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3D Printing, COVID-19, Sewing, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Making PPE Masks and Ear Savers

Mask hand sewn by Paula Lawrence

Recently, the recommendation came down from the CDC for everyone to wear cloth masks when going out in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Masks are currently hard to come by in stores, which, incidentally, you should stay out of if you can. If you don’t already have one, you’ll need to make one. 

Making Your Mask

CNN recently published detailed instructions on making masks. This includes a pattern to sew, and a no sew option. The Washington Post added to the discussion with information about what kind of materials to use and why.

Making Masks for Healthcare Professionals

Many hospitals are now accepting donations of homemade masks. If you have materials to make more masks than you need in your household, you might consider making and donating them.

Ear Savers

I’ve been talking with a local medical professional who is asking for people to provide ear savers, too. Ear savers can be made from different materials. The goal is to keep ears from getting irritated when wearing a mask all day. There are two main types: sewn and 3D printed. The doctor I spoke to requested the sewn, headband style. You can watch a tutorial on how to make it from scratch here. However, if you have cloth headbands that you’d like to donate, you can wash them, then skip to the last step of simply adding buttons. The  3D printed surgical mask strap style can be found as a downloadable pattern on Thingaverse.

Using Masks Properly

When you are wearing your mask out in the world, you need to know that you are doing it correctly. You should make certain that your mask covers both your mouth and your nose. Just like you aren’t supposed to touch your face, you should avoid touching your mask. This CNBC article provides more details about what you should, and shouldn’t do, and includes information about how to properly clean your mask.

That’s it for now. Stay safe out there! If you have any suggestions about masks, ear savers or anything else, I welcome your input in the comments below.

3D Printing, COVID-19, Sewing, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Local Michigan Makers are Helping Supply Hospitals with PPE and You Can Too!

Help Your Local Hospital by Sewing Masks!

The U.S. just surged to the top of the charts with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world. Although these numbers are grim, especially considering that US hospitals are already experiencing a critical shortage in personal protective equipment, there are makers working, in our community, to help bridge the gap.

How to Help

If you are considering pitching in, by 3D printing, sewing or otherwise, start by reading the information on the GetUsPPE site. Next, check with local hospitals regarding what they are currently accepting. Here is the rundown on what’s being accepted in the metro Detroit hospitals. As of today, the only hospital accepting hand-sewn masks in metro Detroit is Beaumont. Don’t let that dissuade you. There are hospitals all over the world accepting hand-sewn masks. With the situation in the U.S. getting worse by the day, most likely more local hospitals will start accepting these, too.

Making Hand Sewn Masks

Deconess has written information and a video tutorial about how to hand-sew masks. Joanne Fabrics has tutorials, and they are also giving away supplies. Sewing masks can be done by beginners, and Joanne is offering to support makers in creating them. They are also distributing them to local hospitals “This is a grassroots effort, and we will connect with hospitals near our stores to provide the items to local hospitals, so they can be used at their discretion” (https://www.joann.com/make-to-give-response/).

Making Face/Eye Shields

If you have a 3D printer, you can also help by making face or eye shields. Teachers in the Ann Arbor Public Schools have started work on these. How-to information, including design files, can be found on the CoVid 19 “Operation Face Shield” site. 

More Help is Coming Soon

Several well-known fashion brands including Ralph Lauren are gearing up to produce masks and isolation gowns, but will they be able to produce enough, and can they retro-fit their factories quickly enough? Hopefully so. In the meantime, you can help to bridge the gap.

COVID-19, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Makers and Factories Helping with PPE and Ventilator Shortages During COVID-19 Crisis

Some Makers Are 3D Printing Ventilator Parts

With scary statistics of climbing COVID-19 cases dominating the news, it’s important to balance this with hope. The COVID-19 global pandemic has left so much uncertainty in its wake, it’s hard to know what to do to help. Makerspaces are equipped with tools and machines that can be used to make life-saving gear, but will hospitals welcome it? If so, how can you be certain that you’re making personal protective equipment (PPE), or ventilator parts, correctly? 

Start by Checking Hospital Websites

Check your local hospital’s website to see what’s needed. Even if they aren’t accepting donations produced outside of a factory – yet – that doesn’t mean they won’t need to do so in the future. Here in Michigan, we are currently under a shelter-in-place executive order. However, leaving home in order to donate protective gear to health organizations, is allowed. 

As of today, the University of Michigan hospitals are not accepting hand-sewn masks or 3D printed parts for ventilators, but if you have hand sanitizer, wipes, or factory-made masks to donate, they are in dire need. The medical professionals that I’ve spoken to have also indicated that what will be accepted, and what is needed, is changing on an hourly basis. It’s a good idea to keep checking back. It also doesn’t hurt to start making hand-sewn masks and other equipment, just in case.

What to Make and How to Make it

Lately, there has been an influx of information about homemade COVID-19 supplies and remedies. Many of these sites contain false, and even dangerous information. Unfortunately, you can’t make hand sanitizer from Tito’s vodka. Additionally, extrapolated home remedies such as ingesting non-pharmaceutical chloroquine phosphate, can prove deadly. Before you start making, it’s really important to determine that you have accurate information, but how do you know where to look?

Two organizations at the forefront of makerspaces are Nation of Makers and Make Community.  Both have pages devoted to COVID-19. Nation of Makers has a listing of initiatives with how-to details, that other makerspaces are taking in response to COVID-19. The Make Community has a Plan C from Makerspace page with resources such as open source ventilator plans, and protective face shield designs.  

More Help Coming Soon

Although makerspace grassroots efforts are important, there is also more large-scale help coming soon. Although you can’t make hand sanitizer from Tito’s vodka at home, Tito’s and other distilleries have started to produce hand sanitizer, on site.  General Motors and Tesla are working to repurpose factories to produce needed ventilators.  Ford is helping with respirators, ventilators and face shields.  3M has also increased their production of N95 masks

What You Can Do

Making PPE and ventilator parts at home, is a great use of maker skills. Despite the help coming from industry, this maker-made equipment may still be needed. The best thing we can all do, is practice social distancing. Talented makers should also keep an eye on the local hospital websites to see what’s being currently accepted, and what’s needed most, by our heroic health care workers. 

Makerspace Management

Make it Easier for Students and Educators to do the Right Thing

Modeling doing the right thing – wearing safety goggles while building a table.

Back in 2015, when I started really digging into makerspace, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Makerspace Operations Bootcamp, through Makerworks. The training was 5-days, intensive, and really, really good. I walked away with a much more comprehensive knowledge of all things makerspace, and I got to play with some really cool machinery, too. One of the messages conveyed through the training was to make it easier for your makers to do the right thing (rather than the wrong thing).

Difficulty Doing the Right Thing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that message. In particular, all the hurdles that make it difficult to do the right thing. I see these everywhere. From confusing directions, to blocked educational websites, to too many steps needed to complete tasks. We make both students and educators jump through hoop after hoop in order to get where we want them to go. This causes frustration. It makes everything more difficult than it needs to be. It needs to stop. I would even argue that this is one (of several) factors causing the highest rate on record of teachers quitting their jobs in public schools across America.

Making it Easier

If we are going to be effective educators, leaders, mentors, makerspace managers, we need to rethink the way that we do things. We need to make it easier to do the right thing. This should be a lens through which we view every rule we make, every lesson or project we plan, each new initiative we envision. Even the way we evaluate teachers. Just imagine how much better classroom management could be, and how much more effective our educators, if we made it easier to do the right thing. The entire profession would be transformed.

For example, if we actually provided the resources needed to do the things that educators are asked to do, educators could be much more effective. If we had enough staff working to get everything done (which would translate to smaller class sizes), there would be a better work-life balance, and less burnout.  If we had enough time to give to students who are struggling, students would be more successful across the board. 

How this Translates to Makerspace Management

This lens absolutely applies to makerspace management. We need to make it easier for students to make safe (right) choices. When you are setting up your makerspace think about hanging safety equipment in front of where your makers will need to use it, posting safety instructions at workstations, and having a good adult-to-maker ratio.

Set everyone up for success. Put time and funding into helping your makers do the right thing.


Makerspace Management, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Making Meaningful Makerspaces

You can find projects like this infinity scarf, designed by fashion designer Netti Tiso, in my book You’ve Got a Makerspace – Now What? Teaching Kids to use Makerspace to Better Our World.
Publication date tentatively set for 2020.

As some of you know, I”ve been keeping a (poorly held) secret for the past year – I’ve been writing a book about makerspaces. It has been, hands down, one of the single most challenging experiences that I’ve ever had. It’s required a lot of sacrifice, most of all with my time. I’ve also gotten very comfortable with an unparalleled level of rejection of my thoughts…ideas…writing. 

However, I’ve also learned SO much. I’m a substantially better writer than I was when I started this process. I’ve also spent hours thinking about the purpose of makerspaces.

When I first started my book, it was titled Build and Manage a Makerspace for Kids. The aim of writing it was to keep those of you buildings makerspaces from having to make your way through in the dark. More specifically, to provide management techniques, thoughts about which tools work well with particular age groups, and best practices for teaching kids to use these tools. I wanted you to benefit from the thousands of hours I’ve spent figuring everything out.

By February, I was halfway through writing it, when my publisher contacted me and informed me that the marketplace was flooded with how to start makerspace books. I had to start over. I was devastated. They suggested that I write my book assuming that the reader has a makerspace already. It took me a little while to warm up to that idea. That wasn’t my original vision. I wasn’t sure that’s the book that I wanted to write. I wondered what I could contribute that would still be beneficial. 

This is when I started thinking about what we do well in our makerspace, and my immediate answer was passion projects. Which led to the next logical question – why do the passion projects get such great results? There is plenty of research out there that tells us that in order to get kids excited, engaged and passionate about school work there are two major motivating factors; choice, and some sort of real-world connection. The way that the passion projects are designed does both, which is why the kids stay engaged, and get incredible results. 

I only give them two rules; they can’t do anything that involves money, or weapons. I also ask them to figure out who is going to benefit from their projects – themselves (which is completely valid), their school, their community (neighborhood, sports team, place of worship or however they define that), or the whole world. This scaffolds them to think concretely about that real-world connection. From here, the kids take off. Some projects they’ve done include making and donating blankets to animal shelters, inventing a vending machine with food and supplies to help the homeless or people in areas that have been devastated by natural disasters, coding games, presenting plans to make everything in school more inclusive to a wheelchair bound friend, building working snowboards and designing and making clothing for their pets. You can check out photos and videos of some of these passion projects on my Twitter feed @julielibrarian or Instagram @growingmakerspace. 

Kids want to do good in the world. Giving them a way to do this, through the use of a makerspace, is the best way to utilize a makerspace for kids. I strongly urge you, if you have access to the incredible tools that makerspace provides, help kids learn to use those tools to better our world. If you want some suggestions on specific ways to do this, although I don’t yet have a firm publication date, my book You’ve Got a Makerspace – Now What? Teaching Kids to Use Makerspace to Better Our World will hopefully be out in the world at some point in 2020. I’ll keep you posted on that through this blog. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or ideas to share on the topic, feel free to comment on this post. You are also welcome to shoot me an email at growingmakerspace@gmail.com .

Until next time!

Makerspace Roots

The Origin Story of Makerspace

Students working on computers in our makerspace–using Makey Makey– and creating perler bead pixel art

If you’re reading this, you probably already have some ideas about what a makerspace is. However, you may not know the origin story – how makerspace came about, and the ways in which the history of makerspace influences what we see today. To supplement my own five-year journey with makerspace, I did some research. This is what I discovered.

If you sensed a hint of the subversive in makerspace, you’d be right. Makerspaces harkens back to the late-1990s with hackerspaces. These were preceded by hacklabs, which first came on the scene in the mid-1990s. Both hacklabs and hackerspaces were a result of the proliferation of personal computers. Both also have computers and hacker culture at their respective centers. However, hacklabs are usually associated with some sort of political agenda, whereas hackerspaces are thought of as community organizations for learning and collaboration. What hackerspaces and makerspaces share in common is the focus on community and the use of technology.

So how did makerspaces branch off from hackerspaces? The answer, put simply, is Dale Dougherty. Dougherty is the founder of Maker Media, MAKE magazine and inventor of the term makerspace. Legend goes that Dougherty was originally going to call MAKE magazine HACK. When he proposed HACK as the name of his magazine to his daughter, she purportedly said that he should call it MAKE instead, because ‘everyone likes making things’.  The first issue of MAKE was published in January, 2005. Dougherty likened it to “Martha Stewart for geeks” and with this single publication, the maker movement was nudged into the mainstream.

The term makerspace didn’t come into play until several years after the launch of Make magazine, in 2011, when Dougherty registered makerspace.com, and started using makerspace to refer to spaces for designing and creating (often with kids). This was the point at which the maker movement started really taking off.

MAKE has always had its finger on the pulse of what’s trending in makerspaces and although some of the content is more applicable to professional making, it also contains some practical, kid-friendly projects, often complete with images, project completion time estimates and materials cost. MAKE also publishes a desktop fabrication guide with reviews of tools such as 3D printers, CNC and Lasers. This is akin to the Consumer Reports car buying guides, but for desktop fabrication. If you are considering making something, there has likely been an article written about it in MAKE.

Makerspace vs. Hackerspace

Makerspaces and hackerspaces currently exist all over the world. So, how do we differentiate between them? Honestly, it depends a lot upon who you ask. From my experiences, I tend to think of them in contrast to each other. Hackerspaces tend to be edgier, makerspaces a bit friendlier and more welcoming. Hackerspaces have a heavy tech focus, makerspaces tend to blend in more of the D.I.Y.

Makerspaces are usually more kid-friendly. Of the hackerspaces that I’ve encountered, I would not send a kid to any of them without a trusted adult (although I’m sure there are exceptions where that would be perfectly fine). This is partly because in hackerspaces, often the activities aren’t something a kid could do without help, either the materials or equipment are too dangerous (using lead solder, for example) or the skills are too advanced for kids, at least those younger than high-school aged.

If you’re wondering if there are any makerspaces or hackerspaces near you, there is a directory you can check. You can also register your makerspace or hackerspace in this same directory, once you have it up and running. You might be surprised by how many you find. Go check them out!

Music, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Music Making is the Perfect Makerspace Activity for Kids (with Resources)!

I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love music, and if I did, I wouldn’t trust them. Music is such an integral part of the human experience. It is a universal language that has existed in all cultures, throughout history. It’s something we experiment with – clapping, drumming with our hands and feet – before we are even old enough to talk. Music can calm us, bring us to tears and make our hearts race, and there are so many different ways music can be integrated into makerspace. Here are some ideas.

Drumming is an inexpensive, straight-forward place to start. There are a plethora of online sites that will show you how to create an entire drum kit from trash. You can use easily find objects for drum sticks too, including; pencils, chop sticks and sticks just found on the ground. If you are looking for inspiration for how to use everyday objects as percussion instruments, do a quick online search for the group Stomp. I was particularly impressed with their composition done entirely with brooms.

If your goal is to create music with unusual instruments, there are plenty of intriguing examples. The Vegetable Orchestra performs music on instruments that…as you may have guessed from the name…are made entirely out of vegetables. You can do this yourself! Just watch Linsey Pollack’s Tedx talk where he shows you how to make a clarinet out of a carrot, in less than 5 minutes, and then plays it beautifully. This video, and other resources, are included on the kid-focused badging site DIY.org, in an entire section devoted to instrument making.

Synthesizers are really cool but might seem intimidating at first, especially if you are working with younger kids in your makerspace. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Kids as young as 3 years old can learn about how synths works by playing with Blipblox, a synthesizer designed specifically for kids ages 3 and up (although out-of-stock right now, they will be available to purchase this May, 2019). Blipblox even has MIDI input for an external keyboard or sequencer controller, so although it looks like a toy, if you add a keyboard and a computer with a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) such as GarageBand (on an Apple device) or Cakewalk (if you are using Windows), Blipblox can actually can be part of a fully functional, professional studio.

If you are working with older makers, you might look into the littleBits Synth kit. LittleBits are great for creating complex objects, quickly and easily, since the pre-made bits fit together using magnets. Their synth kit even has a well researched, concise history of synthesizers included in the booklet.

With older kids, if you have a small group, are feeling adventurous, and you really want to go down the rabbit hole, you can have them solder together an oscilloscope (that you can use to manipulate the pitch of a sound). The one that I made (which actually works!) is pictured below. But be warned – it took me two, focused hours, to put together.

If you want your makers to try music composition, Finale Notepad is a free (Windows) download that’s worth checking out. If you don’t use Windows, Sibelius is good too, but it isn’t free.

You might also consider giving your kids an opportunity to live code music using multi-platform, Ruby-based, Sonic Pi. Sonic Pi is easy to learn and fun to use. I spent an afternoon laughing with some kids over the different synth sounds and effects that you can produce with one.

Whatever you decide to explore, make sure to include music in your makerspace offerings. There’s nothing more enjoyable than watching kids dance to music, that they made all by themselves.

Exploring Makerspaces, Makerspace Management, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Exploring Makerspaces for Kids: Brain Monkeys – A Makerspace That Comes to You

For this second segment of my series on exploring makerspaces, I interviewed Katie Tilton, owner of Brain Monkeys. Brain Monkeys is a makerspace that has been around for several years and has a unique model – it’s mobile and it’s just for kids. As owner Katie Tilton puts it, Brain Monkeys is “A makerspace that comes to you”.  I met Tilton a decade ago when I brought her in to do a program for teens, at a local public library. I’ve always been struck by her energy and enthusiasm. She is truly a pioneer in kid makerspace programming.

Her company, Brain Monkeys, facilitates and offers programs as part of after school enrichment, summer camps and home schooling groups. These activities include Arduino programming, electronics, LEGO Mindstorms, ballistics, Maker Design and Create and much more.  

Brain Monkeys is an established company that does some very solid makerspace programming for kids and this, having a traveling makerspace, is another way that you could consider doing makerspace. This certainly adds a convenience factor for your members and could allow you to create a business model like Tilton’s. If you are contemplating creating a makerspace for your public library, or school, this could also enable you to provide programming for all of the library branches in your community, or buildings in your school district, in one fell swoop.

A specific way in which you can take your makerspace on the road is with traveling carts. A group of middle school librarians in Knoxville, TN were able to do this successfully with thematic carts (STEM, production, art, 3D printing), that rotated between their buildings.  Another model that has worked for some is to put makerspace equipment onto a bus and drive it to different locations.

Regardless of how it’s done, having a mobile makerspace opens up a lot of possibilities.

Brain Monkeys Images reproduced with permission.

Exploring Makerspaces, Makerspace Management

Exploring Makerspaces for Kids: Think Tank at Impression 5

The biggest influence on my makerspace management and design has absolutely been made through visiting other spaces. Although nothing beats visiting a space in person, hopefully this, which is the beginning of a series, provides the next best thing.

On Monday, a day we all had off of work and school, I dragged my whole family to Impression 5, the kids hands-on science museum in Lansing, to check out their appropriately named makerspace “Think Tank”. Think Tank, located on the first floor near the main entrance, is open for limited hours and for special programming.  

One of the most intriguing aspects of this space was that it was developed with input from a Youth Action Council, a diverse group of youth from the area. The names of the Youth Action Council line one of the walls, each name plaque uniquely designed by the council members themselves, using tools from the makerspace.

Youth Action Council name plaques above tool storage cabinets at Think Tank.

My first thought upon entering was that Think Tank is one of the cleanest makerspaces I’ve ever encountered. Tools for today’s project were out, but other tools and materials were neatly put away in storage lining the walls.

Pegboard with hanging tools and cardboard storage organized by size.

Although Think Tank occupies a small space, it’s utilized for interesting and innovative projects, many of which could be seen on display.

Projects on Display.

Within Think Tank is the Think Space, something that I haven’t encountered in any other makerspace before. The Think Space is connected to the rest of Think Tank, but set back into a cozy nook. Inside the Think Space is a comfy couch with throw pillows, some bean bag chairs and a coffee table with several issues of Make magazine. The idea behind the Think Space is to provide an area for kids to sit to take a moment to…well…think. Perhaps their project isn’t working the way that they had intended, and they need a break. Maybe they want to use the space to work with a small group. They could peruse the magazines for inspiration if they feel stuck. Regardless, this seems like a wonderful addition, especially for a kid-focused makerspace.

In the span of about an hour, my kids, with some guidance from the incredibly knowledgeable staff, were both able to create their own “flapping flyers”, an eagle and a dragon, respectively, out of cardboard, yarn, nuts (for weight) a popsicle stick and fishing line. Overall Think Tank at Impression 5 was a great experience, we can’t wait to go back!

Getting inspiration for their Flapping Flyers designs.
Makerspace Management

The Argument for Teaching Kids to Make Things Bad on Purpose

Working with kids isn’t simply about walking into a space and teaching. It also requires navigating the invisible baggage brought in by each kid –  from friendships going sour, to bullying, and other issues that you may not be aware of such as homelessness, food insecurity and abuse. You can’t look at kids and tell what their lives are like. Which is why I believe that it’s critical to be kind, and to try and make things less stressful, whenever possible. Adults are in a position of power over kids, and that’s an important thing to remember. As an adult, you have to be cognizant about how your words and decisions might make kids feel.

Maya Angelou said it best: 

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. 

-Maya Angelou

Several years ago I started teaching kids how to put together loops in GarageBand to create a unique conglomeration. I was pretty excited about this. It seemed like a great way to teach some solid skills and have fun in the process. Once we had a couple of sessions, the students were required to share 30 seconds of their piece with the class. Naturally, some of them were a little nervous. It’s scary to share your work with a group of peers.

However, one of my students was several steps beyond nervous. He was petrified. He was so worried about how the other kids would receive his piece that it was spilling into the rest of his life. He was having trouble sleeping. He was practicing with GarageBand during all of his free time. He wanted to come in to spend extra time outside of his regular class. Normally, kids wanting to come in for some extra time, to learn something, is a good thing. This wasn’t that. This kid was practically in tears when we talked about sharing his piece.  When I checked in with the class, he wasn’t the only one who was worried. Clearly, I needed to do something to help.   

When I talked with him about the way that he was feeling, what I garnered was that he was trying to make a perfect piece of music, which he perceived to be an impossible task. I think that a lot of our kids feel pressure to be perfect at everything. I recently attended a professional development workshop given by the author of At What Cost , a book that addresses this overall perfectionism trend (and is very a worthwhile read). The objective of the GarageBand lesson was not to create perfect music. It was simply to learn how to use the software, and hopefully have some fun in the process.  I came up with a solution to try and alleviate some of the stress – what if I gave the kids permission to make their music bad on purpose

When I presented this as an option to the class, the relief was visible on their faces. Some of them were even delighted. Making things bad on purpose feels subversive, which is appealing to some kids. From that point forward I’ve always presented this as an option – the students can experiment, make their music bad on purpose or try and make something beautiful. When they play their piece for the class they can opt to share which way they went with this, or they can simply leave it up for speculation.

Once the students were given permission to make their music bad on purpose, not only did they seem to be having more fun with the project, they also started trying out everything. Giving them permission to make a bad piece of music made them explore GarageBand more thoroughly, and learn more about the software, than ever before.  Obviously, not every assignment should have a – bad on purpose – option. But it worked very well for us, with this.

In fact, I think this has wider applications in the realm of makerspace, and teaching in general. For some kids, especially those prone to perfectionism, giving them permission to make things bad on purpose gives them a reason to explore things more deeply than they otherwise would. It allows students to not worry so much about making mistakes, which in turn leads to taking more risks. Risks are really important in school and in life. Taking some calculated risks allows innovation to flourish. If you are teaching, or running a makerspace, it’s critical to get students to a point where they are comfortable taking some risks and making some mistakes (assuming it’s not compromising safety). I would encourage you to find ways to give kids the option of making things bad on purpose.  You never know what happy accidents will result.

A Student’s In-progress GarageBand Piece