A makerspace for next to nothing


Photo: LighthouseCreativityLab.org

“How should I start makereducation?”  That is a question MakerEducators hear often. As did my co-Fablearn fellow Josh Ajima. He answers the question on his site: THE MAKERSPACE STARTER KIT. While I was writing this blogpost Autodesk’s website www.makingstartshere.com was published. A website which – as you might probably guess – answers the posed question and aims to be a platform for all sorts of projects. You can find an elaborate handout on how to start MakerEducation. Practically all aspects are dealt with. Fantastic!

A maker educator is a coach who inspires learners to build technical skills and creative mindsets through hands-on projects and experiential learning. – MAKER PROGRAM STARTER KIT

It perhaps makes writing this post superfluous. So, why should you continue reading? In his presentations Gary Stager often states: “The best makerspace is between your ears”. That is nice and ideal, obviously, and it doesn’t cost you anything! But how to get there? This post aims at answering that question. The answer isn’t an easy one. We will go into the practical aspects, but also the change of culture that MakerEducation usually entails. Making makes so much possible, it is hard to find a common startingpoint. Actually, the only thing is… that we all just started. So, read on.

Before we commence

Before we commence, first things first. We will start with these conditions:

  • Budget: $0 – $200
  • Unit: one class of 30
  • Base: A4, paper, stapler, glue, computers, printer


By base we mean the materials that a school has available. Basically anything you have lying around. Obviously there is lots to find besides that, but it pays to try out basic materials. Paperclips, cups, cellotape, can all be used in so many different ways. Add them to the materials for a maker project and see what happens.


Our unit is one class of 30 students. It helps to start with a complete class. Naturally you can start with a smaller group of kids.


The budget is a max of $200. Making is usually about making actual things out of materials. That costs money. There’s no getting around that. A bit of creative collecting takes you a long way too. However, making simply costs money.

In the next part we will elaborate on the makerspace. Starting maker education could also be the start of a change of culture. Next, we will go into how you might get a grip on this cultural change.


You start something new. Maker education is much more than just stuff, most of all it is a learning stance. You will find more on this in this blogpost.

Making is a stance toward learning -Sylvia Libow Martinez

When you are tied to a regular curriculum – as are most of us in mainstream education – then there are several approaches to maker education:

  • Following recipes / manuals
  • working within a framework
  • working without restrictions.

I wrote about this in a previous blogpost called, “What do they learn?”. If there is no experience yet with practical work, then it is probably wise to start with manuals. That provides a solid base. However, real magic occurs when students are left to find things out themselves. “The best makerspace is in your head.” Freedom is great, however, it does have some issues. Often freedom is at odds with a set curriculum. Being allowed to learn as opposed to being obliged to. Therefore it is to be expected that when you start making you also start changing the culture within your classroom.

A change in culture

That sounds rather pretentious. It is by no means meant as such. Starting off with perceiving making as a change in culture give you a grip on the process. That is the point of this blog. According to Scott Keller & Colin Price there are four aspects that require attention, more or less at the same time, if you wish to trigger a change in culture:

  • Belief
  • System
  • Skills
  • Rolemodels


Together with your students you have have established a culture. When you start making, it has to be clear to them why you are going to do things differently. They should at least be willing to commence the experiment together with you. If you are enthusiastic yourself, your students will be easy to convince. As for the adults, i.e. the school leaders, they might need more convincing.


Try to organise in such a way that there is lots of real making. At regular, preferably extensive, moments. Clear spots in the curriculum, perhaps even in a designated classroom within the school building (makerspace). Besides this, as mentioned before, making costs money. That means you must have a budget, preferably for a longer period of time.


In our experience students develop many different skills. Helping each other, perseverance, and concentration are some examples. They are the added values of what is important to students. They want to do projects and turn their ideas into something new. This is what they need maker education for. For example, to learn soldering, digital designing and programming. As a teacher you will also have to develop new skills to make this possible. How to apply for funding,  setting up a local maker teacher network, … Finding help to develop your own skills, like programming, by signing up to informal networks like the Scratch community. All kinds of examples of skills you need to set a change in culture in motion.

Role Models

You can find makers in all shapes and sizes. Finding a role model should be easy. For example, people who have done a project that you would like to do too. And ‘project’ can mean anything: an object, a skill or creating a cool place like a makerspace. One of the great strengths of the maker movement has to be the sharing that makers do. This way, role models often give an insight into skills and system. As a teacher you are the center of this process. Maker education is not something you teach; it is something you experience yourself. When students are given freedom they tend to ask questions you don’t have an answer to. This can be a challenge. For a teacher, not knowing can be a hard thing to deal with. One way of going about this is becoming a maker yourself. At the very least you should go through the process of making something yourself a few times. Find one instructable and just copy it. This way you will experience your own learning strategies and problem solving skills. Students can benefit from your experience, learn from it.

It would be great to make this into a separate blogpost (maybe later) but the short version goes like this.

  • You have to believe in what you do.
  • Role models offer inspiration for you and your students. (Needless to say you are a role model to your students.)
  • You need to develop the necessary skills doing and organising maker education.
  • It all has to be part of a system aimed at being sustainable.

All these aspects are equally important to make a change in culture. In the “MAKER PROGRAM STARTER KIT” you can find them, though not very explicit, as well:

  • Experience and interest in working with youth.
  • Love for learning new skills and an understanding that failure is part of the learning process.
  • Organizational and problem solving skills necessary to run a classroom or extracurricular program.
  • Willingness to embrace the maker culture.

If you would like to develop our ymaker skills, the HumbleBundle is a great place to start. Occasionally they offer a maker bundle. With a “pay what you want” principle, it’s a great way to get your hands on some popular maker and maker education books (skills, role models and system). For approximately $15 you will get the extended collection. This is the first money we spent!

Another way to reinforce the change of culture is to get the students’ families involved. Creating makers together! Send parents an email with the link of this poster from Astrid Poot’s (look her up, the work she does is a real treasure trove) It’s a poster of 50 tools to use before you’re 12 years old. Another great way is to host a maker night at your school and to invite the parents. This guide from “Family Creative Learning (MIT)” can be a great starting point.

This way you don’t only work on skills. Getting parents involved helps to achieve a better understanding for what your are trying to do (system, belief and skills).


So, more about spending money! We still have $185 of our budget to spend. What to spend it on? You can spend your money on a few things: materials, tools, equipment and software. The budget is limited, buying equipment on this budget is a no-go. More on that in my next blog. I planning to make a series of blogpost for creating a makerspace for different budgets.  For now we will focus mainly on materials and tools.

Once you get started with a group, then it is logical to try to keep the costs of materials low. With a factor 30 – or 15 if you are letting them work in pairs – things can rapidly get out of control. Seeing as our budget is low, and because making can continue even if the money has been spent, we choose to work with as cheap as possible materials. Some examples:


Even more various that LEGO®, cardboard can be used to make almost anything! Just take a look at The Cardboard Institute of Technology (CIT). Your school should see a steady supply of cardboard. Make it a priority to get a hold on it. Maker educator Robbie Torney has done so by finding a spot (system) within his school where people collect the cardboard for use in maker projects (belief).

Measuring tapes

One can usually find paper measuring tapes in D.I.Y. stores and IKEA Because they’re flexible, they’re super easy to use. If you ask kindly, you usually can take a few without any problems.

Paint samples

Adding colour is one of the most popular ways to personalize your project. Paint can be expensive, however paint samples are available for free at D.I.Y. stores. Make sure to ask, though.

Film containers

You can do really nice things with film containers. We use them to make little rockets with water and vitamin C effervescent tablets. Lots of photo shops collect them and enjoy handing them out to schools. Perhaps you can make arrangements with the photo shop around the corner?

Dismantling old things

Old things can be sources for seperate components. From hinges of kitchen cabinets to electronic parts of electric appliances.the actual dismantling can be a lesson in itself (does take tools to be able to do so). You can find this refernce book on HumbleBundle. It helps you establish what kinds of parts can be found in your appliance (you can also purchase it here).


Printing actual pictures and texts from the Internet is often quite costly. Collecting leaflets and magazines can provide you with a free collection of photographs and typography. Obviously this is limited, but that could well be its power. This following example shows how you can use this kind of material to get your students to create poetry.

Recycling material

The aforementioned materials are merely a few examples of ‘free’ materials. You can find so much more around you. Milk cartons, dessert trays, bicycle tires, toilet paper rolls… you name it. Do keep in mind that you are able to store it all and to make it available to your students (system).


You can make anything with cardboard and it is usually free. It is considered the backbone of many a maker space. We choose to spend our budget on the tools you used to make use of cardboard.

Knives: 15 pieces at $5 = $75

Buy good (Stanley) knives with a good grip and preferably a retractable blade. These will cost you approximately $5 each and usually come with some spare blades (don’t forget to remove them).

Cutting board A4 15 pieces at $4 = $60

You cut on a cutting board, obviously. Good cutting boards usually have lines to help you cut straight pieces. If you buy knives, then cutting boards are a must.

Hot glue gun 10 pieces at $5 = $50

Hot glue guns allow you to glue anything together quickly. Pieces of cardboard aare stuck together within an eyewink. You can find many different suggestions as to how to stick pieces of cardboard together, but they are often costly. Hot glue guns are divers in use and cheap to buy.


Digital constructing is one of the maker movement’s pillars. It has made realising one’s dream accessible to many more people than before. Besides that, the assembly process takes place in the classroom and more often as part of a lesson. Our budget doeasn’t really leave room fort he purchase of digital manufacturing programmes. A vinyl cutter starts at approximately $300.00 and a lasercutter around $3,500. Nevertheless, you can begin with the skills of digital design. Especially if you have plans to expand your maker space in the future. One small trick helps you to do a bit of digital design, in 2D as well as in  3D.


There are many ways to design something digitally. You can simply use your Word processor. Equipment like the vinyl cutter and the laser cutter work on vectors. You need special software to be able to use them. Our budget has been spent. Thank goodness for online options, like the online vector.com (or vectorizer.io) and free to download Inkscape. They all work independent of what platforms you use. For Inkscape especially, you can find many manuals/youtube channels online.

How can use use it anyway without the vinyl cutter/lasercutter? Have students draw their designs in Inkscape, print the designs on paper. Use the paper to transfer their designs onto cardboard. That way you don’t have to measure (eventhough that is a useful skill!) out on cardboard anymore.


In order to be able to design 3D you will also need special software. There is a lot to be found. More than enough for a blog post of its own. The online TinkerCAD is a is an easily accessible way into the world of 3D. Here too, you can find many manuals that can help you. The same steps as described earlier can be applied here to allow you 3D designing within a €200 budget makerspace. Design something in TinkerCAD, import it into the also free program 123D MAKE. Choose stacked slices, using the thickness of your cardboard for the height of the material. Print it, using regular paper.This takes a lot of time and not all designs will work as well. Basic forms, like a globe, will work out very well.

(While writing this blogpost, Autodesk announced to stop the 123D apps. At the moment you are still able to download and use it, but as of 2017 it will be taken out of production. The functionality of the apps will most probably be built into Autodesk, which is also free of charge for educational purposes.)


The final ingredient is time. Making takes time. Make sure to plan ample time for your maker project, preferably in one longer stretch, instead of short periods now and again.

I will not go into programming in this post, though that is also an option, with the fantastic Scratch for example. Programming becomes much more fun using a physical component. Things are happening between the real word and the physical one. In a next blogpost, a makerspace from $200-$2000 I will go into that in more depth.

What now?

I have only one answer to that! Get started! Follow the hashtags #fablearn en #makered on Twitter for a daily dose of inspiration. Visit the website, makered.org. You can find lots of ideas on the “getting started” page. Do you want to read more? Download (free) “Meaningful Making: Projects and Inspirations for FabLabs and Makerspaces”. This contains  a collection of experiences of experienced maker educators, who go into various aspects of maker education.

Whenever you start, then never forget to share. You are not alone, but part of a large international community!

Per-Ivar (@___pi)

*Thanks Sylvia and Claire for helping me getting the words straight!