What I would put in a middleschool makerspace

* This is an article I sent out in our October newsletter.  Have you signed up for our newsletter yet?  It comes out monthly with news, events and project ideas.  You can sign up for our newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/GMbrX *

Middleschool Makerspace Wishlist

I've been lucky enough to visit some cool makerspaces lately. A couple of weeks ago, Nanik and I toured the new makerspace at the University of Ottawa. (We can't wait to go back!) We love to visit the ImagineSpace the Nepean Centrepointe branch of the Ottawa Public Library. And I was thrilled to be invited to participate in the opening of the Elmwood School Fab Lab.

One of the questions I often get asked is what would I put in a makerspace? Most of the making I do is with kids, and the age I most often work with is middleschool, grades 5-8. So if I was building a middleschool makerspace, this is how I would get started:

  • Planning. Pencils, erases, paper - often this is overlooked and I'm usually looking for these materials when I'm helping to sketch out ideas. A whiteboard is useful. A whiteboard wall is even better!
  • Art supplies. Paint, paintbrushes, paint pots or a palette. Markers. Glitter, sure, why not? Decoration is a valid step in making a project.
  • Basic sticky stuff. Masking tape, glue sticks, duct tape, and a hot glue gun.
  • Basic Circuits. Conductive paint, conductive thread, batteries (3V and double A), battery holders, wire, LEDs (flashing LEDs are always excellent), and wire strippers. Oh, and don't forget a roll of aluminum foil. Always handy!
  • Building materials. Cardboard - boxes, tubes, lots of cardboard. Foam core is very handy. Bristol board is fun. Felt, fabric, and clay can also be used for construction.
  • Basic Tools. Sewing needles, hair dryers, screwdrivers, precision screwdrivers, and if there isn't a hand held drill, maybe an awl or hole punch. Rulers and measuring tapes.
  • Cutting tools. Scissors, wire cutters.
  • Safety. A full set of safety glasses and a first aid kit.
  • Housekeeping. A sink or access to water, paper towels, hand soap and a garbage can. A broom and dustpan are also useful for picking up the pieces.

And more advanced tools:

  • Computers are important. As is an internet connection. It's important to be able to look for inspiration. Chrome books are a good start, but eventually you're going to want to set up IDEs and drivers for different microcontrollers. 
  • MaKey MaKey's are my favorite way to introduce the idea of integrating the physical and virtual.
  • Digital camera or web cam. Stop motion films are a great way to start creating.
  • Some sort of computer controlled cutting machine - I've heard great things about vinyl cutters, but I don't have one myself. 
  • 3D printers are instantly engaging. Be prepared for the upkeep. But what a great way to inspire learning!
  • Sewing machines are always fun.
  • Raspberry Pi - always fun to set up one as a computer. And have one available as a controller.
  • Arduinos. You don't need lots - but having a couple on hand is a good idea. 

Have I forgotten anything? What would you put in a makerspace?

Keep Making!

 [Just thought of something as I'm posting this! We use a handheld vacuum everyday in the middleschool makerspace I volunteer at. Very useful for picking up the dust in some of the old computers we're taking apart.]

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