Finding Starter Projects: Teacher to Teacher


Sometimes the best way to get started with making in the classroom is to go make friends outside of it! In that spirit, today’s edition of our series on Finding Starter Projects shares some of the many professional development (PD) opportunities out there available to teachers who want to meet other like-minded teachers — those who know they want to be a part of the Maker movement and bring their kids into it too. We find that when we get a few teachers together, one of the first things they do is compare notes to talk about cool projects they’ve seen and done. Sure, you may also learn a thing or two in these sessions, conferences, camps, meetups, MOOCs, newsletters, and microblogging sites, but we all know that the pursuit of professional development is about reconnecting to allies, exposing yourself to new ideas and people.

Special thanks to Jessica Henricks, Clint Johns, Aaron Vanderwerff, Sherry Hsi, and Stephanie Chang who contributed to this list.



The Maker Education Initiative regularly hosts meetups and runs video sessions, and last May held its first Making Possibilities Workshop at Intel’s Headquarters in Silicon Valley. A full day on the importance of making, its impact on learning, getting started and more, this free-to-attend conference was very thoughtfully put together by Maker Ed and generously supported by one of its founders, Intel. We have heard from our friends at Maker Ed that people have been asking them from all over the country about replicating their model. Some mini Maker Faires have added an Education Day and expanded education content to their programs. (Maker Faire Orlando, we’re looking at you!) Every maker-educator should be sure to go to the minis (or megas) near them, with or without students.

Speaking of this, be sure to put Maker Faire Bay Area and World Maker Faire on your calendar. Our staff, crew, and Makers are all deeply committed to supporting teachers in bringing the Maker movement to their students, and so you’ll find that the schedule is always chock-full of talks relevant to the classroom. It’s a design-it-yourself education conference hidden inside the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth. Our most recent MakerCon, right before World Maker Faire 2014, included a track on education and some of the full-conference sessions were also learning themed. The videos are all available to watch in our archive. We want you there! Sign up for our education community to keep abreast of our news and offers.

While FabLearn sold out weeks before it began, its live-stream promised to archive “as much of this year’s conference as possible.” Stanford’s Paulo Blikstein started this conference out of a related network, FabLab@School, which connects educational digital fabrication labs that put cutting-edge technology for design and construction, such as 3D printers and laser cutters, into the hands of middle and high school students around the world. Take a look, too at Blikstein’s Transformative Learning Technologies Lab (TLTL). It develops low-cost tools, assessments, curriculum, and teacher prep. Europeans will be pleased to hear that Aarhus University hosted a second FabLearn in Europe

Constructing Modern Knowledge holds its eighth “minds-on” summer institute “for educators committed to creativity, collaboration and computing” in July. If you don’t have time to make it to New Hampshire for a week, take a look at the abundant supply of writings and manifestos on its website.

Interaction Design & Children has been running since 2009 to bring together researchers, designers and educators who want to create better interactive experiences for children, with sponsorship from Intel and the Lego Foundation. You can relive the IDC 2014 on its theme of “Building Tomorrow’s Technology – Together” through the archived live stream.

ISKME’s annual Big Ideas Fest “focuses on transformational change in K–20 education.” Aimed at “creative doers and thinkers” I’ll let them speak for themselves here: “The participants are inspirational. The work is dynamic. And the results are revolutionary.” The format includes some unique elements: RapidFire talks and Action Collab design-thinking labs.

Roughly every other year, the Design Science Symposia celebrates the legacy of R. Buckminster Fuller’s “comprehensive anticipatory design science.” Past themes have included Synergetics and Morphology: Explorations into the Shapes of Nature (2007), Design Science: Nature’s Problem Solving Method (2009), Nature, Geometry, and the Symmetry of Space (2011), STEM to STEAM thru Synergy: Bridging Morphology, Biomimicry, Sustainability, and Synergetics (2014).

Enjoy 300 sessions and workshops and more than 700 speakers at SXSWedu in Austin this March. SXSWedu had its roots as a Texas-focused K-12 event three years ago, now it attracts attendees from more than 35 different nations around the globe and includes special features like eduFILM, the Policy Forum, and the Playground (originally Makerspace). Its accompanying free and open-to-the-public Education Expo celebrates lifelong learning in central Texas. Of course there are plenty of teachers who loyally attend the much larger SXSW festival of music, film, and interactive design as well.

The annual Digital Media and Learning Conference focuses on the theme of “Equity by Design” (this June in L.A.). Past conferences have been on the themes of Connecting Practices (2014), Democratic Futures (2013), Beyond Educational Technology (2012), Designing Learning Futures (2011), and Diversifying Participation (2010). Supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the conference is organized by the Digital Media and Learning Hub located at the UC Humanities Research Institute, University of California, Irvine. Go to DML Hub for more info on its other offerings: the Make-to-Learn community, Connected Courses (a free course on creating open college courses), Reclaim Open Learning (a loose network for those developing online learning experiences), Alternative Credentialing (a dynamic public conversation), DML Summer Institute (for grad students and postdocs), working groups, workshops, and more.

You’ve just missed Project Zero Perspectives: Making, Thinking, Understanding, a conference organized by Center for the Advancement and Study of International Education (CASIE) and hosted at Lick-Wilmerding, a wonderful maker-friendly high school in San Francisco. Fortunately, you can review some of its presentations and handouts, posted online. Project Zero will have a related conference Think-Create-Innovate in Atlanta in early May.


Scratch educators meet up in the Lifelong Kindergarten area of the MIT Media Lab. Courtesy of Michelle Chung.

Scratch has reached well over a million users internationally in part because it has a great community of support, and it is backed up by the founding team’s firm commitment to helping teachers get kids into creative coding through Scratch Ed. If you love Scratch, look for Scratch Educator Meetups on the discussion forums; or take the Creative Computing free online workshop at your own pace; or plan to attend the biennial Scratch@MIT Conference in 2016; or take part in Scratch Day, a worldwide network of gatherings of Scratchers.

One could get lost in the alphabet soup of the large (and even larger) conferences like AAPT, ASEE, CUEISTE, NSTA, NCTM, ITEEA, ASTC, ECSITE, NAEYC, AAAS, AERA, …. need I go on? All have had or are starting to have sessions that touch on the Maker movement and makerspaces. You can even find quite a bit of maker-related education content at more generally technical conferences like IEEE FIESIGCHI, SIGGRAPH, CSCWICLS and CSCL, or just go to one of those to have your mind blown by the future-minded presentations by hungry grad students and pre-tenure profs.

I imagine if I look at Dale Dougherty’s speaking calendar, I could add another 50 great conferences all maker-educators should consider. Tell us which conferences you attend (or dream of attending) by adding to the comments below.

Courses, Workshops, & MOOCs

Make: is proud to support The Startup Classroom’s Maker Certificate Program at Sonoma State University in conjunction with the Sonoma County Office of Education. It features teachers we’ve been working with for years as well as some new friends eager to mentor teachers new to making. Participants gain an understanding of the core values and principles of Making and the pedagogy behind the Maker mindset. The first certificate program of its kind, we’ve been wanting something like this for years!

We’ve been working with Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland for a long while now, so imagine our delight when Lighthouse teacher Aaron Vanderwerff told us that the school’s Creativity Lab would start offering professional development for educators. Sessions vary from the “idealistic to realistic,” including the two-day Designing Making Experiences workshop, tours, space and program planning session, “Learn to Make” skill builders.

Well known for its industrial castoff reuse utopia, RAFT (Resource Area for Teaching) has been a leader in PD in the San Jose area for decades. Check RAFT’s resource page for links to their tip sheets and tailored training sessions, workshops, and summer institutes.

I mentioned Engineering is Elementary in an earlier post, but it is much more than just the curriculum. EIE offers PD too! They host Collaborator Workshops, Everyone Engineers workshops for elementary teachers, the two-day “Linking the E & M in STEM”, and “Engineering Adventures”. They even have PD to turn you into someone who provides PD to your region through their Teacher Educator Institutes. You can attend these workshops on-site in Boston or invite the EIE team to lead one in your school or district.

Nearby, the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts (CEEO) improves engineering education kindergarten through college and got a shout-out from one of our teachers.

We’ve already mentioned the projects and resources on the Stanford’s K12 Lab Network site earlier in our series, but you should also know that they hold a DTK12 (Design Think in K-12) Curriculum Summit and workshops in Design Thinking for Educators. I also like the spirit of “Two-Minute PD.”

The DTK12 folks also reminded me of The Nueva School‘s Design Thinking Institute near San Francisco, Henry Ford Learning Institute near Detroit, and FUSE from the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation held in Atlanta in 2015.

Not too many high schools operate a graduate school of education on the side, but why not teach in the most relevant context to the learning at hand? High Tech High (HTH) offers residencies, institutes, and workshops. They also publish a journal called UnBoxed.

TinkeringCourseraThe Exploratorium has long been a powerhouse of teacher PD, but we’re especially enthusiastic about the online course Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning. Spend six weeks learning from Mike Petrich, Karen Wilkinson, and Luigi Anzivino, three true masters! Take a look at the Exploratorium’s other PD offerings, especially the Exploratorium Teacher Institute (TI), which has supported middle school and high school math and science teachers for over three decades! In TI’s Re-Engineering Your Science Curriculum, master science teachers Paul Doherty, Julie Yu, and Eric Muller share practical how-tos for infusing curriculum with NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) engineering practices using TI’s trademark hands-on STEM activities. Once you’ve been a part of TI’s Summer Institute, Beginning Teacher Program, or Teacher Leadership Program, you can also benefit from Pinhole, TI’s very informative discussion group. The Exploratorium’s Institute for Inquiry (IFI) trains educators in inquiry-based science: exploring the natural or material world by asking questions, observing, investigating, testing, discussing and debating. IFI’s online PD curriculum covers Fundamentals of Inquiry and Assessing for Learning. Take a gander at IFI’s library of resources too.

The MIT Media Lab’s new Learning over Education (#L_ED) initiative promotes creative learning. Go to its page on Learning Creative Learning to join the next cohort participating in the LCL online course, or start by yourself whenever you like. The six modules cover the intiative’s excellent set of four guiding principles: Projects, Peers, Passion, and Play. The initiative’s Unhangout platform takes an open-source and large-scale approach to online un-conferences such as the annual Edcamp.

Make Summer has had a whole lot of stuff around the topic of Connected Learning that you may find useful, including:

  • Maker Party, through which 130,000 people came together to “make” the web
  • Making Learning Connected a MOOC that ran last year so it may again in summer 2015. Stay tuned.
    • its associated Making Learning Connected G+ community and Twitter feed (@clmooc)
  • Make Bank for “Makes”
    • “Makes could include something you write (a story, poem, play, etc.) or draw (painting, comic, etc.) , a web page or app you create, something you bake, or a social network or connection you form.” (None of this was anything that came from us at Maker Media, in case you are wondering, but nonetheless we like what we see! We’re pretty happy with anything our pals at the National Writing Project do, and this section in particular really has their fingerprints on it.)
  • Make Cycles
  • Make A Case

IISME Fellow Colette Marie McLaughlin spent her summer at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. Courtesy of The Gilroy Patch.


Through the eight-week IISME Summer Fellowship, K-16 teachers of all subjects learn from “high-performance work sites” in science and tech for the summer. They both complete a project for their hosts and spend 10% of their time planning to transfer their experience back to their students and colleagues. How much does it cost? That’s the best part! For participating in this great program, teachers are paid $8,200!

The fellows are “restless experts” who come together to “grow creative and resilient organizations [and] to accelerate systems-level impact in their areas of expertise.” in the fall they focus on learning and leading, winter on leading and doing, and spring on doing. They do this through coursework, workshops, events, studios, and by working through design thinking cycles.

MakerState engages “passionate makers” as MakerState fellows. It kind of sounds more like a job than a fellowship, but the idea is that the fellows serve as part-time instructors and curriculum developers for makerspace workshops around NYC (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Riverdale, Newark, New Haven) and in El Cerrito and Sunnyvale, California. (Side note, they are also hiring Assistant Maker Fellows at the high school level.)

Newsletters, Forums, and Social Media

EdSurge, started in 2011 by Betsy Corcoran, Matt Bowman, Nick Punt and Agustin Vilaseca, scours the world of edtech (education technology) so you don’t have to. It sends detailed weekly reports on the latest news and trends in the industry to entrepreneurs, educators, investors and others. They also host a job board and and event calendar.

Edutopia has provided great public service to the PBL community since 1991. Run by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, it focuses on “innovative, replicable, and evidence-based strategies” especially in these areas: comprehensive assessment (portfolios and other “authen­tic” forms of it), integrated studies, project learning, social and emotional learning, teacher development, and technology integration.

We’ve been fans of the Tinkering School and its offshoot Brightworks for years. Not everyone can come visit them to see these renewably, constantly unique learning environments in action, but luckily their leadership has been generous with documenting and sharing what they do. Check out the Tinkering School’s Blog for educators. I especially appreciate their use of “Plus” and “Delta” for their project reviews (rather than pros and cons), moving creative work and creative teaching onward and upward. There are blog posts on tool training and then just general framing and philosophical reflections. Give the whole thing a read. You won’t regret it!

ASTC (the Association of Science and Technology Centers) hosts a number of Communities of Practice. Many of our colleagues in the museum world participate in Making & Tinkering Spaces in Museums, open to members of ASTC and other Informal Science Education (ISE) partners.

Make to Learn (M2L) hosted by Indiana University  advocates “for placing making, creating, and designing at the core of educational practice.” While many of the projects originally supported by the Digital Media and Learning Hub at the University of California, Irvine and the MacArthur Foundation wrapped up last year. Kylie Peppler and the Creativity Labs at Indiana University, Bloomington continue to lead this effort and maintain a public listserv for educators like you. Send a blank email to to subscribe.

Here are a few Google+ communities to bookmark:

Twitter hashtags to follow: #makered, #dtk12chat, #stemchat, #PBLchat

Serve up your lingering electronics-related questions on the For Educators forum or on Adam Kemp’s Ask an educator, both on Adafruit.

Other Resources

Many teachers who have told us they are excited to get making in the classroom have also introduced Design Thinking to their students. The Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators will help you get started with d-thinking techniques. This toolkit is the real deal, created by Riverdale Country School in New York City and IDEO, a firm known the world over for its human-centered approach to design.

The Curiosity Kit on Iridescent‘s educator page has some helpful resources. for working with students on engineering design challenges.  And stay tuned! They recently started offering online trainings for educators, and you can email them at to schedule one for your site.

Project Zero: Agency by Design is a multiyear research initiative at Project Zero investigating the promises, practices, and pedagogies of maker-centered learning experiences. Its site doesn’t have much in terms of PD yet, but take a look at their excellent set of book reviews.

TED-Ed has many resources, including guides for transforming “any useful educational video, not just TED’s” into a customized lesson around the video. It also has tips for starting a TED-Ed Club with your students.


You can get your feet wet with making, quite literally, at the Teaching With Small Boats Alliance.

Skill Builders

For specific skills, make sure to look for makerspaces for workshops.

In the Oakland area, consider Workshop Weekend which offers 1-3 hour workshops on science, technology, engineering, art, and more.

Down in Santa Cruz, Makers Factory steps up to offer making workshops for teachers.

Many companies have gotten into the game, too. SparkFun runs workshops, always centered around some of their most popular products: the PicoBoard, Digital Sandbox, LilyPad, and Inventor’s Kit for 20–30 students, and they come to you wherever you are in the U.S.

Teacher Clint adds, “I’d also add in courses/workshops at any regional Tech Shop, at The Tech Museum, and at The Crucible in Oakland. There’s also a rise in the number of “unconferences” popping up in the Bay Area.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 1.27.05 PM

Hackerspaces aplenty, the map at

Connect locally! You can find other resources and like-minded makers and educators with the maps and directories below:

What did we miss? Tell us!

Once I got started this list kept growing and growing. There are a few heavy hitters in education technology sphere I decided not to officially list above, excepts as sponsors of other PD programs: LEGOGoogleIntelPBS, to name a few.

Lastly, we’d like to put a special plug out there for seeking out the PD opportunities at the museums near you. Museums are built and run by people who have been learning by making their whole lives and who care deeply about teaching others to do the same. Not to generalize or anything, but museum educators are the absolute experts in project-based learning, tinkering, making, whatever you want to call what we do. Be sure to check out the professional development offerings of all your favorite museums near where you teach.

Check out our earlier posts in this series:

Be sure to check out the growing resource library built by our friends at the Maker Education Initiative.

What’s your favorite resource for making projects? Add to our list by commenting below.

Finding Starter Projects: Deep Dives

Stanley shows off his Arduino project to another curious camper at at the White Plains Library's Maker Camp this summer.

Stanley shows off his Arduino project to another curious camper at at the White Plains Library’s Maker Camp this summer.

In this edition of Finding Starter Projects, we take a look at resources that guide maker leaders in focusing on a single domain, tool, or material. Using these, maker clubs and making classrooms can take a deep dive into one kind of making.

This is another approach to narrowing down The Wide World of Whatever You Want that I mentioned in my last post. An open field can be intimidating to new makers. Establishing a shared focus gently welcomes new makers into this vast landscape. “Deadline-driven design” doesn’t work for all makers. Our teachers with maker clubs and classes have reported that for the girls in particular, competitions can often be a turn-off. Even when there’s no prize in sight, a shared experience is valuable.


MaKey MaKey projects

Working with a common set of tools or materials builds trust and confidence as new makers get used to making together. Another convenient consequence of this approach is that you can focus your spending at the same time that you focus your students. For example, if you buy a few MaKey MaKeys, you could keep you and all your students busily creating the several dozen suggested projects that JoyLabz share on their site.

There are so many great choices, we share today’s links alphabetically.

Arduino. In many ways, the Arduino is a keystone of the Maker movement, and teachers are often looking for good ways to introduce their students to using this powerful microcontroller. We’re happy to report that Arduino’s own materials for getting started are actually quite well done. Also check out the Make: book Getting Started with Arduino by Arduino co-creator Massimo Banzi.


DIY Girls get clever and crafty with soft circuits during Maker Camp.

Circuits. One of our teachers turned us onto and DIY Electronics Projects. This is a good time to mention again Make:Projects and Instructables, both full of circuit projects and learning aids. In an earlier post I mentioned High-Low Tech’s projects (especially Getting Hands-On with Soft Circuits). In a future post we’ll look at retail outlets like SparkFun and Adafruit (and MakerShed, of course!) that are perennial favorites with our teachers, full of circuit-building projects.

Green. Let’s get practical! You could spend a whole school year focused on making that revolves around “the four Rs” (reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot), transforming your school into a K12 version of Maker Faire’s Homegrown Village and saving bucks in the budget as you do. The number of educational resources out there are nearly limitless (unlike our natural resources!), but here are a few sites from Maker Media’s neighborhood in Berkeley to get you started: the Green Schools Initiative, StopWaste, California Regional Environmental Education Community, and the Edible Schoolyard Project.

UnihornHelmetlittleBits. This powerful set of reconfigurable modules introduces kids to creating all kinds of circuits. The team has backed their kits up with a set of Project Lessons (including everything from a Tickle Machine to a Unihorn Helmet) and a helpful workshop guide.

MaKey MaKey. We can’t say enough wonderful things about this ingenious interface between the digital and physical world. Part of the magic of this joyful tool is the diverse set of 18 delightful projects its creators and most avid users have dreamed up and described in step-by-step instructions. Club leader Kurt suggests to make sure you have at least two MaKey MaKeys in the room, especially if you have both boys and girls in your maker club, so that everyone gets some time with it.

The Math Projects Journal. One of our teachers has used Princess Dido and the Ox Skin in their making classroom.

NEED: National Energy Education Development. Some of the schools we work with have directed their students to thinking about energy use, production, and conservation in many new ways, often because they use this to find support for their school-based makerspaces and their students’ projects. One resource these teachers consult is the NEED (National Energy Education Development) Project Curriculum Resources. It focuses on projects related to all kinds of energy, like Biomass, Geothermal, and Uranium!

Would-be racers run their Nerdy Derby cars on the test track.

Nerdy Derby. Makers create their own creative, innovative race-car to launch down an undulating, 30-foot track. The folks behind Nerdy Derby have developed a set of lesson plans and different car designs that could keep your class or club happily busy for weeks!

Notebooks and Circuit Stickers. We know kids love stickers, and what better way to get your young artists (and writers) excited about electronics? Check out the templates available at nexmap 21st Century Notebooking (created with the National Writing Project) and on the Chibitronics site.

Scratch. We pointed you to the Scratch site in our list of free software for making. Be sure to also check out ScratchEd‘s resources, including the thorough Creative Computing, a Scratch curriculum guide by Karen Brennan, Christan Balch, and  Michelle Chung

soldercomic_esSoldering is Easy. Mitch Altman has taught tens of thousands to solder around the world. He teamed up with Andie Nordgren to create a one-page cartoon. The cartoon has been translated into French, Czech, Romanian, Portuguese, German, Spanish (see left)Italian, and, mysteriously, Morse Code! Mitch and Andie also worked with Jeff Keyser to make a multi-page comic book on soldering too!

Swap-O-Rama-Rama. Screenprinting, sewing & textile hacking. Pick some material or some clothes from the used clothing pile and then make a costume, sew a dress, hack a blazer into a purse, silkscreen rad designs onto your sweatshirt!; t-shirt appliques with adhesive interface, using sewing machines, bag from a t-shirt, hacked fashion


Thematic explorations. When I visited Brightworks last year, I was impressed by their approach to studying one theme in depth at a time. They call it the Arc. In the past they’ve had Arcs like salt or cities. Now they are pursuing three: photograph, book, and movie.

Thingiverse. Teachers go here to find models their students can hack and print out on your 3D printer.

WikiSeat. Use furniture design to introduce your students to materials and skills of construction, collaboration, and community. Students build their seats atop a Catalyst (the structural support for a chair.) Note that applications for 2015 WikiSeat Scholarship Application are due November 15.

What did we miss? Tell us!

There are so many other project-focus possibilities like this! We know we haven’t captured everything here. Check out our earlier posts in this series:

Be sure to check out the growing resource library built by our friends at the Maker Education Initiative.

What’s your favorite resource for making projects? What have you used with kids? Where do you get inspired, and what projects and sites inspire them? Tell us what you like and why you like it. Add to our list by commenting below.

Finding Starter Projects: Deadline-Driven Design

The Global Cardboard Challenge happens in piles of boxes around the world this Saturday, October 11th. Craft your own arcade!

The Global Cardboard Challenge happens in piles of boxes around the world this Saturday, October 11th. Craft your own arcade!

Some kids discover the Maker movement with their head already full of ideas for projects they want to realize. Other kids need a little nudge, some way to focus on a subset of The Wide World of Whatever You Want. In this edition of Finding Starter Projects, we offer you the focus imposed by an external deadline: a challenge, a contest, or some kind of due date. Sometimes when you can make anything, you end up making nothing at all. We don’t want that! Let’s give our new makers a few clues to get started, some kind of shared focus.

In our last post, we shared sets of projects that have been designed or culled by a single author or institution in order to introduce new makers to a wide range of creative practices, and we’ve also focused on project starters made by Make:, project databases, and free software.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.23.52 PMIn Young Makers, we often like to remind our clubs that it’s about exhibition, not competition. Nonetheless, a lot of kids are motivated by being a part of something bigger with a deadline and a lot of pomp and circumstance celebrating the achievements of the participants.Our teachers have found that these work very well to give their new makers a shared vocabulary and camaraderie in their makerspace.

There are too many contests, deadlines, and dates to list here, but we know teachers and young makers who have participated in the following.

  • BotBall: This competition has been praised by our teachers as a lower-bar alternative to more well-known, higher-priced tournaments.
  • BROADCOM Masters: Ben Hylak, a teenager we know who is also fierce advocate for Maker Faire, rode his telepresence robot all the way from his Pennsylvania hometown to the White House Science Fair.
  • Cognizant’s Making the Future design-based scholarship program recognizes originality and creativity in STEM-based projects.
  • Destination Imagination (and its Global Finals) has long shared its whimsical project challenges through Maker Faire.
  • FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) and FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC)FIRST LEGO League (FLL)  and JrFLL: FIRST has long been a powerhouse of robotics education, but joining this program is no easy feat! Be ready for lots of build sessions and even more fundraising. Fans of FIRST confirm that all the extra effort is 100% worth the work.
  • Friday After Thanksgiving (FAT) at MIT is a hilarious, collaborative chain reaction event held annually on the day after, you guessed it, the 4th Thursday of November. Hosted by Makers Arthur Ganson and Jeff Lieberman and witnessed by more than 1,500 people who come from as far away as Michigan and California, participants range “from Girl Scout troops to artists and engineers, from MIT clubs to high schools and family teams.”
  • Global Cardboard Challenge  An annual event inspired by Caine’s Arcade, you can “play” anytime! This weekend: October 11th
  • Google Science Fair: Sure, the competition is steep, but who can resist seeing what amazing, ambitious projects have sprung up from the busy neurons of young scientists and entrepreneurs around the world? We’ve hosted groups of finalists from the competition on Maker Camp, and they are lovely as well as talented!
  • Instructables contests: These get changed up continuously so keep an eye out for one that fits what you are doing, and, let’s face it, contributing to this enormous resource is a skill every Maker should acquire.
  • Intel International Science and Engineering Fair: like the Google Science Fair, this predecessor is chock-full of inspiration and cash prizes if you have a genius on your hands
  • Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize honors promising young inventors around the country with recognition and  $10-15K: the majority of team members must be undergraduates.
  • MESAMESA (Mathematics Science Engineering Achievement) hosts national competitions and more local / regional MESA Days elevated 72 winners from a pool of 49,000 largely low-income middle- and high-school students.
  • Mini Maker Faires in your local community are an excellent way to share your students’ work, and they have their own set of quite inflexible deadlines for application and final exhibition. If your students aren’t done in time to show, they can work on their projects on-site at Maker Faire, and/or suffer the mild embarrassment (or intense shame!) of not achieving their project goal.
  • NEED Project’s Annual Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement recognizes projects
  • National Young Game Inventors Contest (NYGIC) for your kids who love to play and make up their own boardgames  Deadline: October 15th
  • RoboGames: An early staple of the first few Maker Faires, this is a force of its own. The Junior League has medal winners in seven categories: Lego (Bowling, Linefollow, TubePush, and Open), Sumo, Combat, and Best of Show.
  • Rube Goldberg Machine Contest (RGMC) challenges student teams around the world from middle school on up to compete in building the most elaborate and hilarious Rube Goldberg Machine.
  • Science Olympiad: 7,000 teams from all 50 states compete track-meet style in 23 team events that emphasize active, hands-on group participation.
  • SparkLab Invent It! Challenge on ePals: Winners get a patent filed for their invention
  • The Tech Challenge: I appreciate a lot of things about this design contest, but one thing in particular I like is how this challenge is judged. The score emerges not just from the in-the-moment performance of the device the team designs, but also a review of the team’s process and journal.
  • Vex Robotics: Another pricier robotics system, it is quite popular with those who choose this competition over the far more intensely competitive FIRST universe.

Not interested in subjecting your students to the stresses of competition, contests, and deadlines? Even if you don’t participate in these programs, take a look at what these groups are doing. You can also look to the contest rules and winners for inspirational project sparks you can adapt to your club or classroom.

What did we miss? Tell us!

Check out our earlier posts in this series:

Be sure to check out the growing resource library built by our friends at the Maker Education Initiative.

What’s your favorite resource for making projects? Add to our list by commenting below.

Finding Starter Projects: Free Software for Making

Image (1) computercostume.jpg for post 57382Learners and teachers have so many free options at their fingertips, we find that fewer are buying the higher-priced software. Just like with all kinds of making, with software these days you can do a lot with a little. Years ago, the costs of new software, especially those used by creative professionals, were prohibitive to schools. Administrators favored programs that kids would encounter in office settings, but we all know that the workplace of the future is a makerspace! The field of what’s available can be intimidating to navigate, however. Who doesn’t download with trepidation? We thought we should share our Maker teachers’ go-to apps.

In today’s post, we share software applications and suites for every maker and maker-to-be. Some of these products are simple to use, while others are far more advanced. For applications that are less intuitive, be sure to seek out tutorials, by both developers and user communities.

Remember to protect your computer. It’s always a good idea to have up-to-date virus software. If downloading from an unknown source, consider typing the application into a search engine to check if other users have raised red flags.


123D-Make  123D-Meshmixer123Dapps

123D123D-Creature by Autodesk isn’t one software app – it’s eight. (Six of them are pictured, above.) Create 3D models for printing, prepare files for laser cutting or CNC routing, transform your digital camera into a 3D scanner, or make a wild creature (with 123D Creature app for iPad, right). You can even export files from Tinkercad into Minecraft!

Good for: Beginners designing for the physical world (3D printing, laser cutting, CNC cutting, circuit boards)
Most similar to: CAD programs
Works on:  varies by app, Windows, Mac OSX and iOS, online


SketchUpSketchUp is great for building 3D objects, but also entire environments. You may accidentally “pull” the wrong surfaces at first, but watch a few tutorials and you’ll be mocking up your dream makerspace in no time, with furnishings found in SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse, the world’s biggest repository of free 3D models. Like many software programs, memorizing a few keyboard shortcuts will save lots of time.

Good for: Beginners through professionals, as SketchUp has a Pro paid version
Most similar to: CAD programs
Works on:  Windows, Mac OSX

is a software environment designed to be as easy to use as Powerpoint. It has two panels: on the left you design, and in the right you can preview what your final design might look once produced.

Good for: Beginners designing for production at a remote fabricator
Most similar to: Drawing programs
Works on:  Online


Inkscape is a free, open-source application with a great tagline: draw freely. Inkscape can be used for illustrating, and is especially useful when you need vector graphics, such as for laser cutting or scaling drawings without the loss of resolution. If you haven’t used Illustrator before, start with the tutorials. You’ll be drawing in no time.

inkscape-logoGood for: Drawing, creating vector graphics for laser cutters and plotters
Most similar to: Adobe Illustrator
Works on:  Windows, Mac OSX, Linux


GIMPGIMP has an odd name (it stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program”), but many find it indispensable when it comes to photo retouching and image manipulation. It’s not the most intuitive or pretty of software programs, but it’s powerful. Even if you don’t use all of its extensive functionality, Gimp comes in handy for opening and converting files you couldn’t open (ps, psd, tiff) into more friendly files (bmp, gif, jpeg, pdf, png). If you haven’t used Photoshop before, the tutorials will help you make sense of it all.

Good for: Transforming photographs
Most similar to: Adobe Photoshop
Works on: Windows, Mac OSX, Linux



ScratchScratch & Scratch Jr. may look like they’re just for kids, but we’ve seen plenty of adults delight in this visual programming language. Instead of using text-based commands, Scratch uses blocks than users can drag and snap together. With Scratch, use either the online editor or download for offline use. Create on screen games, animations, and interactive stories, or even connect to the physical world with the addition of a MaKey MaKey or Pico Board. The Scratch community is millions strong and supports a rich supply of help resources.

Good for: Learning to program, making simple games, enhancing the MaKey MaKey
Works on: Online, Windows, Mac OSX, Linux (Scratch), iPad (Scratch Jr.)


Arduino IDE (integrated development environment) is an accessible, open source programming language that tells your Arduino (or clone) microcontroller how to sense, think, and act. New users are often surprised at the number of example sketches out there, including dozens that come with the software under file>examples. Although there are extensive resources, tutorials, and books by the likes of Arduino and Make:, users often start learning by looking at Arduino_Logocomplete sketches and playing with variables.

Good for: Programming Arduino microcontrollers
Works on: Windows, Mac OSX, Linux

processing-ideIf you’re a bit more advanced, Processing is a versatile language, and Makers working in sound or video speak highly Pure Data, a visual programming application.

Want more? EdSurge created a comprehensive list of programming applications, along with learning resources, here.


Most folks know about WordPress for authoring websites, but educators and beginning makers are often delighted to discover Mozilla Foundation’s Webmaker tools. These tools are a great way to learn how to create the web and app resources you use everyday like web pages, interactive videos, and mobile apps. The in-browser tool X-Ray Goggles may tickle your web newbies’ funny bones!

mozilla-webmaker_logo-wordmark_RGBGood for: Taking control of the web
Works on:  Online


appinventorMIT App Inventor lets makers do just that: design their own apps. This cloud-based application also has a phone emulator, allowing makers to create apps even without the hardware.

MITAppInventor-logoGood for: Apps, from games to citizen science
Works on:  Online


If you have a computer, you probably already have Windows’ Movie Maker or Mac OSX’s iMovie. But sometimes you may need a little something more.

Can’t open that file? VLC Player is a lifesaver when it comes to playing unusual file formats. It has basic VLC-logo-Bedit functions as well.

Good for: Opening media files
Works on: Nearly everything! Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, Ubuntu, Android, iOS…


Or perhaps you want to do something a bit different. Stop motion animation is all the rage, and HUE by iCreate to Educate is one of the leading applications for use in education. That said, HUE Animation isn’t free, so if you’re looking for free, Jelly Cam includes the essential functions, like onion skin, file importing, and the ability to add sound.

JellyCam-logoGood for: Creating stop motion animations for fun and/or education
Works on: Windows, Mac OSX


AudacityScreenshots is many makers’ go-to for free audio software. Check out Audacity’s Wiki for tips, and check out Make’s project ideas Auditory Illusions and Found Sound.

audacity-logoGood for: Recording and editing sound, podcasts, music, and foley
Most similar to: Pro Tools
Works on: Windows, Mac OSX, Linux

EVERYTHING ELSEdownload-by-cnet-logo

If your software technology needs aren’t listed above, check resources like Download by CNET and the Free Software Foundation, along with blogs like EdSurgeedsurge-logo, Free Tech for Teachers, Free Technology for Teachersand eLearning Industry. There are many, many free applications out there. Use caution, then enjoy the free bounty!





If you plan on purchasing software, don’t forget to check for educational discounts! Established software companies like Autodesk and Adobe offer significant discounts to educational organizations – all the way up to 100%.


What’s your favorite free software for making? Add to our list by commenting below.


Popular at Public Lab

Out in Zone 5, Liz Barry of Public Lab is sensing strong interest in spectrometry.

The reason: “It’s like a Tricorder for $10!”


Liz Barry of Public Lab

The Public Lab is a community where you can learn how to investigate environmental concerns.

Using inexpensive DIY techniques, Public Labs seeks to change how people see the world in environmental, social, and political terms.

And a good place to start: spectrometry.

“Because you can use it to tell what things are made of,” Liz says.


The desktop spectrometer from Public Lab

Get out to Zone 5 and check it out!

Live from New York: The Day Before World Maker Faire

In this special edition of Maker Camp, we’ll be coming to you LIVE from New York, one day before we open the doors to the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth! We invite classrooms, kids, teens, families… anyone to join us for this 30-minute virtual field trip on Friday, 9/19/14 starting at 2 p.m. Eastern / 11 a.m. Pacific Time.

Watch on Google+

Ask your questions to the makers, live with the Q&A chat function

Watch on YouTube

You can also watch the live stream on YouTube

Our host Paloma (Maker Camp Director 2014) will be talking to a few of the hundreds of makers who will be sharing their creations this weekend, September 20  and 21, 2014.

If you can’t join us live, you can always check out the Hangout on Air archive on Make’s YouTube Channel.

Featured Makers

Help is at Hand

Sashimi Tabernacle Choir

Beatbox and Bicycle Wheel

NYSci World Maker Faire Village

Why Educators Love Maker Faire 2014 ( + their tips!) Chad Ratliff shared with us this video (above, by Trevor Przyuski) of a professional development trip he and his colleagues took to Maker Faire 2013.

Schools are back in session, and we’re getting ready to throw open the gates to Maker Faire, hands-down the best hands-on learning-palooza for teachers everywhere. And it’s nearly here! In just two weeks we’re hosting World Maker Faire, aka The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth, at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, New York. It’s a place to learn, whether you’re a kid or an adult, and we hear from lots of educators that it’s their favorite “professional development” opportunity every year.

Teachers, learn more about the special ways to attend here, including our exclusive Teacher Team, freebies and discounts, and a virtual field trip with Maker Camp:

First, the advice that teachers give for strategies for attending Maker Faire: What to see and how to see it …

  • Keep track of all the fun projects and experiences that draw you in as an attendant, and then think how to reverse-engineer those experiences into a lesson.
  • Seek out the student projects that are brought to the Faire, from the robotics to even the simpler projects. As a teacher, I know we spend a lot of time emphasizing project-based learning, but having it physically manifest itself in a machine or physical product beyond a poster is a specific challenge I would like to push myself and others to strive for. Tangible projects will always last longer in a student’s mind than tests or facts.
  • Go to the presentations. They are very informative, and I always get something from them.
  • Spend time reading the program and studying the map beforehand! That way you can pick what really interests you, and maybe make it to see those if you don’t get too sidetracked like I do seeing something new along the way!
  • Plan to be there all day.
  • Wear comfy clothes and shoes.
  • Join in any chance you get. Just jump in and try out a new activity.
  • Bring along a student who wouldn’t have had a chance to attend if you didn’t bring them. It is an eye-opening afternoon!
  • Check out the fabric and clothing swap area (Swap-o-Rama-Rama) for anyone who likes to sew items for their classroom. There are a lot of easy, cheap project ideas that can be duplicated for 20 or 30 students.
  • Look at everything because you just never know what you are going to see.
  • The large demonstrations like EepyBird or the human-sized Mousetrap can be reduced on a smaller scale and brought into the classroom as design challenges to an identified problem.
  • I recommend all of the booths with hands-on activities at which you can build stuff – silkscreen clothing, battery-powered cars with a rolling disposable water bottle for a “wheel,” the “glove-o-phone” made from a finger of a rubber glove stretched over a length of tubing, the PVC pipe marshmallow shooter … You get both a cool thing you can have your students build back in your classroom, and you also get to experience the thrill and frustration of trying to make something yourself.
  • Visit any exhibit run by maker kids and find out what makes them tick — how they got started, what they’ve learned so far — and let them teach you. There was a girl who had collected hundreds of old pairs of jeans from thrift stores and brought several heavy-duty sewing machines, and she led us through repurposing them into a nifty purse. I could see the wheels spinning in my kids’ heads,  “Oh, well, maybe I could host a booth myself next year … what would I do?”
  • Visit anything that commands your interest and attention and motivates you, because that’s what we want for our kids, and you deserve it, too!
  • Spend more than one day exploring. There is so much to see and get involved with that you can’t do it all in one day.
  • Get your hands on something and DO some making.
  • Try to just take a walking tour so that you can see the overall variety, then spend some time focusing on a few exhibits.
  • Talk to the makers.
  • Be prepared to be AMAZED.
  • Come down! Get out of the classroom and see what really gets students excited about science, math and art!
  • You have to see the giant mousetrap. That’s worth it all.
  • Walk around and talk to the makers. (I got a few makers to help in my classroom.)
  • I would recommend educators attend with a few students. If you want to know what gets a student excited, what interests them, take them to Maker Faire. I love walking around the faire and seeing my students. I tell my students I’ll give them extra credit if they see me and say “Halsey in the House!” You’d think they would. Instead they see me and are either too engaged in doing something or want to share and show me what they’ve seen. I don’t need to give them extra credit, though, going to Maker Faire is the best experience.
  • If you have time, go both days and take a notebook with you because you will never be able to remember all of what you saw and what inspires you. I personally like to start off with stuff I am familiar with like the homegrown village where you can learn about raising chickens, bee keeping, and making pickled foods at home. Then I like to head to the expo hall to pick up some cool new ideas from any of the hundreds of maker booths. If I still have time that first day I like to visit the bizarre bazaar and pick up a shirt or craft idea for my craft club.
  • Walk around to get a feel for the range of possibilities that making can offer. You never know what might spark your interest. Then, pick a few workshops or talks where experts or beginners will share their own experiences with making. Then, after the speaker is done, go up and introduce yourself — makers are a very friendly group and love to share. Finally, make another pass through the booths, and this time collect information on tools, projects, people that you will want to follow-up on when you get back to school. That way you have a very focused email list for your homework.

At Maker Media, we love teachers, because they are making the future. But why do educators love making and Maker Faire? Here are some of the best testimonials we’ve heard from teachers over the past year about why they are joining the Maker Movement:

  • Maker Faire broadens your perspective on what kids are capable of, especially in a time when we make things safe for them. Perhaps too safe … — David
  • I have been more and more willing to try “risky” projects with my students, telling them I want to see what they’ve learned and then giving them supplies and letting them go to town. I teach first grade, so there is a little bit of scaffolding first. For example, when I had my students make a 3D model of a skeleton with pasta, I provided them with pictures of a skeleton, a model I had made, and all the glue and pasta they would need to make their own. I am always inspired by what I see at Maker Faire, personally and professionally. I love all of the steampunk flavored stuff, and I really enjoyed the “take it, make it” fabric and clothing swap area from last year.—Katherine
  • Maker Faire began the shift in my teaching paradigm. Where I had once been a very directive teacher I learned and embraced the concept of everyone is a maker and everyone has something to teach. My classroom has been transformed into a place where we all grow and learn together. I first learned about Makey Makey and Scratch at Maker Faire and I jumped in without really knowing much about it. I showed my students what it was and some basic programming I had tried. Now we learn together. My only rule? “You must control your own mouse.” I am inspired by the variety and innovation that sets the stage for learning. It makes me feel both like I am part of a group and that I am a creative individual. Last year I took a picture of all the different modes of transportation. It was amazing to see how so many people can imagine something that gets us from one place to another in so many different ways. I also love the use of light and sound so I always spend a good part of the day in the dark room. — Kelly
  • The whole Maker Movement has had a profound effect on my teaching. My observation and work at the Maker Faire has helped me to bring back the excitement of tinkering and making to my traditional school that had a very traditional tech program. I have been inspired by watching a lot of makers and tinkerers at the faire using things like hangers, wool, tape, and more high-tech components. The first year I volunteered I also went to the d-school and was struck by how much of their equipment was bins of stuff. This helped form my growing feeling that tech needed to get more physical. That combining robots and computers was just the beginning. —Jenny
  • I highly recommend everyone — including students, parents and educators — to go check out this year’s Maker Faire. It’s like a Disneyland filled with gadgets that we all can create by simply using our imaginations and creative minds. —Grace
  • I am now teaching a 3D printing elective class to eighth graders at our STEM academy. Maker Faire inspired me to ask our principal to purchase a 3D printer, and now I am planning a “Maker Technology” class for next year. We practice Design Thinking at our school and I am finding that it is actually a great process to use alongside 3D printer technology. I am also interested in teaching a history of the Maker Movement, and bringing more making to our school. I think that too often teachers rely on pre-scripted learning events with right and wrong answers, because open-ended projects are often very messy and hard to control or grade. Students benefit from principles derived from making, and lead to greater degrees of self motivation in learning. — James
  • Every year that I attend the faire, it reignites my desire to teach and I get a burst of creativity. It inspires me to help students explore and tinker and, especially, to get young girls involved in making. I see making as a gateway to engineering and other STEM-related fields. I was also inspired by the poised 9-year old boy who helped me with my first soldering project. — Katie
  • I brought back the idea of starting a Maker’s Club at my school. In this club, students have participated in activities such as Socktopus, Cardboard Challenge, intro to soldering, Lego robots and bubble making. I have also used Make: magazine and Maker Camp on Google+ to create such projects as marshmallow guns, inko-dying T-shirts, robots from trash, and more. I was inspired by the amount of people who think creatively, inspire others to think creatively and generously support those trying to be creative by teaching others. There are so many people who want to teach others. As a teacher it is so important to learn as well as teach and it puts in the forefront that everyone has something to teach. — Kelly
  • I assign Maker Faire for my students’ first marking period homework. They can attend or write a research paper. We are close to the Hall of Science, so of course 95% of my kids attend. I’ve met so many amazing people. I bring Maker Faire into my classroom and we celebrate it. I was inspired by the creative energy that pulses from the faire. When my students come into my class for the first time I tell them about Maker Faire. Many of them have already attended, but those who haven’t I feel it is my mission to bring them to Maker Faire. I try to describe it to them, and words always fail me. I say it’s like Disney, a candy store, and the world’s greatest toy store all rolled together. Seeing the breadth of making, the art of making, the craft and the joy of making is what inspires me most. I have my students take photos and create photo albums because I know I won’t be able to see everything, but I can see it all through their eyes. —Lori
  • I was inspired by the creative spirit of all the presenters. I take pictures like crazy so that I can bring some ideas back to my classroom. Our end-of-the-year bubble day has taken on a whole new level of excitement, and the mentos and coke experiment works its way into science every year now, complete with the heightened drama of lab coats and safety goggles. My students experience an innovative spirit in my classroom. It’s an amazing transformation from “tell me what to do” to “let me explain what I did.” This year my students made balloon rockets to learn about air pressure. They designed, tested, redesigned, and finally competed in a rocket race using string tracks spanning the width of the classroom. Most recently my students made an ugly bunny doll. After a basic lesson on sewing, they were free to create with a variety of materials. Each ugly bunny was unique in size, shape, and features. Removing creative restrictions raises the engagement level as every student puts their personal mark on their project. — Susan
  • I found multiple aspects of Maker Faire to be thrilling, exciting and engaging. I love seeing and hearing how makers brought their ideas to life from conception construction revision all the way to the final product. We ordered our first 3D printer this year and had my students design a phone stand. I was inspired by the diversity of maker projects. Some projects had one part while others had many. Some people built software, hardware, invented a tool, car bike, or just a really cool fashion statement piece of clothing. I really like the breakout sessions. — Charles
  • I brought back many ideas for how to craft creative, open-ended, and hands-on activities into lessons for my class. Maker Faire is a celebration of science and creativity, and I appreciate getting to take the perspective of a learner and creator while attending the faire. It puts me in a mindset where I can think about how to create those kinds of experiences for my students during class. I was inspired by the food makers area — food has intrinsic engagement value, and I built a food science unit for my middle schoolers around some of the activities I saw at Maker Faire. My students made cheese, bread, butter, jam, soda, and sauerkraut from scratch, all while learning the science behind these foods. One of my students mentioned that she didn’t want to buy any of these at the store anymore now that she knows how to make better versions herself! — Monica
  • I was inspired by the many people who mentioned THEY were inspired by some kooky crazy teacher or parent or friend who just loved the process of making that got them interested in what they do now, whether it was metal work and robotics or just cooking and knitting. Just showing how much you LOVE doing something in front of someone else is truly an inspiring experience I want to create for my students. — Sarah
  • I became a lot more open to the variety of making that is possible — it is not just about robots and 3D printers, but also includes building, graphic design, cooking, arts and crafts. The eclectic mixture of what is making was evident from walking around, and really helped to broaden my own ideas for how making can reach a lot of different people and interests. I was also brought back a hope that some of the more expensive tools could be had, with a little creativity. I spoke with teachers about fundraising, sales reps about discounts for schools, and individual vendors about their new products that were half the cost of last year’s version. Simply put — we could do it on our budget. I was inspired by the passionate and energetic students and teachers that stood and talked with me, and hundreds of other strangers, for hours on end about their projects. I was also inspired by the creativity and diversity of ideas I saw — making can be very flexible and individual. I was also inspired by the “not yet finished” aspect of all the makers. This was a process that was ongoing, and I could be a part of it. It was hard not to think about all the times I had an idea, but just hadn’t followed through on it. Here were hundreds of people that had followed through — some with spectacular success, others with spectacular failure — but all having a blast in the process. —Daniel
  • I brought back a sense of letting kids explore their world and make up questions that can be answered with new research or experimentation. I was inspired by the people who allowed kids to use tools that I had previously deemed out of their age range. I have been pleasantly surprised by how well they can do with supervision. — Jeff
  • Let’s just put it this way, I never like to leave Sunday afternoon. Lately, I have been loving the robotics and the crafts. I am inspired that I can learn so much and I don’t have to fill in bubbles with #2 pencils. — Susie
  • Take the step to make something, use a tool in the classroom and you will see an amazing amount of students shine in unique ways that you never would have imagined. I had a boy who was very tough, self conscious completely get absorbed into a sewing project where we made messenger bags and created circuits to illustrate a genetics concept. This boy became the teachers aide of this project, he was so taken with using the machine and creating something that he could use for his sporting clothes. — Maggie
  • The creativity. There is something for everyone. My girls were afraid they were going to be bored and they had just as much fun as the boys! The discussion in class after was very eye-opening for me as a teacher on what they really remembered and wanted to try and do. Wood is no longer offered in high school! Metals either! Kids need hands-on learning that is outside the box! Like the math that goes with the Mousetrap. Or the electricity with the coil. I turn into A BIG KID EVERY YEAR I GO! PS I have taken over 200 pictures every year I have gone! I keep them in the classroom for the kids to look at. I use them for writing prompts. — Audrey
  • The variety of creations at the Maker Faire continues to amaze and inspire me. When I describe the faire to people who have never attended or heard of making, I typically tell them that it involves everything from computer programming, to welding, to 3D printing, and steampunk. I even saw an old Chinese man who did not speak English demonstrating how to make noodles by hand. That was one of the most fascinating and inspiring things I’ve seen. I love the fact that the phrase making does not limit itself in any way. There are artists, scientists, crafts people, etc. It is all about being creative and freedom to take risks and express yourself in a supportive environment. I can’t wait for this year’s faire. — Kevin
  • I went to Maker Faire last year and had no idea how powerfully the experience would impact my teaching and community outreach efforts. I was able to connect with some amazing educators, makers, artists. I have used making projects to bring S.T.E.A.M. to my schools and collaborate with my colleagues which creates an amazing experience for students, families, and the community. — Dijanna
  • Maker Faire is my professional development for my middle school engineering classes. I run around the event looking for projects that would work well with my class. I find two days at the Maker Faire more helpful than any class I have taken. — Nate
  • After attending in 2011, I thought that the Faire would be exciting and inspiring to my high school physics students. So I offer them extra credit if they attend and make a short video or write a report about the science behind 3 separate exhibits. This has been very popular and quite a few of my students really get excited. — Scott
  • I brought back a much greater sense of adventure and possibility in learning! — Candace

A World of Possibilities

In a world that often seems so large, the priorities of the 21st century have a way of bringing us together, as innovators from every corner of the globe work to solve environmental challenges, clean water deficits, and more. After all, the language of science, mathematics, and engineering is universal.

The people at Level Up Village are fostering this global connectivity early by motivating and inspiring children from all over the globe to collaborate in solving real world problems. They’re using 3D printing and 3D design, two emerging tools of this digital age, to do it.

Today, I’m featuring a guest blog by Neesha N. Rahim, a founding partner at Level Up Village, to tell us more.

At Level Up Village, we believe that education is about teaching students globally how to think and how to collaborate with one another. But the challenges of reaching and teaching kids a world apart are as diverse as the continents on which they live.

In the US, our kids are growing up in a different world than we did. Today, information is easily available and opportunities for self-directed learning are becoming commonplace. The skills required to utilize all that the modern age offers are different than the ones we needed a generation ago. While we got away with rote memorization and great parroting skills, today’s students need critical and creative thinking skills. They have to learn to pull utility and innovation out of searchable, seemingly limitless amounts of information. And, in an age where solutions to the world’s most intractable problems are being solved by people collaborating all over the world, global connection and collaboration skills are imperative.

In the developing world, we have to start by changing kids’ views of education. There, we see students who don’t have reason to believe in the value of education. For our students in Rwanda, for example, after working hard to complete middle school, most boys end up having to go work in the mines. In a place like Haiti, when you spend your days following around a parent who is a trash picker, chances are you don’t dream much higher than being a maid in someone’s home. All these children have seen are the ramifications of poverty, so raising their sights is asking for faith in something unproven. We have to show them a different result is possible.

Students and teachers in our Global Inventor in Training class in Pakistan

Students and teachers in our Global Inventor in Training class in Pakistan

This is precisely where Level Up Village comes in with an audacious goal in mind: To change the narrative for both groups and empower them to lift up and inspire one another. We’re using 3D printing and engineering to do it, linking kids across the world to one another and empowering them to solve real-life problems together. We call our program Global Inventors in Training, an experiential learning environment in which students are paired up one to one across the world. They then learn about engineering, CAD, and 3D printing, and create lighting solutions together for partner students who don’t have steady access to electricity.

With help from 3D Systems, we offer a Cube 3D printer to educational groups and schools in the US as part of our eight-week after-school or in-school programs. (Contact us to learn more!) Even better, when US students take one of our classes, that class is given back to one of our global partners in Africa, South America, or South Asia. We provide a Cube to one of our global partner schools for every four new classes we launch in the US. We supply the teacher training, turnkey curriculum, global partner management, and technical support that educators need to help their students build deeply rooted 21st-century skills.

Why 3D printing? Because it feels like magic. Kids are drawn to it; it quickly captures and inspires the imagination. But it also teaches kids to fail forward. Working with 3D printing illustrates what’s possible, and it makes invention accessible. And the global collaboration we foster between kids in the US and the developing world gives everything a real-life context with real-life urgency.

We’re seeing surprising results in the most unlikely of places. In Pakistan, a country that is seemingly hurtling towards either revolution or another military take-over, we are working with Farah Kamal, who has been working with iEarn Pakistan to change the narrative for students in Pakistan for decades.

Global innovators show their creations next to the Cube 3D printer

Global innovators show their creations next to the Cube 3D printer

The day after a devastating attack on Pakistan’s biggest international airport, our teachers and students were scared for their lives, afraid to go out, enraged, and shaken. Yet they showed up to our class. Then they tweeted or shared status updates about what they’d printed on the Cube, and they made this video for their partner students at Rutgers Prep in NJ:

They focused on what they could do using 3D printing and engineering at a time when it felt naïve to hope. And given that it was the last class, they decided to carry that change maker mentality to their peers who didn’t get to take that class. Check out the Facebook page they launched that day.

I was fortunate to meet those students and teachers when I went to Pakistan over the spring. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces when I set up the Cube. Nor will I forget how those students, for whom illiteracy is commonplace in their communities, asked the most amazing questions. “Can a 3D printer print blood? How about water?”

Our US teachers and students are equally inspired by the students in Pakistan and around the world. They have learned cutting-edge technology skills, creative thinking, how to fail forward, and how to work with people in different walks of life.

With each new installation, be it in the US or abroad, I see how 3D printing and this collaborative engineering class have fundamentally changed the way our students think. The students have surpassed their own expectations. Looking at them, I know it’s only a matter of time until one of these young people does the impossible. It’s only a matter of time until one of them provides real answers to those whimsical questions and changes the narrative for our world.

Engaging the Reluctant Learner Through Making

I am a teacher. If you had walked into my classroom a few weeks ago, you may have thought you were witnessing some sort of student uprising. Students were dashing around the room, furniture was overturned, trash was littering the tables and floor, and paper wads were being launched from a large slingshot with surprising speed and accuracy. However, with further observation you would have noticed smiles of happiness on the faces of the students, and a look of loving pride on the face of the teacher. Again, that’s me, the teacher.

Let me explain. I’m a special education teacher for “at-risk” high school students. Some students have been tagged as being at-risk for dropping out, or running into major discipline problems that may interfere with earning credits for graduation. Some of my students have difficult home lives that make it challenging to attend school regularly, much less care about school when they do make it. Depression, anxiety, ADHD/ADD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and physical health challenges all find their way into my class. Each of my students is “at-risk” due to different circumstances, but on any given day you will find short fuses and explosive tempers sparking up in my classroom. All in all, I have some of the least academically engaged students in the school, and I love the challenge of tricking them into learning while also trying to teach them to love to learn (or at least sort of liking it … a little bit … sometimes … please kids).

So what was happening the day I let my students make a slingshot and turn the classroom into a scene of chaos? Why would I allow students with behavioral problems to make what could be considered a weapon? Well, basically, I had given my students an opportunity to make. It started off with me presenting a very simple idea, and like magic, my students embraced the opportunity.

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My class’ slingshot started with a student who was avoiding doing his work. He turned a chair over on a table, and stretched an exercise band across two of the legs. The band was loud and strong, and a pencil ended up being launched at a wall, splintering into many pieces. After destroying the pencil, the work-avoiding student looked at me, expecting my look of disapproval. He got it, but I also saw an opportunity to engage this student. “Here, check this out,” I said as I went to my computer to pull up the picture of something I saw at Maker Faire Bay Area. The slingshot in the display by the Community Science Workshop Network included a board as the base, two PVC pipes, a few rubber bands and a small plastic cup. “Let me go get some rubber bands and a cup. Maybe we can make something less dangerous.” Other students were now interested as they looked at the picture.

Making and playing happened for the next hour as we constructed two more chair slingshots, and in case you don’t already know, beautiful things can happen as you engage in a making adventure. For example, my students worked on social skills and teamwork (which are important lessons in my class). They shared their ideas with each other, and they all got along wonderfully – a rare occurrence – while working on their common goal of getting to launch paper wads at the wall. My students even accepted my basic rules and guidelines with no protesting. For instance, I asked that they not launch the slingshots toward anyone, and that they not launch anything that could chip the paint off the cinder block wall.

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My students also had an opportunity to learn about powering through frustration to finish a task. It’s all too common for my students to shut down and give up when things get difficult, but I watched as they thought on their feet and solved problems to make the slingshot work. One of my students was frustrated at the lack of accuracy of the slingshot, so he set off to improve on the design. We only had one plastic cup to work with, so he grabbed a soda can left behind by another student and went to work. He ended up making an impressive slingshot that became the showcase of the day.

With pride, my students brought it to show to another teacher and show it off to another class. One student even bragged about it on his Facebook status. I even snuck in some science terms like density and trajectory while my students experimented with different techniques of building and using the slingshots. Imagine where a physics teacher could have taken this lesson, but my focus was on social skills such as task completion, teamwork, and creative problem solving.

The school day ended with all of the day’s assignments complete, and the students even cleaned up the mess without me needing to ask. I’m fortunate enough to have the type of class where I can take advantage of impromptu opportunities and provide my students with making activities that allow them to learn without the academic structure required in most classrooms. In fact, my class is called Opportunities, and as I grow as a teacher I plan on continuing to incorporate making as one of the many opportunities provided in my class.

Maker Faire Educators Meetup 2014 Wrapup


After the Making Possibilities Workshop on Thursday, more than 200 educators descended on the grounds of Maker Faire in the throes of setup to enjoy our annual Educators Meetup. Folks from ShopBot, EEME, Circuit Stickers, Lighthouse Community Charter School, City X Project, Maker Camp, and others were on hand to talk about more ways to bring tools and making into schools and libraries.


We also had a few Educators’ Meetup exclusives: RAFT and Corinne Takara sharing Design Thinking and 3D Printing projects she’s led with kids. (By the way, check out what Corinne’s been doing with students in San Jose: in process and finished designs.)

And some surprise additions: a Rube Goldberg-based app called Rube Works, Super-Awesome Sylvia and her WaterColorBot, and Strawbees & Makerstation Creatables.


The event offered time and space to have making in education conversations with each other, and 40 educators explored Arduino for the first time in two very popular, two-hour Beginning Arduino Workshops, taught by Michael Shiloh and Judy Castro of Teach Me to Make. The Exploratory coached a couple dozen teachers in making e-textiles.

Sylvia Martinez and other speakers from the Making Possibilities Workshop were on hand to continue conversations started earlier in the day and make connections.

At the end of the day, everyone enjoyed a special, sneak preview tour of the Maker Faire grounds as led by our Maker-in-Chief, Sherry Huss.