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

Sustainability, Tools, Woodworking

Woodworking and Tools in a Kid-Friendly Makerspace

For the past two months I’ve been asking the questions – how do you teach kids woodworking? How do you teach them to work with tools? This hasn’t been quiet contemplative research. It’s been more of an all-consuming, ask everyone who crosses my path, read everything on the Internet and risk bodily harm from toppling stacks of library books, endeavor. I’ve been interviewing construction workers, hobbyists, engineers, Home Depot employees, teachers and makerspace coordinators.

Despite casting such a wide net, I have encountered several common themes. One of which is the idea that you don’t actually need power tools. You can make amazing things and have an incredible program with just hand tools. Moreover, teaching kids exclusively with hand tools gives them a much better understanding of woodworking. This is a relief, as I am secretly afraid of power tools. My first priority in makerspace is safety and when you are using power tools an accident can very quickly turn into an emergency. But beyond safety considerations, using hand tools when woodworking gives kids more input. With hand tools, you can’t force things the way you can with power tools. You have to think about the hardness and grain of the wood. You have to take your time. 

A second pattern that emerged was a path for teaching woodworking in such a way that you can start working with kids as early as pre-school or kindergarten and build from there. With these little kids, you could have them make a project by teaching them how to assemble and affix pieces of wood that are pre-cut to size. This could mean using wood glue and clamps, or nails or screws with pre-drilled holes. You can create a project for them or you can buy pre-made kits, for example the classic Tool Box Kit. If you are more interested in skill building, you can teach really little kids how to, for example, use a hammer by starting the nails for them and having them hammer those nails all the way into a piece of scrap lumber. You can even buy them a lighter, kid-sized hammer, if a regular hammer is too big for them to use.

The next step up is to have kids pre-drill their own holes, start their own nails and begin figuring out for themselves the ways in which to put pieces of lumber together in order to make something. You can even cut wood partway through and have them finish the cut using a hand saw. This is where you might consider purchasing a lightweight (easier for kids to handle) cordless drill. However, if you wanted to stick with hand tools, you can also have them use a hand drill

Once kids are a bit bigger, around age 10 and older, and they’re comfortable with  using hand tools for woodworking, you can consider bringing in more power tools and machinery. All you really need for kids to create original projects is a drill and something that they can cut wood with. All of my sources agreed that the table saw is dangerous, and you may not want to have kids using that until high school, even if you invest in a SawStop (which I would STRONGLY recommend). At this point you can also still stick with hand drills and hand saws and still have a strong woodworking program.

The main consideration when deciding what tools to introduce is the age of your makers, since this correlates to their motor skills, coordination and strength, all important factors in being able to use a tool safely and effectively. If you wanted to engage students across a school district you could create projects by having high school students design and cut wood, middle grade students assemble and affix the pieces and elementary students paint and decorate them. The finished project could be sold as a fundraiser at a craft fair, farmer’s market or table at a school event.

Halloween, Tools

Frankentoys for Halloween

There are so many maker activities that you can engage in during the days leading up to Halloween.  Kids can make their own costumes, there are lots of really interesting projects with lighting, for example these cool options for under $5 and the crafting ideas are endless.

However, if you are into twisted and creepy, which in my opinion is a perfect match for Halloween, maybe you want to try making Frankentoys. The idea behind Frankentoys is to create a “new” toy out of a mishmash of different parts, just like Frankenstein (which is where the name comes from) or like the Mutant Toys from the movie Toy Story.

Middle school kids love doing this. It’s twisted enough to interest them and it feels a little bit naughty to pull (or hammer) toys apart. It’s appealing because they get to do all sorts of things that they aren’t allowed to do at home – cut the toy’s hair, pull off their arms, apply glue to their faces. Even though they have permission to do this while making Frankentoys, they feel like they are getting away with something. Some of them actually giggle while they are working. It’s adorable.

If you’re interested in facilitating a Frankentoys making event, it’s helpful to plan ahead. I start at the beginning of October with an old and discarded toys drive. There are plenty of parents, who have toys in their play room or basement, that they can’t wait to get rid of. It’s particularly fun to have toys that move, light up or make some sort of noise and the added bonus is that these types of toys will help kids learn about electronics, too.

The only tools and materials you really need to create Frankentoys are scissors, safety goggles, a multi-bit screwdriver a hot glue gun and, of course, lots of old toys to choose from. Likely you will have kids whose first choice for taking things apart is a hammer. This is a great opportunity to teach them about the right tool for the job (hint: unless you are hammering in a nail, a hammer should not be your first choice).

Once you have collected everything that you need and you’ve introduced the concept of Frankentoys to your makers, you just need to step back and let them do their thing. Our 6th graders even made a haunted house to use to display their Frankentoys.

Utilizing Your Makerspace

Snow Day Buster

Every makerspace is different. They all have similar elements – they are spaces for making things – digital objects, physical items or if someone is being really innovative perhaps a combination of these. Since makerspace can cover a lot, it can also end up being a catch-all for any activities or programs that don’t neatly fall elsewhere. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I think that most people running makerspaces want them to be utilized. As often and creatively as possible. Our makerspace has been used to create a digital sundial for our garden, for making cupboards to support a book tie-in project, for student passion projects and to teach colleagues, both locally and from other districts, about makerspace. We were also recently invited to participate in the Washtenaw County, Paint a Plow program. We, of course, accepted.

Before I get into the details, I should confess something. I usually outlaw paint in my makerspace. We have so many other options, I just feel that the mess added from including paint in our offerings overshadows the enjoyment. At least for me. I’m sure that the kids would tell you differently. Since we operate on a barter system for consumable materials, sometimes paint gets snuck in as a trade which means that I will occasionally look over and go – gah! Where did that paint come from?! I let the student working with it finish their project, then I sneak it into my back office. Also, I never let anyone work with anything that isn’t water-based. Until now.

Water-based paint won’t work well on a snow plow. After a little research, we (myself and my partner teachers Sharon Norris and Eileen McCallum) purchased a few different colors of Rust-Oleum paint. This worked very well. It also drove me slightly crazy. We took precautions – we all wore gloves (vinyl in order to avoid any allergy issues), we bought Rust-Oleum mineral spirits for the clean up, we ordered A LOT of paint brushes and we put a note in the school newsletter to remember to bring in clothing that the students wouldn’t mind getting ruined. There were students from several different classes participating, so this seemed like the best way to get this information out.

The gloves worked well, we had plenty of brushes for everyone, the colors were beautiful…and no one brought in clothing that they didn’t mind getting ruined. I was able to get two oversized shirts from a P.E. teacher (thank you again Fred!) and that helped a bit…until kids were kneeling on the ground to paint the bottom edges, right in the paint that they had dripped there. Paint got in hair, on skin, shoes, pants…I’m not even sure where else. We were able to fix a few things with the mineral spirits or scrubbing with soap and water. Some were beyond fixing.

Here are my lessons learned. Paint a plow is a really fun program. It’s worth doing. Gloves are key. Rust-oleum worked well. Getting a lot of cheap paint brushes that can be disposed of, if need be (if you can’t get them clean), is a good call. Next time I think maybe we should skip painting the entire background. Sending home notes in planners, about clothing, would likely result in more kids bringing in clothes that they aren’t worried about. Having only a few kids work on the plow at a time and only using 1-2 colors in a session also makes things go more smoothly. If you happen to live in Washtenaw County, keep an eye out for our plow and if you see it, tell me about it in the comments. The kids would be delighted with Snow Day Buster spottings!

Snow Plow

Me – pointing to the grassy spot for the snow plow to be painted.   Photo Credit: Tammy Reich


   Snow Day Buster! Credit for the name and design go to Sharon Norris.
Makerspace Management, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Makerspace vs. Stations vs. Genius Hour

Sometimes people don’t differentiate between a full-blown makerspace, makerspace stations and Genius Hour. They use all three interchangeably. Personally, I think it’s good to differentiate between these, as they really do mean different things. When we talk about a makerspace, we are referring to the actual, physical space with all of the stuff in it. Stations and Genius Hour can both be used as constructs within that space.

Utilizing stations can be a great management tool in that instead of kids blowing up your whole makerspace, they only have access to the materials at each station (that you’ve set up in advance). The stations could be thematic, with different making opportunities at each station. You would need to have rules about how many students can use each station at the same time, and how you go about deciding which students can use each one. In the interest of safety, there might be only two people at one station, soldering for example, and ten at something like bracelet making.

You could assign students to a starting station and rotate them through the other stations. This works well if students spend roughly the same amount of time at each station. If there is one, or even a few stations that take longer, students could stay through two or even three rotations. You could also have sign-up sheets for more popular stations or you could have students choose two or three stations total, and then you would assign them to one of these choices, or maybe you manage stations a completely different way that works best for you. That’s great too.

Genius hour was adapted from something that Google has done with their employees, Google would allow a percentage of workday time to be devoted to a project of personal interest. Several well-known Google projects originated from this.[1] Having a Genius Hour for students means that you are doing something similar, allowing them to devote a certain percentage of their school day to a project that they are interested in (as opposed to an assignment or project that you have given them). This is a wonderful thing to do! I have found that when students are given this choice, to pursue something that they are interested in, or maybe even passionate about, they work much harder and take the project much further than they ever would within the constraints of a project defined for them. The advantage of combining Genius Hour with makerspace, is that with access to so many tools and resources kids can explore their ideas further and push the limits of their creativity.

You can have a makerspace without organizing it into stations or using Genius Hour style programming. You can run a Genius Hour without access to a makerspace. When you have maker stations instead of a full makerspace, I usually call that a mini makerspace. However, if you have the space and funding, having all of the tools and materials that best suit your community, available in a thoughtfully developed makerspace, can give kids incredible opportunities. From there, you can have the flexibility and resources to take your programming whichever way best fits your community.

[1] What is Genius Hour? (n.d.). Retrieved from


Button Maker Station

Funding a Sustainable Makerspace

Funding a makerspace is challenging. Figuring out how to fund a makerspace, in a sustainable way, even more so. I’m not gonna lie. There aren’t easy solutions for this. You can write grants, crowdsource, have book fairs, bake sales, maybe you are even lucky enough to have annual funding through your school or library.

But what if you could get the kids to do it? 

At the heart of makerspace are the building blocks of engineering and industry. We call it STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) and it lends itself nicely to this model. What better way to utilize a makerspace than by giving students the actual real-world experience of taking their design from idea – to production?

One way that this could be done is by developing a makerspace entrepreneurial class, where the objective of the class is to create something that other students in the school, and people in your community, want to buy. Students in this class would design something, create prototypes, market and produce it. They could work in teams; each student could be primarily responsible for one or two (depending upon the size of the group) roles. The roles could be design, production, marketing, social media, finance, (or some other similar iteration). Students would then actually sell the product, as a fundraiser for the makerspace.

The objects that they make could be sold at a physical or online school store, a local Farmers Market or even an Etsy store. They could also follow up at the end to figure out what their profit margins are, and determine if they could streamline or change anything in order to lower production costs. This would be a great way to develop partnerships with local businesses, too. Students could consult with these businesses to learn about how production is done on a larger scale, and what they could adopt for their own projects. They could also make some great connections…and maybe that could lead to a career some day.

Self-funding your makerspace in this way is a powerful idea that would teach your students a whole lot of real-world skills. It’s certainly something to consider.


Brainstorming, Makerspace Management, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Makerspace Challenges & Personal Choice

Choice is really important in getting students excited about learning.  As the educational guru Robert Marzano states in his book The Highly Engaged Classroom, giving students choice increases their intrinsic motivation, is linked to higher engagement, and overall learning. If you’re interested, you can read more about that in Tips From Dr. Marzano.

In the Creekside Makerspace FLEX (elective) classes, and in 6th grade media, students get to choose their own projects. In our FLEX classes, where I have the incredible Sharon Norris co-teaching with 5th grade, and the amazing Eileen McCallum co-teaching with 6th, we are able to have students do this individually, or in groups, should they so choose.

With the 6th graders in my media classes, since I am teaching all (roughly 150) of them solo, they work on their Passion Projects in groups. My rule is that they have to have at least two people in their groups. If that means they each do something individually and they merge it into a project, that’s great. If they have a group of 10, and each person works on a piece, that’s wonderful too. They have complete control of the way in which they want to make it work. Sometimes it’s smooth and sometimes they learn a lot about working in a team.

Sometimes kids have a hard time figuring out what they want to do when given complete choice. In makerspace, we try and help with this in a few different ways; they can explore the website or sort through the makerspace challenges on the Teach Engineering site (check the “Maker Challenge” box on the left to filter for them) or they can look at already created projects in the display case for ideas. We also have a robust collection of maker reference books that they can page through.

With Passion Projects, I guide them through a brainstorming session where they start out with crazy, wild ideas – like a bicycle that you can ride on the ceiling that is made for a cat! Then we break it down into something that is more viable that they can either actually create, prototype or pitch to the class. The students continuously amaze me with their creativity, ingenuity and…well…passion.

The kids do the heavy lifting; they come up with the ideas, pour the energy and time into making it work or figuring out how it could, in theory. They give inspirational, impassioned presentations and hopefully learn a lot in the process.

However, these projects would never be as intriguing, amazing or exciting without choice.


We will start our brainstorming session tomorrow with a read aloud! It starts with an idea…


Cardboard Construction, Tools

Cardboard Construction and the Global Challenge

I love using cardboard in my makerspace. It’s the most versatile and readily available material that you can get. As anyone who has kids – and has ever brought home something in a giant box knows – it can be used for play, for hours. You can also get incredibly sophisticated with it. People have made amazing things out of cardboard, such as a working electric car, furniture and full-sized Iron Man sculpture.

I think of the Fall as prime cardboard construction season since this is when the Global Cardboard Challenge takes place.  The challenge was inspired by a kid named Caine who created an entire arcade in his dad’s auto shop. The Global Challenge is now a worldwide celebration of making. It can also be used as a fundraiser for charities, if you want it to.

With past schedules, I’ve been able to involve the entire 5th grade in creating objects with cardboard for the challenge. The light box below is one example. Since there are around three hundred 5th graders, I had them work in teams. Even in teams, with that many students, there was cardboard on pretty much every surface of the media center! It was a worthwhile mess – it fostered team-building, creativity,  kinesthetic learning and imagination. In addition, the students are always very excited to share what they have made and it’s a great introduction to makerspace.

In order to help the students create cool things, without injuring themselves, I have them use Makedo Tools.  These tools are made specifically for cardboard construction and it’s almost impossible to hurt yourself while using them, although the tools take a bit of strength to use with thicker pieces of cardboard. I found the tools a little confusing when I first got them, so I created a video, Using Makedo Tools, to help anyone else who might need it.

The book that I mention in the video, Build and Manage a Makerspace for Kids, is still in process. When I have a firm publication date, I will post it here first! In the meantime…happy building.


Working light box created by students for the Cardboard Challenge.

Why Do Makerspace?

Today during our professional development we talked for a little bit about why we teach. This led to an interesting discussion about how teaching is the hardest thing that most of us have done and how the day to day can be really rough. If you are in the profession, you already know that it’s not for the faint of heart.

However, making a difference in kids’ lives is hands-down what makes it worthwhile. Some of my colleagues spoke about how they’ve heard, years later, from kids who told them about the difference they made. We also watched this video (make sure you have tissues close by)!

All of this got me thinking about why you would want to create a makerspace for kids. If you do it right, it truly is a labor of love. I’m not gonna lie – it’s work. But it’s also a space that reaches the kids that don’t do as well in a “traditional” classroom. Hands-on activities make the kinesthetic learners’ eyes light up. The freedom to choose their projects gets all kids excited. The variety of materials and tools allows kids to really push the limits of what they’ve tried before. It gets them exploring. Dreaming.

After watching how excited they get – the 100% engagement – how could you not want to build one?


Photographs are something I like to make. This little guy was peeking at me when I was talking on my phone.

Back At It

The Summer is rapidly drawing to an end and I am SO excited about what this school year has in store, for myself and for all of my students.

Summer is such a lovely time to step back and allow space for ideas to brew…and develop into plans. Goodness do I have some plans for this school year!

Sneak peek: More makerspace how-to YouTube videos, lots of detailed blog posts chock full of helpful information (and personally experienced pitfalls) free downloadable forms and more!

Stay tuned here to see how it all unfolds.

“Makerspace is interesting, surprising and FUN!” – Second Grader