Student Promotes DIY with Super-Awesome Videos
F rom a cardboard periscope to robots programmed to paint, seventh grader Sylvia Todd
likes to make things. And she wants to
inspire other kids—particularly girls
who sometimes shy away from STEM
careers—to get passionate about science,
technology, engineering, and math.
“Some girls in my class think
[STEM] is only for boys or only for
adults,” Sylvia said. “They say, ‘I can’t
do that. I have to do something else
or other types of occupations.’ But
you can do what you want to do. You
can be what you want to be. I really
like inspiring other people to do what
they want to do and what they want to
have fun with.”
Her vehicle for spreading that in-
spiration is her website, Sylvia’s Super-
Awesome Maker Show (sylviashow.
com). This is where you can find
videos of Sylvia demonstrating how to
make everything from crafty decoup-
age pieces to advanced science proj-
ects from premade kits.
Sylvia first started making things
when she was 8 after attending a local
maker fair, an event that promotes the
do-it-yourself mindset in arts, crafts,
engineering, and science projects. Sylvia was so entranced by the event that
her father, James, suggested she make
something and share it on You Tube as
a summer project.
In an improvised studio, Sylvia
donned a white lab coat and demonstrated how to construct a Drawdio,
a kit that transforms a pencil into a
musical instrument. Her dad, himself
a tinkerer and web designer, videorecorded her and uploaded the video
onto the internet, and Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show was born.
That first video garnered more than
63,000 views. A dozen and a half episodes later, her website is still drawing
new subscribers numbering in the
With production now down to a science, Sylvia and her dad usually complete an entire project over a weekend
during the school year. The episodes are
simple, informative, and, most of all,
fun. And the projects are open source,
so viewers can recreate them at home.
Incorporating puppetry and themed
music, Sylvia often demonstrates how
to make things from premade kits,
such as Arduinos, single-board micro-controllers used in the construction of
robots and LED lights.
“I want to make sure that kids are
aware of that sort of stuff so if they
want to learn more about it or how to
do something with it, they have the
opportunities to do it,” Sylvia said.
The past year has been busy for Sylvia.
After winning a silver medal at the 2013
Robogames, an international robotics
competition, she was invited to dem-
onstrate her winning WaterColorBot
to President Obama at the third annual
science fair at the White House. She has
given a TED talk and made a guest ap-
pearance on Katie Couric’s talk show.
Although she’s only 12, she has big
plans for her future. She wants to
someday attend MIT and study aerospace engineering. “I love stars,” she
said. “I’ve always wanted to be some
sort of aerospace engineer, and if that
doesn’t happen, I still have some other
interests. I like drawing. I like writing.
There’s just tons of other things that I
like, but I could change my mind.”
For now, Sylvia says she is content
making things and sharing with other
kids, as well as being an advocate for the
kind of hands-on learning that the mak-
er movement promotes. “Mostly school
is just lectures and lectures with books
and homework,” Sylvia said, “but what I
want to happen is that schools will start
having more do-it-yourself projects and
hands-on experiences that let you learn
a lot more because it is actually fun.”
—Sharleen Nelson is a freelance writer
who focuses on education technology.