You Want to Start a Maker Space. Now What?

You’ve read some blogs, maybe even read a book or two, you follow some insta feeds, and everywhere you go the term “Maker Space” seems to pop up. Hands-on learning is your style. You might even be a little out-of-the-box. Maybe you’re a lot out of the box! You desire to help your students learn how to problem solve and think creatively and be curious. You’re ready to jump in and start a Maker Space in your classroom or school. But where do you begin? Do you need a 3D printer? How big of a space do you need? The beauty of a Maker Space is that there are no rights or wrongs. The challenge of starting a Maker Space is that there are no rights or wrongs! Get my drift? It’s your first Maker Space challenge andyou haven’t even started it up! Get ready, because you are about to grow!

Creating a Maker Space can be something as simple as a small table or desk in a corner of your room. A Maker Space can be as elaborate as a dedicated room or bigger! If you have the space. Determine who will be using this space. Is it your classroom only? You might be collaborating with your other grade level teachers so a dedicated location like a commons area or maybe multiple small stations in multiple classrooms might be the solution. Don’t be afraid to think creatively and be flexible.

Once you have a location figured out you can start it up! It’s okay to start small.  You don’t need a 3D printer make your Maker Space come alive.  Collect clean recyclables and get some bins to sort them in. In fact, if you see a sale on bins, buy more. {You can thank me later!} Make tools available to your students {glue, scissors, a hole punch, scotch tape, masking tape, duct tape, maybe some small hand tools, hot glue gun}. Other materials such as string, craft sticks, pom poms, pasta,  straws…. Let your students start exploring when they have some down time or indoor recess.

Teach your students how to use tools responsibly. Wear safety glasses if needed. We have a five year old who uses the hot glue gun to glue and an eight year old who also uses a hot glue gun to glue and weld! Know your students and let them take on some responsibility and calculated risk. Chances are, many other students will quickly display their ability to be mature when the reward is good!

Once your students are familiar with the Space, offer them challenges. How tall can you build a tower? Build a bridge and see how much weight it can hold. Build a car and see how far it can roll down a ramp.

Need more help? Check out our guide to Designing a Maker Space. We include a huge list of ideas for stocking your Space, funding your Maker Space, four pages of links to incredible resources to help you to spur creativity!

Source: I find some amazing work at The rockets on my image are from there!

An Experiment in Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes


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!

Friday Follies: It’s All Fun and Games Until….

Saturday morning. Spending some time challenging a couple hundred kids with fabricating foam rockets. They are loving getting out of the classroom and into the cafeteria for a hands on experience building foam rockets and then launching them. They persistently brainstorm ways to get the rockets to go farther and higher. Through trial and error, mistakes and occasional failures, they achieve success! Rockets are flying everywhere. Bouncing off walls and garbage cans, other kids and the occasional unwary instructor who happens by. The curiosity, creativity and risk the kids take with the engineering design process are inspiring. If through this activity we can connect to real life applications and get them into Maker Spaces and Maker Labs, it will all be worth it. Worth the drive to the city early this morning to set up. Worth the exposure to all the kid germs and sticky hands grabbing hot glue guns from my helpful hands. Worth the parents hogging the supplies because they are as excited as the kids to engage in novel learning. And definitely worth the experience of having these wild ones use me as a target to aim the rockets at. “What if we hit Miss Sue? Do we get a prize?” No. No, you don’t. Rockets

Yes, it’s me, Sue Brainiac. The Head Brainiac Jerry’s long suffering wife. Brainiac Jerry loves offering events for poor underprivileged inner city kids that have never had the opportunity to torture Mrs. Brainiac with their attempts at foam rocket building. Yes, I understand that offering STEM activities encourages collaboration among students and sparks excitement about learning that may lead to a little girl becoming an engineer or a boy realizing he COULD go to college and do fun stuff for a living. It’s novel learning at its best. Developing synapses in the brain through presenting challenges to solve. Showing kids that tenacity and grit and hard work can actually be fun and rewarding. Blah blah blah. Okay. Kids learn to love science and math and make it applicable to everyday life. How nice for them.

But on a lovely Saturday morning , Mrs. Brainiac could be enjoying coffee on the deck and instead she is supervising kids from ages five to, well, whatever age the oldest parent is. Using scissors and hot glue and rubber bands. All her favorite things for kids to play with. And now the finished rockets are bouncing off her in spite of the oath to “not aim at anything living” that we made them take prior to launch.

How about we go back to the traditional education experience? Worksheets. Lectures. Videos of other people making things. Kids love watching other people have fun in videos. Tests! What about tests? Those take up lots of time and keep kids busy. And why aren’t these kids playing video games? That would keep them out of Mrs. Brainiac’s hair.

The worst part is all the questions they have. What if we use an extra rubber band? What if we angle it? How about if we make the fins longer? Shorter? More fins? Less fins? I have no idea! I’m not a scientist! But I am smart enough to let them figure it out themselves by trying it. And then when they figure it out and tell me, I smile knowingly as though I knew the answer all along and say, “There, now aren’t you glad you figured that out by yourself without me telling you the answer?”

Augh, the kids found me hiding behind the waste baskets writing this blog on my Ipad. “We want to make rockets, we want to make rockets.” Well, when do I get to make one of these rockets? I’m sure I can find a way to hit that top window they are all aiming for.