Voice from the Field
Making a Makerspace Happen: Start With the Cart
Kenneth B. Hawthorn, Mechatronics Teacher and Maker PD Consultant, St. Raymond School, Menlo Park, CA; Dremel Idea Builder Ambassador — Friday, January 27, 2017
Building a makerspace environment across a school or district can seem daunting. One of the business maxims we adopted at St. Raymond School is “do it right the second time.” Focus on getting a project started and then worry about the details.
There is no national standard for what a school-based makerspace should look like, how it integrates into project-based learning, or what tools to buy. The truth is that looking back on your school’s first investments into the equipment needed for a makerspace will be a mix of “oops, we spent money on a tool that ended up not being used” and “wow, we totally underestimated how many students want to use this other tool.” Buying tools and materials for a makerspace means you learn from experience. You might not strike the right balance the first time.
After a few years of experience refining the makerspace at St. Raymond and starting to work with other school districts, I will share a few tips that I have found to be successful at each campus. These tips will help your school avoid a few of the harder (expensive) lessons I have learned along the way.
Start With the Cart
Having worked with schools in a diverse range of socio-economic communities, I have found that space, not funding is often the biggest hurdle to starting a school makerspace. Whether you choose to start a makerspace after school or integrate “making” into every day lessons, it’s best to get things rolling with a cart. It holds all of the tools students need to build projects and can be stored when not in use. Four to five square feet of temporary floor space can be advantageous over designated permanent classroom space.
A repurposed gen. 2 IPad cart now
School culture starts with teachers. This is a school makerspace, not just a student makerspace. Set aside half of an upcoming staff meeting and roll in the cart of glue guns, scissors, LEDs, copper tape and coin cell batteries. Move the desks aside and have the staff sit on the floor and play with the materials. Smile, have fun, and build something. When teachers buy into the idea of a makerspace, then students will use it more frequently.
Budget 50% for Consumables
Whatever your budget for tools, set aside about half that amount for consumables each year. These are things like filament for a 3D printer, hot glue sticks, foam board, rolls of copper tape, and bags of LEDs. A successful makerspace by definition goes through a lot of materials. Having a proportionally generous amount of foam board on hand means students and teachers will start to wonder, “What amazing thing can we build with all of this stuff?” For example, I have seen an eight-foot dinosaur skeleton model take shape as a class project in the middle of the library.
Don’t spread yourself too thin on tools without keeping an eye on having a good stock of building materials on hand. One $30 glue gun means buying $15 in hot glue sticks. One $1,200 3D printer means buying $600 in PLA filament. It sounds like a lot, but this is why I am offering the advice from experience. Consumables on hand translates to project potential. A new makerspace without materials can quickly dry up.
Even with careful preparation, makerspaces are a learning experience for both students and teachers. Don’t worry; do it right the second time, but for today just get started.
Feel free to reach out to me. I am always happy to send out a list of tools and materials I have found most useful over the last few years.
Kenneth Hawthorn is the mechatronics teacher at St. Raymond School in Menlo Park, California, and a Dremel Idea Builder Ambassador. He runs fun and empowering PD makerspace sessions for teachers in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties in northern California. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; @ken_hawthorn / kenhawthorn.com / StRaymond.club