I recently visited Houston, Texas – my hometown – to visit my parents and grandparents. (I live in Seattle now, and have for the past 10 years.) The venues I visited gave me huge new insight into the different ways Houston is broadly growing into a major center for DIY innovation! Each of the three venues I visited – the Houston Makerspace, the Last Organic Outpost community research farm, and the Children’s Museum of Houston Invention Convention – is innovating in its domain of DIY and “maker movement” in ways I haven’t seen in my extensive exploration of makerspaces around the country.
(The people cropping up in all the pictures are my two kids, Charlotte and Knox, and my two parents, Grammy and Pappy.)
My first impression of the Houston Makerspace was that it was very rough-around-the-edges and not very well organized. On my extensive tour, I learned about where they’ve come from and where they’re going – and their vision is for a much more extensive capability for independent creation that other makerspaces!
The Houston Makerspace has the most extensive silk-screening equipment I’ve seen, and the equipment is heavily used!
The organization of their jewelry and fine-scale crafting room was simple and effective. Tools were all very easily at hand, and the jewelry-making stations were equipped with those great hammocks pictured for catching tiny dropped pieces as well as gathering shavings and snips when working with precious metals!
Pictured are just a few of the pieces of major equipment that caught my eye. The team is in the process of building a DIY blacktooth laser cutter. Above is part of their extensive woodworking area, including some of the beautiful reclaimed wood on hand for projects.
A first I’ve seen at any self-described makerspace was this garden area. There’s no reason DIY food and DIY… everything else… shouldn’t go hand-in-hand, and yet it’s atypical in the movement.
Finally, just two of the many incredible projects on display – two art bikes and a laser-cut image of the artist Ai WeiWei. You can see video of the back art bike in action here, and the front art bike is an incredible lion. The long metal tubes that look like they might be the lion’s antennae are actually the bike’s handlebars!
The Last Organic Outpost | Community Research Farm
The man who runs LOO – farmer Joe Icet – is a friend of my dad’s through the American Leadership Forum, so we got a particularly detailed tour of the incredible facility. LOO is located in Houston’s 5th Ward – a historically impoverished and historically black neighborhood. Joe works with both the neighborhood and groups like Texas A&M University’s agriculture program to sustainably raise organic food for neighborhood consumption. But this isn’t just a vegetable garden. Joe and his team have an extensive hydroponics system tied into a tilapia tank, as well as extensive community art, an outdoor kitchen, worm bins, and more. Joe will tell you that he’s not growing food, he’s growing resources!
LOO’s giant farmhouse, and a panorama from the farmhouse to the tilapia tank
The Children’s Museum of Houston Invention Convention
Many Children’s Museums around the world are incorporating makerspaces into their learning environments, but the Children’s Museum of Houston is genuinely special. They not only have extensive building materials, but they also have extensive test equipment – motorized gear systems to test your kinetic sculpture, a ramp track to test your Lego car, blowers to test your parachute and stomp launchers to test your rocket. They have an extensive collection made with simple materials that I fully intend to copy for my own school makerspace.
A Dash robot “battle pit” (my name… I’m sure the good people at CMH would be horrified.) This was a fantastic little bot. The first of the simple-programming easy robots that I really like. My children could both program it easily using the blocks-based interface, from simple programming changing light patterns to more complex maneuvering around the pit. I’m considering buying a couple for our school makerspace.
Finally – finally – this completely mind-blowing interactive animation. It took us quite a while to figure out how placing the different puzzle pieces around the table translated to changing elements of the animation on the screen above. We found it peering underneath the table… Beneath was a mirror that reflected the pieces above to a digital camera, and the digital camera read QR-code-like graphics to translate into background, characters, even sizes and colors of the characters on the screen. While it was fun for the kids to play with, I was imagining the fascinating learning that could be had through having kids create such an interactive environment themselves!
All three of these venues in Houston are taking elements of DIY and “maker movement” to greater heights than their counterparts in other cities I’ve visited. For a city with very little recycling and no public composting, it was amazing to visit farmer Joe’s community farm – which is worth of its own chapter in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. Houston Makerspace is keeping alive the roots of the maker movement with traditional crafts in addition to modern digital fabrication. And the Children’s Museum of Houston is giving kids a venue to test and modify their creations beyond merely creating them.
For all these reasons, I’m proud to claim that Houston, Texas, is an undeniable up-and-coming center for DIY innovation, and we should be watching for great things from Houstonian Makers.
For more blogs by Lindsey, check out:
- Introducing and Deepening Design Thinking with Teacher Leaders
- Applying Psychology and Learning Sciences Research to Developing a Makerspace
- Mentoring New Teachers Toward Innovation
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