Making the Buttons

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One of the surprise hits of our makerspace this year has been the humble button maker. When we were setting up all the new equipment and tools in our renovated CTE classroom, we ran across an old button maker sitting neglected in a storage closet. Luckily, we also found a box of button parts. The button maker was heavy and hard to use but worked most of the time. A month later, students in the makerspace had gone through 750 buttons.

We realized that the button maker is one of the most scalable tools in the makerspace. An entire class of students can make a personalized design during a single class period. Buttons are a timeless real world product that students are happy to pin on their backpacks. Buttons also have great profit margins as they cost $0.10-0.25 but can be sold for $1-2.

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When we ran out of buttons, we couldn’t find the odd size that our old button maker took. After some careful research, we ended up buying $1,000 in punches and button makers from American Button Machines. (This company was recommended by a number of librarians.) This may seem crazy but has been well worth it. Students have made more than a 1,000 buttons this quarter. The smaller buttons can also be made into a variety of keychains and zipper pulls. The graphic design for buttons can also serve as a stepping stone to designing for other digital fabrication devices such as the laser cutter, vinyl cutter, CNC or 3D printer.

How can buttons be used in the classroom?
Campaign Buttons: Historical & student elections
Political Movements: Civil Rights, Peace Movement, Occupy Wall Street
Wearable art
Self identity and self expression
Fundraising: school clubs, fields trips, charities
Social awareness: anti-bullyin messages
Entrepreneurship and marketing
-sports marketing: team logos & mascots
-marketing: brand recognition, icons
Role-play
Collaborative job roles: Buttons for each team role such as leader, recorder and time keeper
Simulations: rock/water cycle, atoms making molecules
Memorials
QR code and Snapchat avatars
Emoji: empathy/mood
Mastery Badges

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A great resource for button research is http://buttonmuseum.org/.

How do you use your button maker in your classroom or makerspace? Leave a comment or contact me on Twitter @DesignMakeTeach, Facebook or  Instagram.

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