Purchasing materials or acquiring donated items for your makerspace can be a daunting task, and it’s vital to match your purchases up with your goals. Your goals should guide your purchasing so that you don’t buy something that isn’t supported or needed.
Let’s go lo-tech first
I’m a big believer in lo-tech options first, and I agree that a 3d printer is not a must have for a makerspace. In fact, I tend to think like a public librarian when it comes to purchasing. Seriously, it’s like deciding between purchasing a paperback or hardcover version, should you purchase something that will be loved for a few years or should you invest in something that may be used twice a year and by two kids? For our kids, the lo-tech side of making, well, makes them happy. And it grows confidence in their skills of inventing and tinkering.
Think about Your Time Investment
So, I’m lucky that I walked into a thriving makerspace when the last librarian left, but I was also left with a few makerspace tools my kids haven’t used a lot this year. And it’s not because they haven’t tried, they did. They got it out, tinkered for the 30 minutes I see them and then promptly moved on to something less time-intensive like littleBits or Sphero. And that is ok. Many of our kids have moved on from code.org and are tinkering with learning JAVA, on their own, in the 6th grade. But they spent their time, on their projects, not on some ideas I thought they would like.
Makerspace Tools and things our kids love
Chibitronics Starter Kit- These circuit stickers were one of my first interactions with circuitry and they are awesome. The blending of everyday objects that light up, to me is an engaging and accessible with reated by Chibitronics founder Jie Qi’s
Makey Makey- Beyond the fact that JoyLabz products are amazing, these guys are nice. Really nice. And the versatility of their Makey Makey is why our kids love connecting the physical world to the internet, a Super-Mario game, or even a handmade Scratch game. It sparks the idea of inventing and tinkering in a way that is tangible and engaging. Who doesn’t love a banana piano? (I always put one out for Open House, and it is ALWAYS a hit with parents and younger siblings.)
Sphero – Our Spheros are used on a daily basis. I diversified our Sphero family this year to include Ollie (the much faster big-brother of Sphero), BB-8 and a SPRK. And the kids love them all. For our makerspace, the lure of BB-8 made him an instant favorite, although once you run him into a wall his head pops off which always scares the newbies. They are all programmable with apps such as Tickle and the new Lightning Lab by Sphero. Lightning Lab’s community is an excellent source for ideas for programing as well as lessons that are written especially for integrating Sphero into the classroom.
Lo-tech supplies- Duct Tape, Origami Paper, Loom Materials, Yarn, Lots of Scotch Tape.
How do I get this awesome stuff?
Purchasing materials through the district or using your budget isn’t the only way to buy makerspace tools and supplies. We’ve received grants from our district educational foundation and from Donors Choose. And despite what people think, writing grants isn’t that hard. Really. Putting together your goals for a program, writing it down, and then putting your plan into action is what we do already. So why not have some extra funds to pull from to fulfill your copper tape and duct tape dreams?
What if something breaks?
Also, what happens if something breaks? What kind of company are you buying from? How is their customer service? For instance, last year one of our Spheros, some how, magically developed a crack in it. I put up a picture on Twitter and BOOM, Sphero’s superb customer service department asked me to put in a ticket and in less than a few weeks we received an upgraded SPRK 2.0. Nice. This is the standard to which I know hold for each company that we spend money with, take care of me and I will buy lots of stuff from you and tell everyone about it.