The Maker Mobile Went to Parliament Hill. Here’s What Happened.

How do you inspire Canadians to get excited about working with emerging technologies, and to start building the kind of future we all want to live in? First, you let them play.

That’s the idea behind the Maker Mobile, a rolling laboratory-on-wheels that pulled up to Parliament Hill on November 30th. The Maker Mobile truck, along with its high-tech interactive equipment, brought a splash of colour and energy to a grey, foggy Ottawa afternoon.

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Actua supporters: Michael Bouliane, Toyota Canada Foundation; Richard Cannings, MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay; Colin McKay, Google Canada; Jennifer Flanagan, Actua; the Honourable Geoff Regan, Speaker of the House of Commons and MP for Halifax West; Bradley Smith, GE Canada; Marilyn Gladu, MP for Sarnia-Lambton; and Peter Schiefke, MP for Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

Throughout 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the Maker Mobile Tour will deliver workshops to young people in dozens of towns and cities across the country. Running the Tour is Actua, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing youth with educational opportunities related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Actua leverages a consortium of 35 university and college partners to engage some 250,000 Canadian youth each year.

The major sponsors of the Tour are GE Canada, Google Canada, the Toyota Canada Foundation, and the Government of Canada, which is why Members of Parliament got a preview of the Maker Mobile. The host of the event—the Honourable Geoff Regan, Speaker of the House of Commons and MP for Halifax West—described the Tour as “a signature Canada 150 initiative.”

Judy Sgro, MP for Humber River — Black Creek, inspects the 3D printer in action.

“It means a lot to us to have strong corporate and government support,” said Jennifer Flanagan, Actua’s Executive Director, the next up to the microphone. She described how Actua particularly strives to reach students with limited opportunities to develop their STEM skills. “We now engage 35,000 Indigenous youth, for example, more than any other organization in the country.”

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Jennifer Flanagan, CEO of Actua, checks out one of the Maker Mobile’s cutting-edge tools with Bill Morneau, MP for Toronto Centre and Canada’s Minister of Finance.

Flanagan hosts Insights + Innovators, a series of podcasts profiling brilliant young Canadians and how STEM education fired their passion for learning, innovation and for inspiring others to pursue STEM-related studies and careers.

A big hit among MPs and guests attending the Tour preview event was the series of interactive exhibits. One station featured the unlikely combination of a laptop and Play-Doh controllers, and challenged users to play O Canada using Scratch programming language. At another station, MPs learned how to make 3D nametags from selfies using a laser cutter.

“Inspiring youth to have fun with STEM helps to build a strong foundation for Canada’s rapidly changing workforce,” said Bradley Smith of GE Canada, a 10-year Cornerstone Partner of Actua. “Several current GE employees were once Actua instructors or campers and are now building their careers as engineers or scientists. Actua is having a tremendous impact across the country, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.”

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Yasmin Ratansi, MP for Don Valley East, tries on a virtual reality headset.

Next up to the podium was Colin McKay of Google Canada. “We’re excited about ACTUA’s work,” he said, “because it brings a sense of exploration and experimentation to the communities that need the encouragement and the opportunity, and that need to see that there’s a future in science and technology, no matter where you live in Canada.”

The Maker Mobile Tour will deliver Innovation150 workshops not only in large cities, but also in places such as Fort McMurray, Alberta; Fort St. John, British Columbia; Yorkton, Saskatchewan; Cranberry Portage, Manitoba; Timmins, Ontario; and Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Each workshop will provide students in grades six through 12 with fun, meaningful and enriching STEM experiences, and introduce them to local innovators and innovations.

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Attendees play O Canada with Scratch programming language and Play-Doh controllers.

“We realize that today’s children and youth will shape the future of mobility, so let’s give them the technology education beyond their textbooks and their tablets,” said Michael Bouliane, of Toyota Canada Foundation. “There’s no better way to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary than to look forward to the next 150.”

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A miniature version of the Centre Block building at Canada’s Parliament, 3D-printed during the event.

 

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