How to Run Epic Makerspace Workshops
There are many different types of learning experiences that students can have in makerspaces. Open exploration is one of the most common, where students can tinker and try out different tools and materials with no agenda and little to no guidance. Students can also learn through design challenges, in which a group of students focuses on a common design prompt or theme for their project, with room for creative freedom.
Workshops are the most structured type of learning experience in makerspaces. Generally, workshops focus on building up students’ skill sets. There can certainly be a design challenge involved, but often the focus skews more practical than creative. Workshops usually focus on one particular tool or material, which is likely to be new to most students.
While there are some logistics and planning to setting up and running a workshop in your makerspace, the payoff can be well worth it. Maker workshops are an excellent way to teach new skills and tools to students in a group setting. This frees you up during open exploration and design challenges because you won’t have to constantly teach the same skill over and over again. By helping to build students’ maker skills through workshops, we are actually empowering them to be more creative in later projects.
Picking a Workshop Theme
Often, workshop themes tend to emerge naturally. Did you just receive a 3-D printer through a grant? Then host a TinkerCad workshop so that students can learn how to design their own 3-D objects. Did a parent just donate a new sewing machine? Host a hand-sewn stuffie workshop one week and then a sewing machine basics workshop the next week (notice how those two build on previous skills).
One important factor to consider in a workshop is whether or not the supplies will be consumable. You might want to run a workshop where students will get to take their projects home with them. This is what I did when I held a sewn circuit bracelet workshop with the STEMgirls club at Stewart Middle Magnet School. If this is the case, make sure to consider the additional costs of replenishing supplies in your budget. You might also have to limit the number of students. If the project is digital or if the supplies can be salvaged and reused, you can host more students and work on a tighter budget.
Also consider how many students you want to attend each workshop. Depending on the complexity and the safety of the workshop theme, your group size could be very small or very large. If you are looking at a larger workshop, consider enlisting some experienced students or adults to assist (more on this later).
Signing Up Students
Figure out what sign-up system will work best for you and your students. This might be a pen and paper sign-up sheet at the checkout desk, or it might be a Google Form that you post to your library blog or web page. Make sure to offer all the relevant information in the sign-up location:
- What date and time will the workshop be held? Will it be during lunch, after school or a different time?
- Will the workshop be offered more than once? (This is a great option if you have lots of interested students.)
- Are there any limits to who can sign up (i.e., grade level, girls-only workshop, previous experience required)?
The Importance of Guided Instruction
When the day of the workshop comes, be ready to offer some guided instruction to your students. You might have to demonstrate how to handle particular tasks multiple times. But try your best not to do all the work for them. In a makerspace, explicit instruction should be limited as much as possible. There may be specific tasks you have to directly teach, but once the students get going, try to focus more on guiding them in the right direction.
Bringing In Experts
You might not necessarily be able to perform the skills that your students want to learn. Or you may have a greater number of students interested in the workshop than you are able to accommodate yourself. Consider bringing in some outside experts to help with this. There might be a local public librarian you know who’s willing to come and teach your students how to solder (like Colleen Graves’s story in our book, Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace. Or you might have a parent who teaches sewing classes who’s happy to help your students (like at my sewn circuit bracelet workshop). There might even be some student experts in your school who can teach other students, which can make for a powerful learning experience for all involved.
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3 Workshop Ideas
Following are three different examples of workshops you could host in your makerspace. While I’ve provided some suggested grade levels, most of these can be adapted for any grade level. I’ve tried to focus on supplies that are easy and affordable to source. Of course, if you already have some awesome maker tools and technology, workshops based around them can be very effective (e.g., a Sphero coding workshop, littleBits workshop or soldering workshop).
1. T-shirt Deconstruction
Grades: Middle and High School
Supplies needed: T-shirt paint, fabric markers, fabric scissors, hand-sewing needles, thread, buttons, sewing machines (if available)
Skills learned: Basic alterations, working with fabric, hand-sewing and/or machine sewing
This is a super-fun workshop that teens and tweens will love. Review some books on T-shirt deconstruction for ideas (see suggestions below). At the start of the workshop, demonstrate to your students how to do several different types of deconstruction, and then let them loose. This workshop works best when students bring in their own T-shirts, but you could buy multi-packs of white T-shirts as well. This can also be done as a tie-dye workshop, which is messy but lots of fun.
- DIY T-Shirt Crafts: From Braided Bracelets to Floor Pillows, 50 Unexpected Ways to Recycle Your Old T-Shirts
- The Upcycled T-Shirt: 28 Easy-to-Make Projects That Save the Planet
- Generation T: 108 Ways to Transform a T-shirt
2. Paper Circuit Table Tents, Bookmarks and Greeting Cards
Grades: Upper Elementary, Middle and High School
Supplies needed: Cardstock, copper tape, coin batteries, small LEDs, binder clips
Skill learned: Creating circuits
Paper circuits are super-fun projects and a great way to learn how circuits work. This idea comes from Colleen and Aaron Graves’ amazing Big Book of Makerspace Projects. For the first time doing this project, you’ll want to either use a template from the book or create your own. Then, once students get the hang of things, they can draw their own. Using copper tape, coin batteries and LEDs, you’ll demonstrate to students how to create their own light-up circuit design on a table tent, bookmark or greeting card. Have at least one of each already finished so students can get an idea of what the projects will look like. Once they have the basics down, the paper circuit possibilities are endless.
3. Found Objects Paintings
Supplies needed: Washable acrylic paint in a variety of colors, thick paper (or canvases if you want to display them), a variety of unusual materials to paint with, such as feathers, string, felt, yarn, crumpled newspaper, bubble wrap, sponges, pipe cleaners, leaves and pine cones
Skill learned: How to work with unusual art mediums
This is a fun, art-focused workshop that’s great for younger and older students alike. You can provide a variety of unusual materials or ask students to bring in their own. Demonstrate to students how different objects can be used with paint to create different textures. This project can be a great way to create student-produced artwork to hang in the library.
Tip: Attach each object to the end of a clothespin if possible to provide a handle for dipping and painting.
For even more workshop ideas and more about creating a dynamic makerspace environment, be sure to check out the book I co-wrote with Colleen and Aaron Graves, Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace.