7 Steps to Set up a School Maker Space

How to Set up a Maker Space – Things to Consider

I’ve set up the hackLAB and taught a maker camp in Raleigh (Design Camp at NC State) for a few year as and I’m always surprised by the planning required for both.

It’s tempting to start thinking about all the amazing tools you could put into your space. If you know anything about Makers, you are probably thinking that you need a few key tools, a 3D printer, a small shape cutting device (CNC), glue guns, Dremels for everyone and a maybe a friendly laser cutter since they are the baseline tool for making things.

1. First. Understand there’s a difference between Clean Maker Spaces and Dirty Maker Spaces.

But buying a crapload of tools without first stopping to think about how they will be integrated into the culture and curriculum of your school is a recipe for a dusty and underused workshop.

Don’t be tempted by the shiny affordable DIY Kit CNC and laser cutters if you don’t need them. Just taking apart a blender offers a wealth of learning opportunities or assembling a KIT.

I’ve jotted down some tips below that helps you think through your maker space and how it fits into the culture and curriculum of your school. Don’t skip this process. it will result in stress, missed teaching opportunities, and certainly overspending.

2. List the learning objectives

I try to list the learning objectives, hopes, dreams and ideas you and others have for the space. Be sure to include people of interest such as parents, board members, administration and other members of the community. It’s likely that if you’ve made it this far, there have been lots of conversations about the space. Share stories about what kids will do in the space and what they will learn.

3. Tool Certification (Safety) Workshop and Certificate

The second thing I do is define the skills, knowledge and habits that kids will learn or develop in your space. Then describe what and how the space will help kids develop these skills. For example, if you would like a student to learn the skill of backward mapping a project to create a plan and a timeline, then how are you actually going to teach this? Or if you want students to have a habit of employing Design Thinking to solve a complex challenge, how are you going to instill this? Similarly, if you want students to be competent on all the tools in the space, how are you going to teach and assess this competence? Hands-on Tests.

4. Create an Idea Board, writing down words, sentences, or pictures.

I find this hard but you need to define the mission and culture for the space. In other words, how will people behave in the space and how will those standards be communicated? How will you deal with safety around tools? How will you teach in the space and will it be different from other classes? How will you encourage and perhaps even celebrate failure?

Also, I think about what the feel of the space is going to then determine the culture and the desired skills, knowledge and abilities, determine appropriate plugs in the rest of your curriculum and the life of the school. Sometimes this is as easy as working with the most (or least) enthusiastic teachers. Math and science are fairly straightforward to integrate into a maker space, but there are many plugs in history, social sciences, and art.

5. Determine the type of Maker Space

Once I decide the key learning points and where to place them, I’ll envision the path, growth, and pattern of the upcoming year and the projects you are going to include. For example, if your kids have never held a hammer or turned a wrench, it might make sense to start with simple skill builders before you get to Arduino robots and electric cars. When you pick the projects, consider how you’re going to teach and share them.

6. Sketch your space and buy the tools.

When designing the space, remember to consider electrical power requirements, associated costs, guidelines for safety, restricted areas around tools and what zone needs eye and ear protection. Make sure to include workspace for teams and set aside 40% of the room for wood, plastic, and project storage.

As you think about tools, remember that magic of making can start with hot glue guns, string, soda bottles, soldering irons, hammers, nails and other very inexpensive flea market tools. Don’t be tempted by the pretty CNC and laser cutters if you don’t need them.

7. Keep it Simple

Just taking apart a dvd player, a radio or drill offers a wealth of learning opportunities.

Going through this process it dramatically increases the chance that the maker space will be integrated into your community and used by many.

I know from hands-on sweat and even some blood that this process is a ton of dedicated work, but the most rewarding experience in the world.

One thing is for sure, plan on inspiring and changing young minds.

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