a paper roller coaster that hits a trigger created from a Makey Makey to start a program they designed in Scratch wasn’t enough, they needed that next level of design challenge, the grandfather of all design challenges, the Rube Goldberg challenge.
Rube Goldberg was an illustrator during the early 20th century who drew intricately complicated machines that were designed to complete a simple task. The napkin wiper, the hat tipper, and the OK Go music video for “This Too Shall Pass” are all examples of Rube Goldberg machines.
I gathered donations and materials from a variety of places including the amazing Material for the Arts in Long Island City (seriously, if you need supplies it’s worth going, the place is like a wonderland of creative supplies such as fabric, beads, tubes, toy cars, bowling balls, you never know what you’ll find.) The new, improved challenge was to build a working paper roller coaster with trigger and program that would be started with a Rube Goldberg.
We held the high school Manhattan Make-a-thon at the High School of Fashion Industries. The cafeteria tables there are covered with art that is protected by a clear plastic cover, making them nearly indestructible. So they were perfect!
Students from Gregorio Luperon High School, The High School for Environmental Studies, Emma Lazarus High School for English Language Scholars, The College Academy High School, Talent Unlimited High School, UA Maker, and The Green School represented Manhattan. A former student of mine put together a team from her high school, Brooklyn Latin, and we had a squad made up of alumni from my former school, Halsey in Queens, which was run by the amazing Patti Elfers-Wygand.
Amy Sacks, who organized the elementary school Make-a-thon in District 1, and Lliana Villegas, who organized the middle school Make-a-thon at PS/IS 96 brought their impressive skills. I conscripted my talented husband, Greg Van Brackle, to serve as the event’s Tool Guy to cut or drill anything the teams needed. We also had support from the MFSC staff, Francis Urroz and Greyston Holms, and Joe Melendez from CS4All reprised his role as Makey Makey and Scratch instructor.
Amy ran the Material for the Arts store, which was a table piled with the most eclectic collection of things you can imagine. Did I mention Material for the Arts is amazing? Teams had 50 points to spend on additional materials for their builds, though each team started off with a bag of supplies that included twine, lanyard, blocks of wood, pvc tube, metal and golf and ping pong and tennis balls, paper clips, glue gun, a plastic boat and pony, 20 dominos, and more.Teams were encouraged to bring recycled materials like shoe boxes, paper towel tubes, water bottles, and bottle caps.
However, in the end every single build failed at some point or other and it was WONDERFUL! The focus and energy the teams put into building their designs was incredible. I’m running out of adjectives to describe the phenomenal awesomeness of the Make-a-thon so I’ll just say it was a magnificent mess in the best way!
Pictures speak louder than words and video captures the moment. Thanks to Jesse Lapin, who just stopped in to say hello but was conscripted to film the final event, we have excellent footage of each of the builds. Here are the results.
Gregorio Luperon High School Team 1 with team teacher Deepak Kapoor.
Gregorio Luperon High School Team 2 with team teacher Deepak Kapoor.
The HS for Enviornmental Studies and The Green School with team teachers Maximillian Sugiura from Environmental Studies and Vince Hold from the Green School.
Emma-Lazarus HS for English Language Scholars with team teacher Michael Giovacchini
Halsey Alumni with team teacher Patti Elfers-Wygand
The College Academy High School with team teacher Elvin Batista.
Talent Unlimited High School with team teacher Jason Rann.
Brooklyn Latin High School with Design League Intern Avijit Paul.
UA Maker with team teacher Margarita Lopez for the win!
Our final event is coming on April 1. We’re going to take all the builds created at the elementary, middle and high school event, as well as the mini Make-a-thon we held in the office in February, and connect them all. It’s going to be either an amazing success or an awesome experience, either way I’ll be posting about it in April.