5 tips for creating a makerspace for less than the cost of an iPad

You don’t need power tools and 3D printers to start a makerspace. Instead, get creative

Where others see trash, I see treasure. Reusing, repurposing, and recycling items that can be found in the kitchen garbage can, on the curb, or collected by friends and families helps educators to save money while protecting the environment.

Today, our library makerspace has developed into a 21st century learning laboratory, with funding from grants and through the generosity of individuals and organizations that support our DonorsChoose projects. But it wasn’t always this way.

In 2013, I began creating a makerspace in our library with only recyclables such as yogurt containers, bottle caps, and toilet paper tubes that I had been saving over the summer. I scoured the library storage cabinets to find office supplies such as markers, crayons, paper clips, rubber bands, glue, and scissors. Then I began raiding my own craft supplies. There was a physical space, and students were making things. I had a makerspace.

By now you have probably heard about makerspaces, and you might even want to create one in your library or classroom (or even in your own home!). At first, just knowing where to start can seem overwhelming. You’ll likely read many blogs and books, follow maker educators through social media, and attend webinars and workshops. You will either become energized at the thought of embarking on this journey, or else paralyzed with fear that your makerspace will never be good enough. Here are some simple tips to help you along.

You can make with anything

The first fire was made by only rubbing sticks with flint. With paper, your students can make origami cranes. With wrapping paper tubes they can make roller coasters. And with unmatched socks they can make water bottle cozies. Rather than focusing on the expensive technology you don’t have, find ways that you can recycle, reuse, and repurpose. When iPad time is over in my house, and my children are bored playing with their toys, they almost always find themselves digging through the “Invention Box” in our living room to create a Statue of Liberty torch with only duct tape and two water bottles. If you don’t already, start checking out the craft aisle of your local dollar store. Keep your eyes open for sales, coupons, and clearance stickers. Join the Freecycle Network at and check the free items postings regularly on Craigslist. You’ll never know what you might find.

Next page: Create a space anywhere

[image via 5chw4r7z/flickr]

You can make anywhere

Gary Stager, co-author of “Invent to Learn,” once said “the best makerspace is between your ears.” If you don’t have a space, make it. The average book in my library was published some time in the mid 1980s, so it was very easy for me to weed out titles such as “How to Train Pigeons” and “What the Astronauts Will Do on the Moon” to free up some shelf space. Consider wheeled, metal cabinets that can serve as much needed makerspace storage. Attach magnets to the back of Lego baseplates and this cabinet can work double duty as a portable Lego wall. Consider any empty space that you have including walls, ceilings, doors, and windows. Any place can become a blank canvas for making (as long as you respect fire codes).

You don’t need to do it alone

Someone’s grandmother may have bought more skeins of baby blue yarn than she needed to crochet her grandchild’s first blanket. Share your vision of a makerspace with your administration and colleagues, as well as your students and their parents. Do you need 25 baby food jars to make water globes? Maybe a new mom on Facebook will begin saving the containers for you. Need pieces of wood to make photo transfers? Stop by your local Karate or Tae Kwon Do studio and ask for their broken boards. One of my students brought in a large incomplete Lego set, and a mom answered my call on Facebook for a blender. Chances are, if there is something that you need there is someone who can help you.

Your space will be different from everyone else’s

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” There is no one set definition of a makerspace. Your space will continue to develop and evolve to reflect the needs and desires of your students; within your comfort level and ability desire to learn about new resources; and funding from your school budget, grants, and donations. Have a vision of where your makerspace is going and outline a plan to get there. Realize, however, that your makerspace does not turn out as planned. Creating a makerspaces is, in itself, a process of making.

Don’t wait until you are ready

If you keep reading and planning, you will begin creating reasons why you should not create a makerspace. The best way to get started is to dive right in with what you have before you spend any money on the bright, shiny things that catch our eye, such as the coveted 3D printer. Pace yourself, stop and reflect, and ask your students and faculty for feedback. But don’t dwell on it. There will always be some new gadget or idea that will replace the old one. Consider the lasting effect of your purchases:

  • Can they be used for multiple activities?
  • Can they be used by a multitude of students in a variety of scenarios (age, academic ability, language)?
  • Can they connect with other tools or resources that you already have, or will they serve as a launchpad to future purchases?

Ed note. Kristina Holzweiss will present a realted session, “The Under $500 Makerspace: Tools and Toys to Get You Started” on Wed. June 29 at this year’s ISTE 2016 conference in Denver.

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