News Column

Maker Camp launches once again in Sebastopol

July 8, 2014

By Robert Digitale, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

July 08--Ion Cook's pink and black rocket sputtered on its initial launch.

For the second attempt, the 6-year-old boy decided to double the power, jumping with both his green-soled tennis shoes onto an empty soda bottle. That sent a blast of air through a bike inner tube connected to a plastic pipe "launcher," and Ion squealed delightedly as the paper craft shot more than 20 feet across the room.

Ion, a Berkeley resident, was one of a dozen children in Sebastopol on Monday to launch the third year of Maker Camp, an Internet collaboration of Maker Media and Google. The free, six-week program, which combines making projects and video visits to innovators in science, the arts and technology, reportedly has attracted more than a million viewers from around the world.

Maker Media officials say the virtual camps engage young peoples' brains and encourage them to explore through making.

"You learn more by doing something than by reading about it," said Vickie Welch, the company's vice president of marketing.

Maker Camp takes place on the Google Plus social network, so "campers" must be at least 13 years old or they must sign on using their parents' accounts. This summer's six weekly themes are motion, art and design, fun and games, science and technology, DIY music and "make: believe."

Monday's launch included an interview with former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. Viewers also got to learn about the James Webb Telescope, the planned successor to the Hubble telescope, with its proposed launch date in 2018. A NASA spokesman explained that the new telescope/spacecraft will be the size of a tennis court, so big it has to "be folded up" to fit into the rocket.

"And then we blast off and we send it a million miles away from Earth, and then it opens up like a Transformer robot," the spokesman told viewers, adding that the telescope would be used to study "the origin of the universe."

The program's virtual field trips each Friday will take viewers to Disneyland's "Fantasmic" show set, the Blue Man Group music show in Las Vegas and Google headquarters, said Maker Camp supervising producer Benjamin Privitt. That last segment will feature Google Street View Treks, which Privitt said can include 360-degree images of Australia's Great Barrier Reef or the top of Paris' Eiffel Tower.

The camp fits with the ethos of the maker movement that places value in the act of making.

Jessica Henricks, Maker Media's learning program director, said making things is empowering and shows children in tangible ways what they are capable of.

"You have an artifact," Henricks said, in Monday's case a paper rocket. A child can make something and say, "I did that."

While viewers can get started on their own at, more than 350 affiliate groups are using materials to engage youth. The groups include Boy and Girls clubs, public libraries and school programs. Maker Media is still accepting new groups and offering to send them roughly $500 worth of supplies.

The program occurs live each day at 11 a.m. Pacific time, but can be viewed later at the website.

After making their rockets, the children Monday went outside Maker Media's offices and launched them. Some of the paper creations shot farther than the height of two street lights; others traveled a distance of more than 40 yards.

Riley Mullen, 11, of Santa Rosa was invited to take part in Monday's launch after showing Maker Media officials the robot he built with parts from a Roomba vacuum cleaner and a remote-controlled car.

Riley said he came Monday "to have fun." But his mother, Kimberly Mullen, said she wants to give her son more opportunities to create because it keeps him engaged and "he learns so much."

"The TV is never on," she said. "There's too many things to make."

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or


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Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)

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