Maker Faire!

SecretsandCiphersSecret Agent Training


This past weekend I achieved the long-time dream of running a Maker exhibit at the Maker Faire in San Mateo!  I went representing Maker State ( and ran a table in the Young Maker section teaching how to make a two-part paper circuit.  I learned many things along the way. Here are some lessons for anyone doing a mini activity table where kids make something to take away:

1. Keep a project to 4 or 5 steps long, each step no longer than a minute each.

2. Have lots of examples of both completed and partially completed projects – show each step physically

3. Plan to provide extra materials to take back to siblings and friends

4. Make sure your take-away flyer that includes information on your project as well as how to contact you. I created this activity the week before Maker Faire so we did not have time to alter our flyers.  At the New York Maker Faire this will be corrected!

5. Paper circuits are best with electrically conductive adhesive, so no folding or extra taping is required.  Folding tape on itself is a confusing step for kids.

6. I ordered what I thought was conductive adhesive ( from Lucent Path) but it was not.  In the future I will only order from Adafruit (  I took a risk in ordering a new product for this, and it cost me.

7. Paper circuits are best on cardstock or other heavy weight paper – origami thin paper is usable, but more prone to tearing.

8. A child as young as 4.5 yrs old is capable of making a paper circuit

9. Time out your activity and determine maximum group size before ordering your materials.  This activity was ideally 6 minutes long and with 5 participants.  Any more and they were not close enough to see and hear the instructions.  Then figure out how many people you need working the table at a time.  Ideally three – two to lead groups through the creation, and one to prepare materials for the next group.  I had one to four people working at a time, but usually two.  One person alone will be overwhelmed.  The number of helpers you have and your group size and time can be used to calculate how many materials you need.  The variable here is your location – my table was in a low-traffic area in the North/East side of the grounds (in the Yard).  As a result I had an average of two kids at the table at a time, so I had more materials than I needed.  I ordered 1000 batteries, 2000 LEDs, 4 rolls of copper tape (55 yds each), and 1500 card blanks.  We made approximately 400 cards over the weekend, so I have leftovers.

Our project had two parts – the secret agent identification LED indicator circuit, and the cipher cryptographic communication guide. The cards let you verify that someone else is a secret agent, then you can communicate with them in cipher text.  We used a simple substitution cipher known as the “Pig Pen” or Mason’s Cipher.  Because of time limits I did not make cipher signs to hide around the Faire, but on Day 2 I decided to create a cipher password to access the candy bowl.  This was a smashing success.  Turns out a short, clear prompt will get people to try their very first cipher translation.  And once they got the idea, some of them started writing it on their own!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s