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Teachers talk: 12 makerspace must-haves for back-to-school

Four experienced “makers” and K-12 educators dish their top tools and advice to build a meaningful classroom makerspace from the ground up.

Makerspaces are becoming a classroom staple. As these shared spaces for student-led learning continue to flourish, the concepts, tools and applications of makerspaces have reached a new level of variety. For those new to “making,” developing the blueprints for a classroom makerspace this back-to-school season can be intimidating.

The teaching and learning benefits of maker education are clear and simple. This practice enables students to exercise creativity and abstract thinking to see a problem from beginning to end. They test, analyze and modify ideas in both the design and production stages. Making offers our youngest generation a fluid model for approaching problems through trial-and-error, a skill that can last a lifetime.

So, how can you bring making to your classroom?

We’ve turned to educators across the country, from classroom-level K-5 teachers to district-wide technology specialists. First, we’ve outlined the key takeaways from our conversations with seasoned makers. Next, we’ll share their shortlist of must-have makerspace tools.

Draw inspiration from your students.

I always tell teachers to talk to their students before they dive in and build a makerspace. Students will help direct the growth of the makerspace and make sure all purchases are for things that students will actually use. – Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher), Middle School Technology Integrator and Makerspace Director at University Liggett School and author of ‘Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces.’

Nicholas Provenzano.

Know your students, know their interests, and have them help design the makerspace. A lot of the materials in my classroom were things my students suggested. There are a million makerspace ideas on Pinterest, but each school and school population is different. – Faith Plunkett (@missfplunkett), Entertainment Technology Academy instructor at Huntsville City Schools

Faith Plunkett.

Avoid getting bogged down by technology intimidation; start small.

I often draw inspiration for project ideas from my immediate surroundings. For example, I was across the hall from the Spanish department last year. When students began decorating for “Day of the Dead”, I thought my printing and imaging technology course could join in by designing and printing sugar skulls. My students enjoyed it, and it was the perfect entry point to printing and design. – Joy Schwartz (@joysschwartz), a high school mathematics and technology instructor at Beaumont Independent School District in Beaumont, Texas

Joy Schwartz .

Mark out your space first, no matter how big or small. Once you have your makerspace, you can determine which tools make sense for your environment. Stock up on low-cost tools, like cardboard and other household items that students can tinker with before “leveling up” to an industrial tool. – Ken Hawthorn (@ken_hawthorn), Mechatronics Instructor at St. Raymond School of the Archdiocese of San Francisco

Ken Hawthorn.

(Next page: Tech-buying tips and must-haves)

Approach every mishap as a teachable moment.

The best piece of advice to get started with making is to dive in, head first. Set your goals and expectations for integrating the technology into your classroom, and don’t be afraid of failure. These are the moments when you and your students will learn the most. – Joy Schwartz

Makerspaces can be messy. Sometimes it looks like a junkyard in my room, but I know that learning is happening. They’re collaborating, they’re creating, and they’re showing what they know and what they’re learning in a really cool way. – Faith Plunkett

When it comes time to purchase something big, go for versatility and quality. 

Are the materials cross curricular? Are there lessons available for educators? Are the companies willing to work alongside educators? How durable are the products? My products are heavily used by hundreds of children, so I need to make sure that if the product breaks, it’s easy to replace or get fixed. – Faith Plunkett

I ended up buying a bunch of smaller budget printers for use over the summer. They were more trouble than useful. Very frustrating. Get the good stuff to start! – Ken Hawthorn

Their makerspace must-haves:  

Ken Hawthorn

  • The Original Pink Box: We made an island out of these four carts to mount tabletop wood tools, like scroll saws and belt sanders.
  • Vinyl Cutter: Allow students to draw on white boards, take a photo of it, and transform it into classroom wall art.
  • Audio Exciters: Transform an object’s outer surface into a speaker.

Nicholas Provenzano

  • littlebits: A simple access point for students to create practical STEAM creations.
  • Raspberry Pi: A small, programmable computer that opens students to a world of discovery.
  • Makey Makey: Turn everyday objects into touchpads that “talk” to computer programs to bring coding projects to life.
  • Dremel DigiLab 3D printer: 3D printing gives students the opportunity to demonstrate understanding beyond a poster board, power point, or a multiple-choice test.

Faith Plunkett

  • Cardboard, scissors, and duct tape: My students have been able to create some really neat things using cardboard. I love showing them that you can use your imagination with any and every tool that you have.
  • Legos and buildable materials: I am in the process of creating a Lego wall using large Lego baseplates. The students love creating objects, and this will give them a larger space to create, but also to showcase their creations.
  • Button batteries and LED lights: My students love creating things that they can wear. One neat thing they’ve been able to do is add the button batteries and LED lights to their creations to make their clothes and accessories light up.
  • Dremel DigiLab 3D printer: I love that 3D printing has opened up a world of creation that my students never knew existed. Using digital manipulation, they’re able to draw out, program out, or drag shapes together to create anything they want.
  • Dash and Dot robots: I was so excited when Dash robots came out. My students had been using Bee-Bots, but I wanted them to go one step further, and actually write programs.

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