cracking the {code}
Making Magic at NoVa Maker Faire
innovation, parents, STEAM, teachers

Rainy Sundays are typically a day for sleeping in, but by 8 AM on March 19th, – despite gray skies and drizzles – Reston, Virginia was abuzz with hundreds of bright-eyed tech enthusiasts and ‘makers’ toting their creations for the 4th annual NoVa Maker Faire.

Lauded as “The Greatest Show & Tell on Earth,” the NoVa Maker Faire has the look of a high-tech science fair, the energy of a county fair (with the accompanying food trucks and snacks!), and the eccentric characters and atmosphere of a Renaissance Faire. As our Generation Code team entered, they encountered a quirky but wonderful world of coders, battling robots, blacksmiths, drones, Go-karts, hackers, and 3D printers galore.

signs at NoVa Maker Faire

Eye catching as all the tables were, the Generation Code team came armed with its own awesome creation custom made by Gen Code’s first father-son maker duo, Peter Haney (16) and his dad Wayne. Within moments of being set-up, our table was surrounded by spectators, young and old.

"What is it?” asked a boy. “It’s a magical drawing machine!” exclaimed a little girl. “How does it work?” a seasoned programmer inquired, peeking around the corner of our booth to study the computer and wiring responsible for directing a bright blue sharpie to dance across the canvas before them.

For a moment, everyone silently watched as the machine quietly hummed at work – then an observant fourth grader broke the silence with a delighted clap, announcing, “It’s drawing a penguin!” Soon a small crowd had gathered to listen.

“This is our Raspberry Pi Plotter,” explained Dan Brockwell, Director of Generation Code’s soon-to-launch Vienna Coding Lab. “The plotter is constructed with three motors, two steppers, and one servo. It uses a Raspberry Pi for the brain, and two H bridges send voltage information to the motors. The stepper motors make the marker move along the X and Y axis, while the servo motor lifts the marker off the paper to stop it from drawing. The program works by interpreting images into X and Y coordinates, which get sent to the Raspberry Pi and direct the motors. The end result? Some really cool drawings!”

The project was created in just two weeks and, while it captivated the Maker Faire goers, the Haney duo was quick to note that their creation was still in need of perfecting… “But what better place to get insights and advice than a Maker Faire!” announced Wayne. They ended up getting a few interesting ideas from fellow Faire-goers.

“One suggested that we could attach a compressed air canister to one end of the marker and have it act as makeshift spray paint. Another thought of replacing the marker with metal to create engravings.”

generation code booth at NoVa maker faire

When 5pm hit and it was time to start packing up, the day had flown by so quickly that the Gen Code team realized they missed lunch! The excitement and energy at Maker Faire was a wonderful reminder of how special it is to be part of a community of people who enjoy pushing technology to its limits, creating, and innovating, which is the very premise of Generation Code.

Armed with new ideas for the plotter and inspiration for future projects, our team packed up our ‘magical drawing machine’ and headed out into what turned out to be a beautiful day.

To learn more about our programs for kids and teens ages 7-18, check out our summer camps in New York City and Vienna, VA or look at our curriculum!

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