Some of the things makers do

All of the project ideas in this article involve constructing a physical object, as Maker Education is all about learning through making. There is no material that isn't good enough in the Maker Education spirit - even a trip to the dumpster can yield a small treasure!

Many of us now have the ability to design and manufacture parts for open-source robotics, art, and everyday objects. One of the maker's favourite materials is cardboard, which can be used to construct simple robots. Learners can construct more complicated and geometrically exact objects using 3D printing, 3D scanning, and design.

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.

“Change is the end result of all true learning.”
— Leo Buscaglia

In the space of Maker Education, there is an abundance of topics in which learners can lock on and engage. In this chapter, I will discuss some of the more common topics to help you get a taste of what makers typically get up to.

Maker Education is about learning through making, so all of the ideas that follow involve creating a physical artefact. Everything else, like researching, designing, composing, documenting and communicating is there to support the primary process of making. 

Cardboard making

Making does not require high-tech tools and specialist knowledge. Learners can start with discounted cardboard boxes, scissors, markers and some duct tape. With these easy-to-find materials, learners can create their own jet packs. They can measure them to fit the wearer, and fit them with their own choice of accessories, like wings, extra rockets, laser guns, etc (1). Students, of course, don't stop with the jet pack. They often decide to make additions to their arsenal by creating helmets, armour, and superhero accessories using the same materials. Imagination takes hold!

Another fun project with cardboard materials is a marble run. The project involves using cardboard tubes secured against an inclined surface, or the wall. The students design elaborate paths through which a marble, powered by gravity, travels. This project requires the learner to do some planning ahead of time, simply using pen and paper with which they decide on the path of the marble before they go ahead to make it with the tubes (2).

We are all familiar with those plastic portable maze games in which the objective is to navigate a tiny marble through the maze until it sinks in a hole. Students can make their own marble maze using cardboard! Marble maze involves using the base of a cardboard box, with its sides raised so that the ball does not escape, and fitting small cardboard pieces inside the box to create the maze. The learner needs to do some preparatory work before implementing the maze in order to decide on the overall design. Really good fun, and a never-ending project since there can always be a more elaborate maze to make (3)!

If learners are looking for more challenging cardboard projects, how about a pinball machine with a large cardboard box and some additional easy-to-find materials, like paper coffee cups, old CD, and plastic spoons (4)? In the spirit of Making, there is no material that isn’t good enough. Even a trip to the dumpster can yield a small treasure!

3D printing, 3D scanning and design

With cheaper 3D printers becoming available, learners can use software to design and create more elaborate and geometrically precise objects than is possible to implement with cardboard. The design and production of parts for oped-source robots, art, and everyday use objects, is now within reach of many of us.

With the availability of similarly cheap 3D scanners, it is now possible to turn a physical object into a computer 3D design file, manipulate it in software, and then use a 3D printer to turn the augmented version of the original into a new object.

Using these technologies, students can create their own toys, such as a cuff with a holder for an iPod, or materialise a scene that they created in Minecraft. Printing art projects, creating toys, prosthetic limbs or parts for projects like a quadcopter or remote control cars are also popular. 

Mixed materials

Making catapults is a very enjoyable understating. In catapult making, the students can retrofit a mouse into a war machine. Typically, to make a catapult students will use, apart from the mouse trap, wood sticks, erasers, strings, wooden blocks to use for target practising and ping-pong balls as ammunition. Work on the project will expose students to principles of engineering and physics, as they have to figure out and calculate the optimal launching angle and ratio between the shooting arm length and the power of the mouse trap’s spring.

Of course, there is nothing stopping the student from building up their catapult from a mouse-sized one to a car-sized one (5). A large catapult project will typically involve more custom-made parts that can be made of wood, cut to size, and include metal rods, rope and larger items as ammunition. These projects can very quickly become competitive, with makers constantly improving their catapults for things such as range and power.

Robots and robotics

Makers love to create robots because they are impressive on their own right, and because they incorporate a great deal of different technologies that require skill and patience to build. Robots are becoming part of every day life, and this relevance to reality gives them an additional amount of appeal. Each of the technologies needed to build a robot is an opportunity to learn a new skill. Robotics can keep people occupied for years, whether for fun or as a lifelong career option.

Apart from humanoid robots that makes them particularly interesting to people, robotics projects can be very focused and practical. For example, a team of school students from Seattle created the MopBot. MopBot’s objective is to mop up any water spills at the drinking fountain and the sink at school. To be able to construct MopBot, the students had to learn how to work with the Mindstorms Lego building platform, and use laser-cutting technology, a 3D printer and software like Adobe Illustrator and Tinkercad.

Simple robots can be built using cardboard, one of the maker’s favourite materials. Learners can build the body of a robot using paper, and insert various electronics inside, like buzzers, LED lights, a microphone, proximity sensor, motors, and a microcontroller and battery. The robot will be able to react to its environment by moving, making noises, and flashing its lights. All of these components and materials are easy to find in the market, and the actions of the robot can be programmed in a visual language, like Scratch, making it suitable for even very young learners (6).


Woodworking is considered an essential making skill, and is surprisingly easy to learn the basics of. Because working with wood often requires the use of power tools, it is recommended that adults help younger makers with their operation for the sake of safety.

With the basic precautions taken, learners can use basic tools to create art, tools or parts for their other creations. Wood is an incredibly flexible, durable and cheap material, and it looks great without much effort. Unlike the plastics that are used in 3D printing, there are no nasty smells during making.

Learners can make parts for their robots, enclosures for their gadgets or toys. From small candle holders and toy airplanes, to large benches, armchairs and coffee tables, learners can explore a vast array of possibilities that can be created from wood.

These are just some examples of things that learners make in order to learn. From absolute beginners to more advanced makers, there are plenty of things to make that require no special tools at all. It has never been a better time to be a maker!


Interesting readings

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.

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