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Inexpensive making in the classroom

By Stephanie Grimes 6/26/2014 Makerspaces

It seems like everywhere you go, someone is talking about the maker movement, making or people who are makers. You may also be hearing about making in the classroom and, as a teacher, wondering how you might bring making to your school.

The makers are taking over ISTE 2014 with sessions, hands-on playgrounds, interactive workshops and more. But why?

Maker education programs are cropping up in schools across the nation as the maker movement gains momentum. Making relies heavily on skills such as problem solving, innovative and creative thinking, and perseverance — and it promotes positive mindsets and attitudes. What could be better for our classrooms, schools and society than confident, determined, innovative youth? Making empowers youth and amazing things can happen when we get out of their way!

Making often incorporates modern technologies such as 3D printing, micro controllers (such as Arduino) or robotics. Integrating these technologies can be a costly venture as it typically requires a lot of tools, equipment and materials — not to mention physical space for all of this. Resource-intensive activities or practices aren’t generally synonymous with teaching. So how can we make making affordable and approachable for teachers?

At Digital Harbor Foundation, we find and create maker activities and resources that are accessible and affordable for our youth. Our tech center is located in the heart of Baltimore City and we serve youth from a variety of backgrounds, so it is important to our mission to make making something that anyone can participate in.

Here are three inexpensive ways to start making in your classroom:

1. Begin where you are.

Start with something you already know and are comfortable with. Are you a hobby crafter? Happen to have a lot of cardboard around? Skilled at graphic design? It doesn’t matter your level of ability in a given area. Everyone can make something and teach someone else how to make something. Just start with something you are familiar with and find a way to share it with your students.

2. Create a makerspace in a box.

One of the resources we recommend creating for your classroom when you are just getting started is what we call a “makerspace in a box.” This is a great place to start because it doesn’t require a permanent space, which can be costly, or a lot of expensive tools and materials. Find a box, bag, bin, or cart and begin collecting everyday materials that can be used to make something, such as yarn, aluminum foil, paper, tape or cardboard. Add a few additional materials — LEDs, coin cell batteries, copper tape, play dough, etc. — and you’ve got the makings of a great makerspace!

3. Use free tools and resources.

As the maker movement expands, we’re seeing a ton of great free resources to help teachers get started. Our favorites include:

Tinkercad, an easy-to-learn and simple-to-use 3D design software for creating objects that can be 3D printed. It’s easy for a five-year-old to use but robust enough to be useful for more experienced designers as well.

Scratch, another easy-to-use online tool for making games or animations. With a drag-and-drop interface, it’s appropriate for students and teachers of all ages and abilities.

Make Magazine is the premier source for DIY projects and resources. It’s a great place to gain inspiration as well as take a deeper dive into advanced topics.

Stephanie Grimes is the director of curriculum for Digital Harbor Foundation and a former early childhood educator.

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