Brick-and-mortar resources for Maker learners

"Makerspaces" are gathering places for makers to converse and create. These establishments can be administered by a group such as a university or a library, or they can be run by individuals. A makerspace can help you expand your creativity and improve the quality of your work.

Members not only get access to tools, equipment, and space, but they also have access to certified training programs in topics like 3D printing and CNC milling. Makerspaces can be found in almost every major city on the planet.

Maker education revolution

Conventional education is struggling to provide the learning environment necessary to help raise the future innovators, problem solvers, and entrepreneurs that advanced societies need. Maker Education offers a model for education in the 21st century.

“Go to a job interview and tell and employer that you can recite the 17 times table; they don't care. Why are we still teaching it?”
— Sugata Mitra

There is a wealth of ‘real-world’ resources that children makers can use as part of their learning journey. In this chapter I will give you some examples examples to help you get started.

“Making” happens in the real world since its outcomes are physical artefacts. Apart from your own space, at home or school, there are a lot of brick-and-mortar resources that you can incorporate into your learning by doing process.

What is known as “makerspaces” is the most obvious such resource. A makerspaces are places where makers meet to talk and make. These places can be run by an organisation like a university or a library, or by individuals. Most often, they are not-for-profit organisations. While members pay a fee, the money that is collected is put right back into the makerspace in the form of buying or maintaining equipment and consumables, or paying the rent and the bills.

As a member of a makerspace, you benefit by having access to relatively expensive equipment, like CNC machines that you can use to carve objects out of wood or metal, laser-cutting machines or woodworking tools. You also have the opportunity to meet skilled people that can teach you how to use these tools and with whom you can discuss the various aspects of your project. Interacting with other makers is always a source of inspiration and knowledge and should not be underestimated. Access to a makerspace can propel your creativity and the quality of your output to new heights.

Makerspaces operate in many locations. Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, operates a free, public makerspace in its library (1). Anyone is welcome to visit and learn how to use a 3D printing machine or to play with a robot, and can attend lessons in topics like knitting and origami.

Other universities offer similar spaces. The University of Western Sydney, Australia, offers a makerspace that provides access to 3D printing services, woodworking, metal workshops and laser cutting (2). There are also workshops in robotics during school holidays.

Another example of a university-run makerspace is that of the University of Texas at Austin, USA (3). It is a place designed for students to implement their ideas using the space’s equipment and support from mentors.

Makerspaces also operate in many public libraries. In a world where information is increasingly found and accessed online, libraries are looking for a new mission, and organising makerspaces is a step towards this direction. In a library, makerspaces consist of a place where a librarian or a volunteer will assist makers with operating machines or providing feedback and advice on making. Fayetteville Free Library was one of the first ones to set up a makerspace in its premises, around 2010 (4). The space is operated mainly by community volunteers and its focus is on providing skills training to makers, new and old. Members have access to machines, equipment and space, but also to certification training programs in topics such as laser and vinyl cutting, 3D printing and CNC milling. The term ‘certification’ is used by the library to indicate that a new maker has undergone training on a particular piece of equipment and is now able to use that equipment without supervision. Apart from the classic makerspace, the library also offers a Creation Lab, which provides access to digital media creation tools, like video and podcasting equipment, and audio/video production software from Adobe and Apple.

In Australia, libraries such as the ACT Government Library in Canberra operate a full-time, well-equipped makerspace, free for anyone to use. At Surry Hills Library in Sydney, a makerspace for children operates once a month, and more frequently over school holidays (5). Children over eight years old can learn 3D printing, computer programming, animation and much more for free. There is a good chance that a free, public makerspace is open in a university library near you. You can use Google to do a quick search near your location, or just call your Council and ask.

Apart from institutionally run makerspaces, not-for-profit organisations or individuals also organise makerspaces for public use. These makerspaces are standalone, and usually require a fee for a membership to gain access. The fee is used to pay for the space’s ongoing expenses, since there is no other source of income. Makers Place is a privately run, not-for-profit makerspace in the Sydney suburb of Redfern (6). It is organised by volunteers who are passionate about the maker movement and learning by doing. Memberships, like other similar makerspaces, range from $25 per month to $75 per month. The more expensive memberships allow more frequent access to the space, and other perks like access to community projects and paid project opportunities.

OzBerry is a monthly maker meet-up in Sydney that has a particular focus on the Internet of Things. OzBerry members are interested in technologies like the Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Beaglebone and Teensy, and their monthly meetings are opportunities to discuss new learnings and trends, and showcase their creations (7). There are Maker meet-ups in virtually all major cities around the world, and you can use meetup.com to find one near you. Of course, I encourage you to join at least one of them in order to unlock the social aspect of making.

If you are representing a school, another interesting opportunity for your students is the Mobile MakerSpace (8). Mobile MakerSpace is company set up to bring everything you need in a makerspace to your school so that your students can learn how to use the equipment and start making. Apart from the equipment, you also get the people that can teach students how to use it. They will also run educational programs for teaching staff and students, which presents a low-barrier-to-entry opportunity to quickly set up a maker program at your school.

Making requires materials, not just physical space. There are many places from where you can source these materials. Of course, there is always Amazon and eBay. These are good sources for most commoditised items, like microcontrollers and electronics or mechanical parts. But sometimes you will want to visit a physical store so that you can see and touch a product, and discuss your requirements with staff. Hardware stores like Bunnings in Australia and Home Depot in the US stock a vast selection of materials and tools. If you are looking for wooden or metal raw materials, power tools like drills, saws, sanders and grinders or essentials, like clamps, pliers, tool storage, tables and screwdriver kits, then such retailers are great to keep in mind.

For craft, specialist stores like Lincraft and Eckersley’s in Australia and Michaels Craft Stores in the US are perfect places to browse for craft materials and ideas. Paper, plastic, polystyrene, fabrics, markers, glues, joiners, accessories; it’s all there. Makers can spend hours is such stores browsing through materials and working out which ones might work best with their next creation.

For electronics projects, stores like Jaycar Electronics in Australia and Fry’s in the US represent a good choice for hunting down resistors, power supplies, transistors and electronics tools like multimeters and soldering irons. These stores stock anything electrical and electronic, from microcontroller chips to wires and breadboards.

And of course, there is Maker Faire. This is one of the highlights of a maker’s calendar. There are Maker Faires and Mini Maker Faires in many cities around the world, where makers go to show off their creations, interact with other makers, and attend lectures and workshops. You can find out the Maker Faire closest to your location by searching at makerfaire.com/map.

References

Maker Education Revolution

Learning in a high-tech society.

Available in PDF, Mobi, ePub and paperback formats.

Using Maker Education as a model for education in the 21st century, Dr Peter Dalmaris explains how teachers, parents, and learners can apply the educational methods of inventors and innovators for the benefit of their students and children.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}