How to Start a Classroom Makerspace from Scratch

How to start a classroom makerspace from scratch : Want to build a mini classroom makerspace?  Here's some advice and supply recommendations to get you started.

In the 2021-2022 school year, I collaborated with our 6th grade science teacher to incorporate makerspace activities into her curriculum.  We decided on a hybrid approach where for some projects, students would come up to the library makerspace and for others, I would come down to the classroom.  So we decided to purchase supplies (using the science department budget) to create a mini classroom makerspace that would live in her room.  This post goes into detail about what we decided to purchase.

The caveat: This is what worked for our school and our environment.  That doesn’t mean it’s perfect for your school.  But I wanted to give an example of what it looks like to start a classroom makerspace from scratch.

(Post contains affiliate links.  If you make a purchase using them, I get a small commission that helps support running this blog.)

First step: What are your goals?

For myself and my science teacher, we knew that we wanted to create makerspace activities that would focus on collaboration in groups of students.  And we wanted students to get experience working through the design process to create a prototype.  So our materials focused primarily on creation activities and things that would be approachable for 6th graders.

As you think about what you want to stock your mini classroom makerspace with, make sure you already have a firm idea of what types of activities you plan to do.  Don’t just buy a bunch of stuff and plan later, or you’ll end up with things that don’t really fit with what you want to do.  I’m speaking for direct experience here.  It’s easy to get caught up in all the shiny new toys and buy things without a plan, but that usually leads to regret (and wasted money) further down the line.  When in doubt, start small and then build up as you see what resonates with students.  Or see if there are supplies you can borrow from the district to try out before you purchase them for your school.

Bonus: Check out this post for five questions to ask when planning a makerspace.

The Supplies

Cardboard and Recycled Materials

Our students LOVE projects focused on recycled materials!  They get incredibly creative and it’s amazing to see what they come up with.  Cardboard and recycled materials are free to source, so this supply list focuses on tools to help you build with them and store them.

  • Worx ZipSnip Cardboard Cutter – These are my all-time favorite cardboard cutters.  They look intimidating, but they’re easy and safe to use and make quick work of cutting up cardboard.  Set your safety standards with students from the get-go and you shouldn’t have a problem.  We bought six of these so we’d have at least one for every group of students.
  • Canary Cardboard Scissors – My other favorite cardboard cutting tool.  The Canary scissors are great for when you want to be able to be more precise with your cuts.  We purchased six of these.
  • Canary Cardboard Box Cutter – This is probably the most dangerous tool in terms of cutting fingers, so use with caution.  These cutters are great for interior cuts on cardboard and separating layers of cardboard.
  • Mini Hot Glue Guns & Sticks – We chose to get Surebonder Dual Temp Mini Hot Glue Guns, but other brands can be fine as well.  The main things to look for: a stand incorporated into the design, auto-shutoff, and adjustable temperatures.  I like corded glue guns because it keeps them in one area, but cordless are an option too.  Again, we bought six.
  • Packing tape and a tape gun (and/or table top dispenser)- Off brand tape tends to be more frustrating than useful here, so go with a known brand.
  • Akro-Mils 12-Gallon Plastic Storage Box – We bought two – one for storing cardboard and the other for storing recycled materials like toilet paper and paper towel tubes, egg cartons, plastic yogurt cups, etc.

LEGOs and K’nex

LEGOs and K’nex are two of my favorite tools for design and construction.   They’re incredibly versatile and reusable.  Consider holding supply drives asking for donations.  And order as much as you can afford – this is one area where we ended up purchasing more in the next budget year because we really didn’t have enough.

  • Assorted LEGOS – Search for “LEGO classic” and compare number of LEGOs to the price.  Buy as much as you can afford.  You can never have too many LEGOs.
  • Baseplates – Generic are fine.  We opted for 20 so we would have enough for three classes with five groups each, plus some extras.
  • Assorted K’nex – Again, look for the general K’nex sets that give you  more bang for your buck.  A search for “K’nex model building” gives more of the generic sets.
  • Storage – This REALLY depends on your space and could be a whole post in itself.  Will you need to store supplies in cabinets?  On a cart that can be rolled into a storage room?  In something that fits underneath a shelf or table?  We ended up going with stackable bins.  Check out this post for storage cart ideas and advice.
    • Check out this post as well for more ideas for organizing your classroom makerspace.

Strawbees

We have one of the older Strawbees classroom kits that was already in our library makerspace and we used these for several projects.  They are super fun to work with and pair excellently with recycled materials.

  • Strawbees STEAM School Kit (Demco) – This kit comes with its own organization and is the perfect size for a classroom makerspace.  Bear in mind that these are a consumable, so you will have to order resupplies as they run low.

Bonus: 3D Printing

We used printers we already had in the library makerspace, but if I was setting up a classroom makerspace and had the budget, I would purchase at least one 3D printer, and ideally three.  Below is my personal favorite:

  • Dremel 3D45 – We have one of these in our makerspace and it’s a work horse.  It’s easy to use, it can take off-brand filament (though it works best with Dremel filament).  It’s enclosed, so you don’t have to worry about curious hands touching hot things.  And it fits nicely on a counter top.  Not the cheapest out there, but still a pretty good deal for what you get. And Dremel’s customer service is fantastic when you run into the inevitable troubleshooting you’ll have to do with any 3D printer.

Final thoughts

Overall, we spend about $2,000 to start up our classroom makerspace (not counting the 3D printer, which we already had).  You can certainly spend more or less – this was just what we had available and what worked for our needs.  Our first year of collaborating was fantastic (more posts on the projects we did coming soon).  While I don’t think a classroom makerspace should ever be a replacement for a schoolwide makerspace in the library, I think that it can be a fantastic supplement and a way to increase engagement in creativity and design in your school.

Have you ever created a classroom makerspace?  What did you include?

Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library MakerspaceIf you liked this post, you’d probably also like my book, Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace .  Along with my co-authors Colleen Graves and Aaron Graves, we cover everything from getting started, building a maker culture and setting up the physical space of your makerspace to organizing global collaborations, partnering with maker experts and documenting learning with maker journals.  We go into detail about how to create design challenge prompts that will spur on creativity in your students.  The book includes grade-level specific sections for elementary and secondary that offer curriculum connected challenges and activities.

 

 

 

How to start a classroom makerspace from scratch : Want to build a mini classroom makerspace?  Here's some advice and supply recommendations to get you started.

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