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 .

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, 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!