How to Design an Awesome Maker Space to Bust Summer Boredom

Summer is just around the corner and it is time for me to get our Maker Space at home back into full gear before school lets out! We moved last fall and we haven’t found a great place to set up our Maker Space.  Although our house is significantly larger (we were in an 850 square foot house – so everything is bigger here!), I’m still gauging how we use this new space. I find that my son is generally within 20 feet from me (probably because that’s as far as we could get from each other during the first five years of his life because of the 850 square feet we occupied!).  So here we’ve been for six months using any space around this place as our Maker Space. The kitchen table. The coffee table. The LEGO table. The basement. The floor! We have a great space upstairs that is almost like a small loft, but I’m afraid it won’t be used as often as if we keep it on our main level (ahem, that 20-feet-from-me-at-all-times-issue). Plus, we have the great fun of having my 13 year old niece and almost-9-year-old nephew hang out during the summer and having them upstairs removes me from the fun! It’s a real dilemma. What’s not a dilemma: Learning. Learning doesn’t have to halt simply because summer vacation is here. Learning should be fun, exciting, and spark curiosity especially during the summer!

We originally established a Maker Space in our home to encourage this mindset. What exactly is a Maker Space? Definitions vary, but we define it as, “A place to encourage and inspire children to challenge themselves, to explore, to learn to think creatively, critically, and problem solve.” Your child may have a Maker Space at school, but it can also be set up in your home. A small table, desk or workbench will get you started. As I shared above, right now our Maker Space is fluid. During the summer we extend it to a workbench outside. What does matter is giving your child the freedom to explore ideas, to be successful and even permission to fail.

Inevitably, your child will create a project and it will fail. A perfect example of this is a boat my son wanted to design this winter. He watched a youtube video of a homemade steam powered boat and went to work building it. I took one look at it and knew it wasn’t going to work like in the video. But he was determined and it did float and sort of work before capsizing! A year ago, this same kid would have been angry and quit. But this time, he had a breakthrough. He laughed and we talked about what might have make it sink and what he could change for the next round. And he went right back to work.

No matter your age, failure is a part of life and we use our Maker Space to help our son learn to navigate that process and contribute to a growth mindset. My son is not naturally prone to a growth mindset (and to be honest, neither am I!). Giving him the opportunity to fail in a safe environment has helped him develop greater creativity and persistence.

How to get a Maker Space started in your home:

For young children, dig out your craft supplies. My son was about three years old when we really dove in. By four, he was using a hot glue gun under close supervision. Now, at age five, he uses it on his own. You know your children best – guide them, teach them, and train them to use various tools.

CAUTION: Don’t stand in their way. When Finn was really young, my dad scolded me for doing something for him that he could figure out on his own. He struggled, but he ultimately got it. It was the most difficult lesson of parenting that I have learned. In fact, I’m still learning it. Often I have to ask myself, “Is this something that he can do for himself? Or learn to do for himself with training?”…and more often than not, the answer is yes. Parents let go of the control. Seriously. It has given Finn confidence, motivation, and drive. He is a better person for it. He is more engaged and curious because I allow him to go!

Back to the craft supplies…Make materials available and accessible. Some ideas to get you started:

  • clean recyclables
  • cardboard
  • duct tape, masking tape, scotch tape
  • glue
  • scissors
  • pipe cleaners
  • straws
  • craft sticks
  • string
  • beads
  • wood
  • paint

Start with materials that you already have. Don’t feel the need to run out and buy anything until you get a good feel for what you have. You may not even need to buy anything (other than duct tape and hot glue. I’m perpetually restocking these!).

Alternative resources:
I don’t always know how to do what he is imagining, so we use the internet to search for tutorials and videos. Sometimes, I give him a challenge, other times I let him explore on his own. We generally come back to testing and improving, but sometimes we just have fun. The trick is letting go of controlling the process. Allow your child to drive the project and do the work! That’s where engagement and learning are at their best.

Growing with your Maker Space:
Older children continue to enjoy creating with the materials listed above, but can learn additional elements. You may have a child who loves to help in the kitchen. Challenge him or her to create a series of more difficult recipes. Begin with an easy recipe, maybe three or four ingredients and a few steps. Let your child do it! Am I getting point across yet?! It is very difficult to let go of control. It might get messy. It might not taste great. But one recipe at a time, your child will develop and improve. Before you know it, you might get a day off from cooking dinner (#momgoals).

Older kids can also explore more in-depth concepts. We build cardboard and duct tape boats and test them on a local lake. We love circuits and use inexpensive SMD LEDs and copper tape from SparkFun. Explore coding through a free program: Scratch, from MIT. Teach how to use tools and give your child access to wood, nails and screws. Encourage your child to plan by sketching and listing required materials before building. If your kid is into LEGOs, give stop-motion video a try. The possibilities are endless.


Maker Spaces don’t need expensive equipment. They do need adults willing to support through trials, the freedom to try something new, and a bit of grace when things get messy. Join in the fun once in awhile! Everyone can benefit from making.

Check out our guide to Designing a Maker Space – it can be used in both a classroom or home setting!

How to Light Up Your Classroom with Bright LEDs

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

In this step-by-step tutorial, we show you how we used SMD LEDs and copper tape to create a parallel circuit. The result is a glowing spring card to share with a friend! This project is easy. A perfect beginner activity for introducing LEDs as a STEM or science concept in your classroom. Students will be deLIGHTED {pun intended!} to see their project glow. Get the full download here that includes the printable card and copper tape diagram and information on where we purchased our inexpensive supplies!

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 1:
You will notice that the SMD LEDs come in a black strip of 25 small compartments. The tiny lights  can be removed by peeling the strip of clear plastic off of the back of the black strip. As you do this, the small lights will fall out of their containers. Make sure to catch them and place them in a container that you can label and seal so you don’t lose them. I separate by color.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 2:
Print out the card templates on cardstock or heavy paper. Choose two-sided print so that the two pages prints to one sheet of paper. You can also design your own card by drawing or using a computer program to create your desired design.
Step 3:
Fold card in half so that the flowers (or your design) are on the outside. The card will open at the bottom and you should be able to see the inside of the card. This includes the circuit template and personal message lines.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space
Step 4:
Open the template back up. Punch holes in the center of each of the flowers. You can use a long hole punch, a paper piercing tool, a sharp pen or pencil, or any other tool you have around.
Our paper punch wasn’t long enough to reach, so we used a tiny screwdriver. We placed our card on a stack of scrap paper to protect the table. Next, we carefully scored around the circle with the edge, pushing firmly but not through the paper. Then we gently pressed around the edge, once again following the edge of the circle and the center circle popped out leaving a
small hole.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space
Step 5:
Once you have created a hole in each of the flowers, fold the card back up. Mark you hole location using a marker. The marker will leave a dot on your card template that will show you where to place your LED.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space
Step 6:
Locate the dark gray lines on the diagram. You will be placing copper tape strips on the lines. If you are designing your own, simply look where you have marked your LED placements. We had three flowers, and used three LEDs. This is where you will need to map out how you run your copper tape.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space
Step 7:
Begin placing the copper tape on the negative (-) side of the diagram, peel off the backing so that the sticky side adheres to the paper.  For your personal design, begin placing the copper tape on one side of the LED dots, keeping one long piece of tape that will run to the battery. The negative side will go under the battery and make contact with the negative terminal on  the battery.
TIP: When making a turn with your copper tape, first fold the tape in the opposite direction of the way you want to go. Then fold it back into the direction and smooth when you are complete.

 

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 8:
Use the side of a pen or marker to smooth the copper tape to the paper.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 9:
Locate the positive side of each circuit and place the copper tape. Place the battery positive (+) side up in the circle. If designing your own, you will once again locate your LED marks and run the copper tape parallel to the first copper tape you placed.
TIP: Place the positive (+) tape VERY close, but not touching the negative (-) side of tape. The strips of copper tape must be very close so that the tiny LED can connect to both sides, but if the tape touches it will short circuit!

 

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 10:
When you get to the battery, stick the copper tape to the positive (+) side of the battery which should be facing up. See photo for close up details.
Step 11:
Using scotch tape, adhere your battery to the cardstock so that it doesn’t move around.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 12:
Time to get out your SMD LEDs! Take a closer look at your LED bulb. You’ll notice a clear side, and if you turn it over, a flat side with a green “T”. This is important for knowing which side is the positive (+) and the negative (-). Energy can only flow through an LED one way, so you must put it on the copper tape the correct way so that it lights up. The top of the “T” attaches to the positive (+) side of the copper tape. When you place your LED, look at the “T” before sticking to the tape!

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 13:
To place, we use a small piece of scotch tape to “grab” onto the top of the LED (the clear part). Then lift the tape and LED up and look at the “T” on the bottom. Use the tape to adhere the LED onto the mark that you made in Step 5. If you have the LED on the correct way, it should light up!
Step 14:
If the bulb doesn’t light up, remove the LED, rotate it 180 degrees. You may have had the positive and negative connections placed wrong. Test again. If it still doesn’t work, review our troubleshooting guide.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 15:
Place the other two LEDs following the same process.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

Step 16:
Build a switch! To turn off your card, simply slide a small piece of paper under the battery to disrupt the current between the negative terminal of the battery and the copper tape!

Check out the full tutorial with the download here!

 

Here’s the same card, but with two switches! Check out the tutorial for this advanced LED project here.

My Season of Hydroponics

If you’d like to try hydroponics in your maker space or classroom it is a great way to get kids to fabricate, problem solve, make mistakes and experience authentic learning. Many designs for simple hydroponic systems exist online with inexpensive materials. The activity is a perfect STEM activity and integrates math, science and a bit of chemistry into a unit or lesson. You also don’t need a lot of room and can even do it on a windowsill!

Sue and I have also moved from a small condo to a ranch home, so these past three months have been hectic to say the least! We are now in the middle of a full scale remodel. As I type this, carpenters and electricians are working. Jolene and her husband, Phil, also moved. The entire Brain Brigade Team has been shaken up. We’re finally settling back into our Brain Brigade routine and it feels good to be back!

My winter season has been devoted to growing my greens hydroponically. I have also just completed a hydroponic strawberry tower. I can’t wait for spring to get here so I can get  the strawberries growing! I will grow the strawberries outside using my system.

My lettuce is doing great but my spinach is not so great. As you can see by the photo, the spinach is in the foreground and is quite twiggy. I think the pH may be off for the spinach. I’ll do some small adjustments to see if it responds. I began the lettuce and spinach about three weeks before transporting them into my hydroponics system. The floating bed has nutrient solution flowing past the roots. My system is about 24 inches wide and about five feet long. It is made of 2x4s with a bottom of plywood. In this box a pond liner coats the bottom and sides and a hole is bored through the bottom on the plywood at one end. The nutrient solution is pumped up to the box and flows past the roots and down the drain back to the reservoir. I’ve been enjoying lettuce all winter, picked fresh right from my basement. It doesn’t get better than that!

This can be done in a classroom, too! We have highlighted some steps in a series on hydroponics earlier in the blog. Start here to begin learning more!

Introducing LEDs and Bright Fun to Your Students!


LEDs, or their long name, “Light Emitting Diodes” offer a great deal of cheap, impressive fun in a classroom or Maker Space. We’ve used LEDs with students as young as third grade with great success. Students can explore and create incredible projects once they understand the basics of LEDs. Using SMD LEDs offers many learning opportunities for exploring circuits, trial and error and persistence. Plus, they’re inexpensive…a bonus when you get big results without blowing your classroom budget.

When first exploring LEDs, I was intimidated. My first order from Sparkfun arrived and I couldn’t get the LEDs to work. As it turns out, I didn’t have the LEDs removed from the packaging correctly {true story!}. The first time I placed the LED onto the copper tape it lit up like magic. I was hooked. I wanted to light up everything in sight. It was like a new toy. What else could I make glow?

Completed 3D Washington Monument. It glows red like the real one {Safety first. I think so planes don’t hit it!}.

We’ve been using these powerful little lights mostly to enhance paper projects. We enjoy using them because of their low power consumption and long life span. They have great luminosity and can brighten a dark room. LEDs are great for teaching polarity because the energy can only flow one way through the light. They’re powerful and impressive. And kids love them.

Even Leprechaun’s are rumored to love LEDs!

After my own trials {ahem, having fun}, I was ready to bring them to the Maker Space. I started the students off with some holiday cards that had a template to follow. We created one where Rudolph’s nose glows and the other a Christmas Tree. Then we got crazy. We created a light-up, pop-up 3D glowing Valentine’s Day card. We built a 3D Washington Monument that lights up like the real deal! We made a simple St. Patrick’s Day card for younger students. And we keep exploring…most recently we created a Spring Card that has two switches. So.Much.Fun.

 

Experimenting with LEDs. How many can you light up at once and for how long?

The kids enjoy it as much as I do! I have had middle school students have great success. Once they grasp the basic understanding of parallel circuits, how to make switches and comprehend what a short circuit is, they incorporate them into their own projects.

We’re now experimenting to determine how long 14 LED lights will stay lit off of a coin cell battery. They were still glowing after an hour. With this new information, we hope to incorporate these LEDs into light up constellations that can be made into an interactive bulletin board where a student can press a button and see the constellation light up! We’ll keep you posted!

An Experiment in Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes

GrowingHydroponicTomatoes

Gardening has been a hobby of mine for a very long time. In fact before moving into the condo that I currently live in, we lived on 5 acres and I had a gigantic garden and greenhouse. Gardening can be a great maker experiment. From planting in the ground to raised gardens to pots. Choosing the seeds or plants. Watering systems. Tilling methods. It requires using the engineering design principle. Trial and error. Taking a risk. And then if your garden fruits, you have to determine what to do with the harvest. Crack open your cookbook and pull out those jars, you can learn to can your produce. Or freeze it. Or use it up. Or sell it. Or give it away. Or trade it. Moving into the condo required me to downsize my quarter acre garden and get creative. At the same time that I moved, I had been dabbling in hydroponics in our Maker Space at school. I got excited about doing hydroponic gardening at home and that’s what I did this past winter.

With the weather warming, it is almost time to shut down the hydroponic operation in my basement and focus on planting outdoors. One experiment I’m trying is to compare the growth of tomatoes grown hydroponically with those planted in soil. I began the tomato seeds on March first and have since transplanted them once. Three tomatoes were transplanted in deli cups and a fourth was transplanted in a five gallon bucket with perlite as the growing medium.

I have tried to treat the four plants the same with keeping them outside and giving them water. The difference is that the plant in the five gallon bucket receives a nutrient solution 4-5 times daily poured from a reservoir. As the unused nutrient solution flows down through the perlite it returns to the reservoir through a drain so it can be re-poured at a later time.

I expected that the hydroponic plant would do much better than the plants in soil, but this has not happened. As of this morning, the plants in soil are about two times as large as the plant in the bucket. In about a week, I will transplant the soil plants to the outside. My guess is that they will experience some transplant “shock” and their growth will be slowed.

I am also wondering if the nutrient solution should be tweaked for the hydroponic tomato. I used the same formula that I used for growing lettuce in my basement under lights during the winter. I believe that because tomatoes need green growth as well as fruiting growth that it may be necessary to add more phosphorus. The nutrient balance I am using is 19.5 – 18 – 38 so all of the nutrients are there. I am also wondering if the concentration is correct.

I just got an E.C. meter to test the conductivity so I will need to learn how to use that. I’ll keep you posted but for now, more study is needed. See what I mean about making and gardening as a perfect maker experience!

Transform Your Teaching by Thinking Backwards with Seth Godin

Podcasts

I have recently become a podcast addict. I use the app Podcast Addict which just feeds my hobby. Yes, I now call it a hobby. It’s feeding my mind in a way that books used to {pre-kid days}. I still read, but not with the voracity that I used to. Now, I can fill my brain with quality words and ideas all while scrubbing my dishes or working on my design work. It’s another way to boost my creativity and inspire me.

I have a few podcasts that I’ve really begun to love, but in an effort to avoid getting in a rut listening to the same four podcasts, I began exploring other options.  I began with Creative Mornings and speaker Seth Godin.

Friends, are you trying to make a dent in the world? Are you trying to do work that matters? Work that fulfills you? Then watch the videos linked below now. I realize they are marketing and design focused, but these matter to you as a parent, an educator, a human being who is wanting to create or encourage the children in the world or yourself to create.

As I began listening, these two quotes from Seth Godin in these talks struck a me deep in my soul – and not in a good way:

…What they [industrialists] needed from workers were people willing to sit still for 10 hours, use a number 2 pencil, and follow instructions.

We were trained from the time we were three to ‘Do what we were told’“.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that. I don’t want that for my son. I don’t want that for our classrooms. I don’t want that for teachers teaching. I might have lofty goals  to #takebacktheclassroom and #takebacklearning but I believe our teachers and students have the right to learn in creativity-fostering, safe environments. It’s why we believe in Maker Spaces so much here at Brain Brigade. It’s what we live, think, breathe, feel, make, do. We help other teachers build Maker Spaces in their classrooms. We help homeschoolers build Maker Spaces at home. We make at home in our spare time and encourage our children and family members to ask, think, question, explore and more.

Watch & listen to Seth Godin here and then listen closely to his Q&A, and then if you can’t get enough, check him out on this podcast station. While in the Q&A a person asks a question specific to education at 16:50. LISTEN to it. {Here’s the manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams he refers to}.

Create an environment where not only is it safe to fail, but it is required to fail.” Seth Godin

Are you doing that for your students? Are you allowing them to fail? That is what a Maker Space is all about. Students must fail. They must take risks. And our job as educators is to create an environment that is safe for our students to fail. That’s it. It’s why we do what we do.

It’s how we’re taking back our classrooms. It’s how we’re exchanging those number two pencils for hands on learning. It’s how we’re breaking the mold and how we want to help you break that mold in your own classroom and world.

What’s keeping you from scary work? What might get you fired? Run out of town? Encourage you to take risks? If you don’t know where to start, then contact us using the form listed on the About Us page. We want you to you be confident in changing your classroom and changing your world.

Hydroponics 101.4: Light Requirements

Hydroponics-101

I’ve been growing plants using hydroponics for a few years now, both at home and in the classroom. For the first several years of doing hydroponics and aquaponics systems, I used a bank of T-5 fluorescent bulbs and they worked okay. But in this last planting, which I have set up in my basement, I purchased a bank of LED lights. I am passionately green and I read that LEDs are much more energy efficient and last much longer than any other type of bulb. I also read that LEDs can be tailored to provide the exact wavelengths of light for plants and flowers. You see, plants love light from the blue and red ends of the spectrum. While fluorescents provide some of that light, much of a fluorescent’s light is white and that is a waste of energy because plants use very little white light.


We’re currently in a series exploring Hydroponics {read our previous entries 101.1, 101.2, 101.3}.


The bank of LEDs was about $275 dollars. This was comparable to the cost of a T-5 bank of fluorescent bulbs, but I was astounded at the small size of the LED bank!

T5-and-LED-Light

I was blown away by the light though! What the LED bank lacked in size, it more than made up for in intensity. The instructions stated that the light should be hung at least 24 inches above the plants. I was able to hang it at about 22 inches. I was stunned that the light covered an area of about 2×4 feet where the plants were located. This from a bank of lights that is five inches wide and 18 inches long! My fluorescent bank was 22 inches wide and 46 inches long.

I left the light on while I worked in the basement. After about 15 minutes I started to see everything in a green aura. The intensity and wavelength of the light was affecting my vision. I decided to turn off the light and construct an enclosure around my plants that had Mylar reflective material on the sides to reflect the light back on to the plants.

HydroponicsLED

My plants are now bathed in blue and red light and are growing wonderfully.

Oh, and my vision is back to normal.