How to Turn Any Classroom Into a Makerspace

There is a certain magic found in rolling up your sleeves and tackling a project head on, an undeniable sense of empowerment that results from solving problems and manifesting big ideas. In essence, that’s the soul of the maker movement — creative individuals from all walks of life united by an insatiable desire to improve the world around them. Although synonymous with 3D Printing, it extends far beyond a single technology or buzzword. Truth be told, the maker movement represents the instinctual drive of our species to ascend ever upwards: to innovate, design, and construct a better tomorrow.

Why the Maker Movement is Relevant to Education

Image via Flickr by Exploratorium

Image via Flickr by Exploratorium

When I was a child, playing the classic game Oregon Trails was the extent of my technological wizardry. Little did I know that a few decades later, I’d be processing infinitely more power in my pocket. Likewise, today’s students will graduate into a strikingly different world. Much like the railroad, assembly line and automobile revolutionized the global economic landscape, so too will the explosion of big data, cloud computing, additive manufacturing and artificial intelligence. In light of this, students will need to be equipped with more than just the ability to answer multiple choice questions

Below, you’ll find projects capable of turning any classroom into a true makerspace. Some will cost next to nothing, others will only be available to those with generous budgets. They all, however, serve to teach students by compelling them to take action.

Hydroponic Gardening

 

Image via Flickr by J Wynia

Image via Flickr by J Wynia

From ancient Sumeria to the American frontier, agricultural science has nourished the mind of man, allowing culture and technology to flourish. When it comes to learning about plant cycles and vegetation, no text book visuals will ever compare to biting into an organic labor of love — something the student has nurtured from a mere seedling. That said, most schools don’t exactly have prime real estate for a farm. And even if they do, the climate they live in may well prove hostile to aspiring green thumbs. Say hello to the hydroponic garden, a cheap and effective solution.

The National Gardening Association envisions a garden in every American school. To assist in this endeavor, they’ve set up KidsGardening.org. Here you’ll find everything from detailed manuals and supply lists to in-depth lesson plans and games. The information is free, and if you choose to purchase supplies, proceeds go towards setting up gardens in underprivileged schools. On another note, if you have access to a 3D Printer, 3DPonics.com provides excellent files for the creation and customization of class garden setups.

Build a Drone

When most people hear the word “drone”, they immediately think of unmanned flying death machines roaming the desert in search of enemy combatants. But focusing on the more unpleasant aspects of aerial robotics does the technology a huge disservice. In truth, drones have proven beneficial to agriculture, engineering, and yes, even education. For instance, consider the innovative approach to teaching taken by Ms. Brooks and Mr. James.

As illustrated in the video above, these educators guide their 11th grade students along as they implement core mathematical principles to design, construct and fly a quadcopter drone. After the drone is functional, students are presented with a scenario and challenged to calculate how high the device must ascend to carry out its objective.

Undoubtedly, drones possess a wealth of opportunities for STEM-based learning, all the more so when combined with tablet technology If you’re interested in tapping into the educational potential of drones, you’ll be pleased to discover DIY drone kits are available for roughly $300. Granted, you’ll want to provide adequate supervision to ensure the devices aren’t used for any extra curricular shenanigans, and of course, to ensure all fingers and toes remain safely away from those blades

Create 2 Robot

As additive manufacturing soars to prominence, so too will robotics and artificial intelligence. Indeed, some would argue that the fate of these emerging technologies are irreversibly linked. As we approach the era of self-driven cars and robotic personal assistants, today’s students will be hitting the job market at the dawning of truly revolutionary industries. In light of this, STEM-based learning is absolutely critical to their long-term success.

Understanding this, iRobot has launched Create 2 — an affordable platform that gets students actively engaged in programming, modifying and hacking their very own robot. Equipped with LEDs and sensors, the Create 2 robot is fully functional and ready to program out of the box. It also begs to be enhanced, with detailed modification guides and 3D printable add-ons readily available.

Create a Toy

Image via Flickr by Creative Tools

Image via Flickr by Creative Tools

The toy: a powerful symbol of the carefree exploration and limitless imagination of childhood. Whether unwrapped on Christmas or found in the bottom of a cereal box, even the simplest of trinkets are capable of sparking smiles and producing hours of entertainment. For this reason, tasking students to create their own toys and stuffed animals is an excellent way of demonstrating the joy found in turning creative ideas into tangible objects.

If you happen to be in possession of a 3D printer, a search engine like Yobi3D links you to hundreds of unique toy designs that can be examined from every angle, and then printed and modified according to a student’s desire. If you’re not so lucky, hope still exists. Readily available materials can still be used to harness classroom ingenuity the old-fashioned way. Afterwards, have students market their creations. This could consist of using video editing software and cell phones to create commercials, or even just constructing a basic powerpoint presentation. Of course, setting up a toy exhibit is another great way for students to proudly display the fruits of their creativity.

Makey Makey

Makey Makey is an invention kit designed to reward wild imaginations and turn crazy ideas into practical realities. This is accomplished by transforming everyday items (bananas, pencils, etc) into touch based digital controllers. By bridging the gap between the physical and the virtual, all kinds of whacky possibilities open up. For example, making music with hot dogs and playing video games with a controller made out of Playdough.

Besides being wickedly cool, Makey Makey allows students to actively participate in engineering, learning the fundamentals of design prototyping in an inviting, highly enjoyable manner. A wealth of educational resources are provided on Makey Makey’s official homepage, and for a price of just $50, any classroom can instantly become a makerspace.

School Repairs

Although falling in price, 3D printers still qualify as a significant investment. Thankfully, they also prove to be a wise one. In fact, the devices are more than capable of paying for themselves over time. Take, for example, Connecticut’s Red Brook middle school. After acquiring 3D printers, they immediately began putting them to practical use by repairing broken down school property and enhancing the overall learning environment.

An 8th grade student, Sage Sutton-Hall, utilized the technology to create backup parts for the school’s power tools. Another student, Chris Melman, used 3D printed parts to fix an entire sound system. By teaching students how to implement technology to find viable solutions to tangible problems, they are granted more than just textbook intellect — they learn self-sufficiency skills that will prove valuable throughout their life.

Build an App

Although kids and young adults are often obsessed with apps, few would feel they are capable of designing their own. Even to many adults, computer programs are viewed as complicated concoctions of 1s and 0s. Fortunately, this intimidating learning curve is beginning to dissipate. Thanks, in large part, to concerted efforts at simplifying the entire coding process. MIT has been leading the way in this noble mission, giving rise to ingenious platforms like Scratch.

Earning praise from both teachers and parents, Scratch is designed to grant students the ability to create animated, interactive computer programs. Using an approach that’s reminiscent of playing with Legos, kids as young as 8 are taught skills in creative problem solving and design. Anticipating the platform’s potential for teachers, ScratchEd was established to provide curriculum ideas and encourage collaboration amongst educators. As a result, you’ll find no shortage of ideas for exciting lesson plans.

As I mentioned in 5 Apps That Will Change the Way Your Students Learn, App Inventor is another great option for incorporating coding in the classroom. Also developed with assistance from MIT, full-fledged Android apps can be made with ease. Just like Scratch, it boasts a thriving community perfect for providing encouragement and support.

Conclusion

Over the next few decades, 80% of the fastest growing occupations will be rooted in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Indeed, the shovel-ready and unskilled factory work that once blessed baby boomers is destined to be rendered obsolete by smart machinery and global outsourcing. With this in mind, upcoming generations must be equipped with not only a basic understanding of technology, but also the imagination to push beyond its current limitations. All of the projects above help foster this innovative desire, awakening students to their true creative potential.

2 Comments

  1. Mark Wallace

    April 15, 2015 at 8:47 am

    FANTASTIC, everything Technology Education folks have been saying and doing for years, and now the rest of the education world catches up and gives it a new name STEM. Proves they were all correct in 1996 when the Technological Literacy Standards were written.

  2. Maria Beatrice Rapaccini

    April 18, 2015 at 9:28 am

    Useful post!
    With MakeyMakey is great to experiment conductivity creatively .
    Repair activities is valuable to understand the value of things

    We used at school a 3D printer to represent the binomial cube
    https://vimeo.com/125215701