George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Maker movement is spreading through schools. You'll see many tools becoming part of unique maker ecosystems in schools based upon teacher expertise and student interests. (For more about the Maker movement read How the Maker Movement is Moving into Classrooms.)

Let’s look at the most common tools being used in makerspaces.

3D Printers

These devices have a tremendous amount of PR value, so having them can create a "buzz" around the makerspace. Although 3D printers have the issues of being slow, using material that's a bit expensive, and needling to be closely monitored, they have created a groundswell of interest. (If you've heard the term MakerBot, it's just one brand name -- there are many 3D printers with different product names.)

Vinyl Cutters

Recently named the top tool for makerspaces, the traditional vinyl cutter can be purchased for several hundred dollars. Stickers, signs, banners, stencils, silkscreens, and more can be created with even low-end vinyl cutters. The fast print time means that more students can be engaged in printing and sharing with them.

Laser Cutters

Using Inkscape and some new lower-end laser cutters can get expensive, particularly if you need to provide the extra ventilation required for a laser cutter. However, these tools are popular in makerspaces to make acrylic enclosures for robotics, nice signs, and permanent words etched in whiteboard material.

The Return of the Woodshop

An interesting comment from those installing 3D printers in schools is that young people today don't know how things are put together. Some schools are having students construct with foam board first, and others are encouraging them to build with wood. A real-world perspective of how things will fit together is required in order to design and make in 3D. (See Edutopia's post about how woodshops are making a comeback.)

The Return of Home Ec

Some makerspaces having sewing machines and other craft materials, such as the ever-popular duct tape (including the new patterned stuff.) The skillset that was once taught in home ec classes intertwines with other more technical skills as students design and create robots from the circuitry to the embellishment. Indeed, the cachophony of voices to "bring back home ec” are rising, and some elements are being included in makerspaces.

MaKey MaKey

Marketed as an "invention kit for everyone," this cool tool was funded by a Kickstarter campaign. You can turn everyday objects into touchpads and combine them with the Internet. Want to create a banana piano or to play Pac-Man using a paper drawing? Yes, you can do that. At ISTE (in the video above), we made a human MaKey MaKey piano as Josh Ajima (@designmaketeach) helped us connect. All you need is something that can conduct just a small amount of electricity. Beach balls, lemons, and even plants, grandmas, and coins have become part of MaKey MaKey inventions.

Hummingbird Robotics Kit

Like the MaKey MaKey, this system from @birdbraintech is one that can be created with a minimal amount of programming. I played with the Hummingbird at ISTE, and within a few moments, with the help of my friends Lee Kolbert and Lisa Thumann, we had a mobile "Istebot" whose eye color changed by how close we were to the distance sensor. (In the following video, note the ISTE servo motor on top of the robot’s head.)

Arduino Boards

Arduino sells motherboards that can be programmed in so many ways. While they may require a bit more making than some of the pre-assembled kits, students who know how to program and more advanced makers are using these boards to create anything. DIY magazines from Instructables to Popular Mechanics are sharing projects with these easy-to-program boards.

Raspberry Pi

My nephew bought a Raspberry Pi and used online instructions to make his own Mini-Minecraft server. The Raspberry Pi is a mini-computer, and the hard drive is an SD card. A massive community has emerged around this easy to use mini-computer that costs under $100.

Lego Mindstorms and NXT Challenges

Legos have always fascinated kids. While some have tried, printing Legos doesn't work well because of the precision needed to attach these pieces. As Stephan Turnipseed, President Emeritus of Lego Education, told me at ISTE, many are using 3D printers to print embellishments for their Legos, and they do a great job of teaching kids how things fit together.

But the challenges, particularly the NASA challenges, have students constructing, building, and competing. The robust support materials and lesson plans are helpful for educators. You can even use making to teach writing with their Storybuilder kit and app.


Minecraft is a makerspace because there are apps that let you build in this world and then pull the 3D object out and print it. Minecraft EDU is a fantastic way to teach 3D space because it is so engaging. It also teaches computational thinking as students use "recipes" to create things.

And So Much More . . .

Duct tape, cardboard, crafting supplies, and soldering kits are among the many materials and tools being used in makerspaces -- along with lots of plastic bins and labels (see the video above). There is so much more to the Maker movement, but one thing is certain. Educators and librarians who want their schools and libraries to stay relevant and engaging will read, learn, and reinvent themselves. We talk about ways to engage parents and students in learning. Here it is.

Excellent schools around the world are connecting and collaborating as they make. Excellent 21st century schools will incorporate aspects of the maker movement in their design and curriculum.

How are you making? Please share what you're doing in the comments.

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Kimberley Washburn's picture

I love learning about these amazing tools, maker spaces, and STEM. As a teacher, I wicked psyched to pull this information into opportunities for my students. I'm a special educator (3-8 grades). Besides reading everything I can, what "next steps" can you recommend?

jcleonard1's picture

I feel that the last few paragraphs contain the most useful tools: duct tape, cardboard, crafting supplies, and soldering kits. Some of the other tools mentioned in the article (laser cutter, the computer program Minecraft) could be used, but I think in a more limited fashion, as using them seems gimmicky.

Sometimes the best way to encourage creativity is to give students a limited, simple palate from which to begin. Designers deal with constraints everyday, and the best thinkers are able to take constraints and work to discover ingenious solutions that take advantage of them. I taught a studio this year at North Carolina State University's Design Camp (, and one of my co-instructors at Design Camp teaches animation, and he said that by giving students a more limited palate this camp, they were forced to think of more novel ways of using everyday objects (felt, tape, wood dowels, clay) to produce animations. He said this year's animations were by far the best he's seen: he has taught 3 camps a year for around 6 years.

Encouraging students to make and create with everyday objects also encourages kids to consider the innate potential in everyday things. My AP Psychology textbook in high school had a story that always stuck with me: when people grow up, they tend to think of objects by their expected uses. A screwdriver, for example, is used for screwing in screws. If an adult sees a loose screw on a cabinet, they'll likely spend their time searching for a screwdriver. A person taught to think like a designer/maker (or, a young child who does not have preconceptions about objects) might turn to the things around them to solve the problem of the loose screw: they might use a dime, which fits in the screw head!

I would worry that the technology suggested in this Maker Tools article will come and go, and the students might focus more on the technology of the Tool itself, and it's limitations, rather than focusing on the thinking involved in using the Tool for unexpected tasks, which I think is the goal of teaching Making. It's how I was taught as a designer. Everyday objects like paper and tape are timeless and have been used countless times, so students using these more basic tools are pushed to think of their application in novel, unexpected ways. The way of approaching the Tool is therefore reversed (the tool is just a starting point, not the limiting factor).

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher's picture
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator from Camilla, GA

Good questions. I would start with seeing what time on your week can be used for making. Can you find an hour? Also you do have to help students know ways to make. Start with the things you know how to do and are already passionate about and make with a purpose. In my classroom we started with duct tape stuff as it is relatively cheap and could find things online - we used genius hour to make with a purpose and I let them make videos and learn by found demo videos. Hope this helps but as you read you will find yourself passionate about something.

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher's picture
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator from Camilla, GA

Good points JC. The point us if you are making with your students. As you travel I am sure you notice that makers are an opinionated bunch! Everyone has their favorite tools!! I have seen lots of schools who love vinyl cutters. Duct take is useful. It all depends on what you want to do but one thing is sure-- for me as a technology teacher I need to use tools that can integrate with my curriculum which means 3d design and technology related tools. It all starts with what you want to do- if you are just teaching design thinking that is one approach - one integrating making into science might have another and technology yet another. I do however think 3d printers are here to stay -- a few years a go people thought color printers were a gimmick too. I am not saying you are wrong as time will tell. It all comes back to if students are being challenged to invent and make in their work at school and whether it is duct tape or duck feathers -- or minecraft and 3d printers - making has a place in schools! Thank you for taking the time to share your wealth of knowledge- it will be helpful and encouraging to many who might mistakenly think they have to unload big bucks to start making! Thank you!

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher's picture
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator from Camilla, GA

Good question, Kimberley. What is next? Well, the reading helps, but I'll give you the advice that I always give teachers. After you've read -- just look at what's next. Do you want to have a #geniushour? Do you want to experiment with a new technology? Even start as simply as how can you add choice into your curriculum. Some teachers just start with MakerSpaces. I was looking at teacher Lisa Parisi's room the other day and she has made a "creation station" which is a perfect thing to do if you have stations in your classroom. You can make a station for creation and give them time to go there and make. Include duct tape and all types of things in there. That is a great start if you're already using stations. I think the important thing is to start!

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher's picture
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator from Camilla, GA

You rock Mrs. Harris. I will admit something - LASER CUTTERS SCARE ME. That said lots of teachers use and love them so when we get a chance to get one I will learn how! In fact, lots of new things scare me, but it is the attitude of getting out there and learning that is important. Thanks for sharing the link. Very cool!

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