Makerspace Activities for In-Person, Hybrid, and Virtual Instruction

A student does makerspace activities from home. Exactly what school will look like in fall 2020 is still an unknown for many teachers out there, and planning for three very different scenarios is not going to be easy. Many of us were able to put together something on the fly to support our students in the spring of 2020, but how do we plan makerspace activities with the potential for multiple methods of teaching and learning this next school year?

When it came to maker education this past spring, I was terrified about how I was going to incorporate making activities when my students were at home. However, I was able to come up with some great approaches that really engaged students in the making process. I have done a lot of thinking about the different ways we might be delivering instruction next school year, and I want to share some ideas on how you can engage students in learning whether they are attending school in person, through a hybrid approach, or virtually.

In-Person Makerspace Activities 

One of the possible situations we face is having students back in the classroom with many new health and safety measures put in place. This approach will require students to keep their distance from one another as much as possible. This seems like it will make it impossible to offer fun, collaborative projects, but that is not the case. Even physically separated, students can still collaborate and create amazing things together.

For example, I plan on having students create a Rube Goldberg machine. Students can work on their own part of the machine separately and then come put their pieces together one at a time at the end to have a completed, collaborative project. Here’s an overview of the lesson:

  • To kick off the project and get students excited, show them a crazy, complex Rube Goldberg machine in action in OK Go’s music video “This Too Shall Pass.”
  • From there, students should brainstorm the simple act they want their own complex machine to complete. This project can be done as an entire class or in smaller groups of three to four. Students can use collaborative technology (Google Docs, Zoom, etc.) to communicate and share ideas to respect social distancing guidelines.
  • Students should use Google Drive and Classroom to share their designs and measurements.
  • Provide an assortment of individual supplies to each student so they can complete their portion of the build. Students can pick up the supplies they need one at a time or they can provide a list to the teacher and have the supplies delivered to them.
  • Once each student or group has completed their contraption, the machine will be created one group at a time. Each group will test their connection to make sure it sets off the next one. This will be repeated until the last group adds their part to the machine.
  • When the machine is complete, start the movement and test it to see if it works. Then discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and any modifications they might need to make.

This project allows for students to design, build, and collaborate while still maintaining social distancing in the classroom. They can spread out over a wider area and will have less of a need to share supplies. Another great aspect is that the students will all be creating their own unique parts of the machine, and that will allow them to use a wide variety of tools and materials. Social distancing or not, this is a cool project for any makerspace.

Hybrid Makerspace Activities 

It is very likely that many schools will take a hybrid approach to learning next year. Students will be in class one day and online the next, which means they will only be in the building two or three times a week. As a teacher, that seems like it could be a nightmare, but it really isn’t that bad, especially if you teach in a block scheduling format.

For making lessons, it will be important for students to focus on research and design while they are at home so they can get to work during in-person class time when they will have the materials. I have a pretty exciting lesson for students to work on in a hybrid situation: Students design obstacles for an obstacle course that students on the other days code a Sphero to navigate. Here’s how it would work:

  • Have students design and prototype an obstacle course for Sphero Bolt at home. If possible, have them take materials home from your makerspace to prototype.
  • Starting with your first smaller in-person class, have students create a large course with obstacles. Then, have the next group of in-person students do the same thing when they attend class.
  • When the obstacle courses are completed, each student or group should code a Sphero Bolt to navigate through the other group’s course. Each student could do the coding or they could work in smaller groups using collaborative tools that follow social distancing guidelines.

What I like about this approach is that it is still collaborative in a way. Like the Rube Goldberg machine, they are working together but apart. It allows students to work through the design process at home, engage with the tools in the space, and collaborate with their peers both physically and digitally. By leveraging the best of home and school learning, this project can really bring students together to create something fun. Here is an example of what it would look like.

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Online Maker Learning 

Depending on the course of COVID-19, students and teachers might be teaching and learning from home again. This is not the scenario anyone wants to see again, but it is important to be prepared for it. Asking students to make from home offers a unique challenge because there are issues of equity that need to be considered, as every student has access to a different set of materials. This was the challenge that I faced this past March, and I was finally able to get a handle on the solution by April.

I needed to make sure that the students were in charge of what they wanted to create. Instead of focusing on creating a specific product for an assignment, students were given the option to make things that were meaningful or interesting to them. This allowed them to look at their available materials at home and make decisions based on those supplies instead of struggling to find supplies that I mandated for projects. The students were asked to go through the same process for every project they created. Here are the directions I gave them:

  1. The project you choose can be a digital project or a physical project. Explore to see a wide variety of projects. They can be painting or drawing projects, sewing projects, Minecraft projects, gardening projects, baking projects, or anything that you can design and create!
  2. The project should be something new to you.
  3. You must sketch a design of your project before you start the build process.
    • Your sketch can be done on paper or digitally.
    • It must have measurements (measure twice!).
  4. Build a rough prototype whenever possible (it doesn’t have to be pretty, but it should give you an idea of what it will look like).
  5. Create the final project.
    • Take multiple pictures of the project.
    • In a few sentences explain what it is and why you wanted to build it.
    • In a few sentences, explain something you learned during the making of this project.
  6. Share this final project and your writing on the learning portal.

What was nice about this format is that it gave students the freedom to choose things that were interesting to them without struggling to find the right supplies in their house. When students have a say in what they get to make, they have more ownership of the project overall and more engagement. Here is a picture of a completed longboard a student made for class.

With Some Adaptations, Making Will Still Be Possible!

No matter what school looks like next year, it will be important to give students a chance to create and make some amazing things. If students are going to be stuck looking at a screen for long stretches of the year, anything that can drive engagement will be key. Give them some ownership of what they want to make and watch your engagement soar!


Nicholas Provenzano

Nicholas Provenzano

Technology Coordinator and Makerspace Director at University Liggett School in Michigan
Known as The Nerdy Teacher, Nicholas is the Technology Coordinator and Makerspace Director at University Liggett School in Michigan, and is also a prolific author, speaker and consultant. He writes on his website,,, and many other prominent educational websites. Nicholas has been featured on, Education Week, The New York Times, and other media outlets and is the author of the best-selling book, Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces. In 2013, he was awarded the Technology Teacher of the Year by MACUL and ISTE. He is also a Google Certified Innovator, Raspberry Pi Certified Educator and a TEDEd Innovative Educator. Nicholas is sharing plenty of nerdy things on the Ideas and Inspiration site, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @thenerdyteacher.