How to Set Up Your Makerspace

What does a makerspace look like, exactly, and what kind of tools and materials will you need?

The consensus reached by the maker educators and makerspace designer we talked to was that, well, there shouldn't be any consensus. Makerspaces, just like making itself, should be adaptable to the needs of each school.

Part 1: Where to Start

Carving out a place for making can come in two forms. Your school can set aside or strategically design a makerspace classroom, or you can integrate a space for making into your existing classroom.

Creating a Dedicated Makerspace

To find out how to go about designing a makerspace, we talked to Raechel French, a K-12 Education Planner at the DLR Group , an architecture, engineering and planning firm. She was formerly at a company called Stantec, where she helped design a high school in Olathe, Kansas, set to open in 2017, that will have eight makerspaces.

To integrate the makerspaces into the building, the high school was divided up into neighborhoods, giving the school a smaller scale. Each of the neighborhoods featured a dedicated makerspace with windows so other teachers and students could look into the space, and so that students could proudly display their projects. To French, this openness is a key part of the design process, particularly for schools that are just beginning their maker programs.

"The goal is to integrate making into the everyday curriculum, into the everyday culture," she said. The more that casual passersby can look into the classroom and see what's happening there, the more they'll want to get involved. This applies to both teachers and students.

Creating an Integrated Makerspace

If a dedicated makerspace sounds daunting, don't despair. "You can create your ideal makerspace," French said. "It's just an area to actually have hands-on relationships with the curriculum and the things you're learning."

One must-have for your in-classroom makerspace, according to French: "A larger surface to work on, especially if you still have desks attached to chairs. You want at least one table where you can spread out and lay out the materials."

French emphasized storage over any specific kind of equipment. "This is a new phenomenon for schools," she said of the maker movement. "Students are not going to be able to finish projects in one 45-minute class period. You need a place where students can put a project and have access to it and it will be away from kids meddling."

More important than the actual makerspace you design is the mentality you bring into it; students should know that when they step into the makerspace, they are adjusting to a different way of thinking.

More important than the actual makerspace you design is the mentality you bring into it; students should know that when they step into the makerspace, they are adjusting to a different way of thinking. Second to that are the types of tools and materials you provide. Many of the maker educators we talked to relied heavily on maker carts or maker bags that they stocked with relatively inexpensive materials.

Part 2: Tools to Use

Once a you have a physical location for your makerspace, you will need to stock it. Kate DeVoe, youth services librarian, and Sarah O'Shea, head of youth services, both of the Tompkins County Public Library in Ithaca, New York, said it is important to differentiate materials by age groups.

Following are a list of suggestions divided by age group.

Tools for All Ages

Arduino : A board that can take an input (light hitting a sensor, a finger hitting a button, a message coming in on Facebook) and turn it into an output (starting a motor, turning on a light.) It empowers students to create interactive electronic objects. And since it is open source, your students can contribute to its development.

Cardboard and tape: You would be surprised how technical students can get with cardboard and tape. Have them design and make their own architectural models and science experiments. Consider participating in the Cardboard Challenge .

Crafting materials: Collect cups, tape, string, toothpicks, glue, popsicle sticks, various types of paper, pipe cleaners, crayons, markers, colored pencils, hole punches, felt and stuffing, and other ordinary school supplies.

LEDs: Lights that can be used to create inputs or outputs for projects.

LEGO Wedo : Construction kits that serve as an easy introduction to robotics. Good to do before digging into Lego Mindstorms.

LittleBits : Modules that break apart and can be put back together in many different ways to create new inventions. Each LittleBits kit comes with a variety of input and output boards, so you can do anything from flipping lights on to controlling a thermostat.

MakeyMakey : With a MakeyMakey, your students can turn everyday items into input devices. For instance, you can hook up your MakeyMakey to bananas, which then become a keyboard.

Ozobots : Simple-to-program toy robots that can draw lines for arts and engineering projects.

Project bags: It's always useful have a bag that students can grab that has all of the materials they need for a project along with instructions.

Tools for Elementary School Students

Button maker: A particularly popular item, oftentimes projects related to fashion can help bring a less tech-oriented crowd into the process of making, while also teaching technical skills.

Dash and Dot Robots: Simple robots that teach young students how to code.

Goldiblox : Construction toys that are geared toward and popular with girls.

Ink and stamp pads: Relate them to early literacy with letters and numbers so students can increase their literacy while building.

Magnets: To young students, magnets are a fascinating way to begin to introduce them to scientific principles.

Snap circuits : Circuits that snap together so that students can easily make their own toys.

Tools for Middle and High School Students

3-D Doodler : Students will draw sculptures and toys in the air with this 3-D pen.

Hummingbird Duo : A product of Carnegie Mellon's CREATE Lab, this is a great engineering and robotics kit for ages 13 and up.

Laser cutter : Shapes wood, fabric, and leather, thereby helping your students to create in multiple mediums. Here is a guide to buying a laser cutter .

Lego Mindstorms : These are very popular robot-making kits amongst maker educators, though they are fairly expensive. There is a real culture around these kits, and many opportunities for students in Mindstorms clubs to compete with each other.

Perler beads : Beads that can be glued together into 3-D art projects.

Sewing kits: Having a sewing kit will provide an intuitive way for students who are more artistically than technically minded to participate.

Shop tools: There are plenty of useful tools, and spaces should be equipped with drills and/or drill presses along with a variety of saws, including:

  • Band saw: A saw used for woodworking. Good for making irregular shapes.
  • Crosscut hand saw: Another saw that is good for those on lower budgets.
  • Hacksaw: A fine tooth saw used for cutting metal.
  • Miter saw: Used for woodworking.
  • Vinyl cutter: Cuts through fabrics.

Tablets: Providing students with tablets is a great way for them to document their projects in photos and videos and share them online. Tablets are also great for accessing instructional videos online.

Watercolorbot : A robot that draws and paints according to the designs and code that students have put together.

X-Carve : A device that cuts wood, metal and plastic.