The Art of Making

Fourth annual Kalispell Mini Maker Faire showcases tinkering, innovation and robots

By Justin Franz
Glacier High School students test a robot they recently built. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Art can come in many forms.

For some, it’s a painting or a poem. For others, it might be a melody or a meal. And for a group of students at Glacier High School, it’s a jittery, whizzing, metal robot throwing foam stars over a fence.

The Glacier High Technology Student Association will be among the dozens of presenters at the fourth annual Kalispell Mini Maker Faire and Manufacturing Technology Expo on Feb. 24-25 at the Flathead County Fairgrounds.

Maker Faires are held around the country as gathering places for innovators — artists, scientists, craftsmen and others — who love to tinker and take one man’s trash and turn it into treasure, said Megan Glidden, community engagement librarian at ImagineIF in Kalispell and one of the organizers.

“Making is a culture based on the idea of experimentation, innovation, and trying things out for yourself by taking something and making something totally different with it,” Glidden said. “There are so many things that could be considered making; even making dinner because you’re taking raw materials and creating something new.”

New this year is Friday’s Manufacturing Technology Expo, where local businesses will showcase what they’re working on, giving the public a chance for hands-on learning experiences.

“It’s just a wonderful opportunity for people to come together and share what they are making right here in the Flathead Valley,” she said.

Then on Saturday, the hobbyists take over the Flathead County Fairgrounds to show off their work, which can be anything from homemade instruments to robots. Glacier High students will show off robots they are building for the Technology Student Association state tournament in Billings next month. In preparation for the state competition, technology clubs build robots that can play games and perform simple tasks. This year, they have to build a robot that can toss foam stars over a small fence. Each team’s robot will go head-to-head with another school’s robot in a race to get the most pieces over the fence before the other.

Troy Smith, club advisor and technology teacher at Glacier, said the students are told what the game will be months in advance and then spend weeks designing and building a robot to compete.

“They build the robot, then rip it apart and build it again until it’s perfect,” he said. “It involves a lot of teamwork.”

“It’s a very long process to go from having an idea to actually building it and being able to show it off at competition,” said Tyler Judd, 17, a junior.

Alex Wright, an 18-year-old senior, said that constructing the robots is incredibly time-consuming and meticulously detail-oriented. While testing the robots in a small arena near the technology classrooms, the students showed off some of the technical drawings that are created before anything is put together.

“Just designing these robots is an art form because you have to make sure they are balanced — it has to be perfect,” Wright said.

The students said the Maker Faire is a great opportunity to see what other people are making, share ideas and perhaps get ideas for a future project.

For more information about the Kalispell Maker Faire, visit www.kalispell.makerfaire.com.

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