Written by Erin Coller

Students across San Diego County are anticipating the arrival of summer and the San Diego County Fair, but not just for the rides, games and food—thousands of local children will unveil their science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) projects at the Summer STEAM Maker Festival on June 14.

[call_to_action color=”” button_text=”Sign up” button_url=”http://steammaker.org”]Student teams can participate in free STEAM Maker challenges, events and programs (teams can be led by any teacher, group leader or mentor). A mentor can sign up a team of four kids for any challenge; and a teacher in a school can sign up a maximum of four teams. [/call_to_action]Run by local non-profit organization STEAM Maker, the Summer STEAM Maker Festival will bring together thousands of students, educators, schools, clubs, and industry professionals to demonstrate and showcase available tools and resources to enrich STEAM education. The event takes place at the San Diego County Fair, beginning at 8 a.m. before the fair opens to the public. Event organizers aim to deliver the best place to cross-pollinate ideas and identify pathways for future career and educational opportunities.

Photo courtesy of STEAM Maker
Photo courtesy of STEAM Maker

One of the most popular challenges in past events has been the Robotics Challenge. Kids work year-round to develop their robots, with components provided by STEAM Maker at no cost. This year a new challenge is coming to the festival in partnership with San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and the Inspiring Future Leaders’ giving initiative —the Summer STEAM Maker Festival Earth Energy Challenge, in which students from 5th through 12th grades will use earth-based energy to generate and collect electricity. Some energy sources used by students may include items such as lemons, zinc, and a copper battery and motor. Participants will receive SDG&E-sponsored electronics kits and at the festival they will have a 10-minute period to use their devices to collect as much energy as possible.

“The collaboration between SDG&E and STEAM Maker allows us to teach and demonstrate energy efficiency in a fun manner where we can reinforce choices made regarding energy utilization,” said Brian Alvara, president of STEAM Maker. “Additionally, we are also able to demonstrate career options and technologies while implementing this educational program.”

Photo courtesy of STEAM Maker
Photo courtesy of STEAM Maker

The STEAM Maker Festival is open to anyone in the process of learning, from pre-K to college and beyond. According to Alvara, for many students, this is a particularly important time in life as they are beginning to consider possible career and technology options. The opinions they have at this age will be taken through to further years, with previous experiences or perceptions dramatically impacting their future choices on habits, interests, and career, and the STEAM Maker festivals play an important role in setting many local students on a targeted path to STEAM education and careers.

STEAM Maker was founded in 2014 in response to a high demand for integrating maker tools and technologies into the classroom environment. Beginning with courses for the public in coding and robotics, educators soon became interested in implementing these programs into their classrooms to increase their own STEAM education practices.

As many schools and community organizations had different ideas of what STEAM was, STEAM Maker decided to host the first STEAM Maker Festival in December of 2014 to offer an environment where all interested parties could collaborate and cross pollinate ideas.

Photo courtesy of STEAM Maker
Photo courtesy of STEAM Maker

The huge success from that event resulted in development of a workshop facility to host regular educator courses and mentoring sessions for continued expansion of STEAM practices in the community. To successfully promote the advancement of STEAM education, STEAM Maker, in collaboration with corporate partners such as SDG&E, provides STEAM challenges where educators are provided lessons and equipment for students, free of charge. These challenges are integrated into schools and organizations, in-school and after-school programs with the culmination of a friendly competition at the STEAM Maker Festivals. The success of these challenges has enabled the organization to assist more than 250 schools in San Diego County with a low income demographic, whose students would otherwise not have access to these resources.  STEAM Maker is part of the San Diego STEM Ecosystem.  The San Diego STEM Ecosystem creates opportunities for rich and effective lifelong STEM experiences, in and out-of-school for all learners throughout our region. To learn more and join the STEM Ecosystem, click here.

STEAM Maker has since been adopted by the San Diego County Fair to be their educational outreach program which culminates in the Summer STEAM Maker Festival inside the fair. In addition, STEAM Maker has been integrated into San Diego County Office of Education’s after-school program to implement STEAM programs for the entire county. STEAM Maker also offers students micro-accreditation through UC San Diego for the courses the organization provides.

To date, STEAM Maker has held five STEAM Maker festivals, 52 educator workshops, and reached more than 20,000 students. The Summer STEAM Maker Festival is the first part of two festivals that happen each year, culminating in the final winter festival. The festivals are free for schools and teams to participate, and last year the summer event was attended by 5,000 people.

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