Getting Started

Part makerspace and part career readiness training, a Tech Center means community opportunities. How do you get one off the ground?

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You Can’t Buy a Makerspace, You Have to Make a Makerspace

Welcome to the Digital Harbor Foundation Blueprint website. Our goal is to help cities all over the country turn their underutilized spaces into community centers for exploration, innovation, entrepreneurship, and preparation for today’s fast-paced technology careers.

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You can use this site to figure out what tools, equipment, and furniture you might buy or build to create a youth tech center in your community. However, simply purchasing a bunch of materials and tools does not alone make a makerspace. To make a makerspace you also have to enable an environment where hands-on, creative learning can take place, and where youth feel empowered to take control of their own learning and progress. Add technical skills and career growth opportunities to the mix and you have a Tech Center.

The Digital Harbor Foundation can help you lay the groundwork for creating a hands-on makerspace or tech center right now, even if you don’t yet have a formal physical location for your learning space. The sample projects on this site can be used as activities or events that help get youth started “making” right away. In addition, we offer workshop training to educators that want to learn more about making, 3D printing, and electronics.

Starting Small

It can be overwhelming to figure out where to get started with integrating making into your youth-serving program, but there are 3 great first steps you can take to begin making and move on from there:

  1. Start where you are. 
  2. Use what you have. 
  3. Do what you can. 

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You can get started right now with just a few simple supplies, even before you have dedicated space for your learning center. With fairly limited resources you can put together a “Makerspace in a Box” or create a traveling “Pop-Up Makerspace” to use for pilot events and workshops. We suggest including general craft materials, office supplies, motors and gears, recycled/upcycled materials, LEDs, and/or electronic kits such as Makey Makey.

On the Projects Page of this site you can access three simple electronics projects with detailed step-by-step instructions. These projects only require simple materials that cost from $50-$130 per 25-student workshop.  You can also find lots of beginner project ideas at MakerShed, Instructables, Teach.com, and Adafruit. If you have a laptop available for youth to work with or for demos, then preinstall or bookmark free creative computer software such as Inkscape, Tinkercad, and Scratch for students to experiment with.

Starting small allows you room to grow, and the freedom to test out ideas and experiment with the types of activities that you ultimately want to create and the space that you ultimately want to build. As you are ready to begin trying new things and more complex projects, you can begin to increment up into more involved, challenging, or time-consuming projects.

Finding the Time

One question we are asked frequently by educators is “How do I find the time to build making into my program?” For all educators and program designers, this can be a big hurdle to overcome, but if you are committed to the cause, then you can find some time to fit it in.

DHF-EXPO_t2pvykStarting a program within a school curriculum is possible, but programs outside of school have fewer constraints on time, expectations, and structure. Beginning outside of school time permits you to experiment and be creative without the high-stakes impact on school day programs. Programs held after the school day are a great schedule fit for youth (and parents) who are looking for extracurricular activities to participate in. However, starting a before-school club could also be a great fit for your community.

There are also many ways to integrate maker programs within libraries, community centers, and rec centers. The key component to any makerspace activity, wherever you hold it, is to allow people to have:

  • the freedom to experiment;
  • to feel comfortable with failing; and
  • the opportunity to progress and iterate.

If you do want to build a maker program into your existing school day structure, our advice is to start small and build as you go. Try holding an Open Lunch, setting up technology/maker centers or stations, or offering maker activities in one your school’s activity periods. Exploratory learning can also take place in most classes, by incorporating maker activities into your existing curriculum, including in art, history, language arts, math, or science programs.

Finding the Space

A designated makerspace or tech center is a permanent space dedicated to making. This can be small, like a corner of a library, or it can be large, like a larger room or even an entire building.

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Your makerspace area probably won’t look like a standard classroom, since the work that youth will do there will be much more free-form. Consider ways to arrange tables and chairs that will facilitate the most collaboration between youth while working. Make the space fun and inviting, with lots of things that students can discover and work on independently; but at the same time, be sure to have clear rules for cleanup and accessible areas for storage. To allow your youth participants to iterate on their own projects, consider building decent-sized project storage into your space. For example, cubbies, bins, and shoeboxes allow kids to be able to come back to their work and build on what they did the days before.

When designing a makerspace, flexibility is key. Make your space as reconfigurable as possible. Your makerspace should reflect the growing and changing needs of the makers in your space. For example, it helps to have worktables, whiteboards, and tool carts with wheels so they can be moved to accommodate a variety of activities and projects. This site includes Construction Plans with step-by-step illustrated instructions for building three types of mobile workstations, as well as Equipment Reviews that can help you choose the right computers and technology for your space.

There is no “right” way to set up your makerspace. If you keep in mind that you are striving for progress, not perfection, you will feel much better about just jumping in and setting up some kind of space. The same principles that you are working to foster in your own youth participants also apply to your own progress while building a makerspace: be creative and experiment, feel free to change your mind when things aren’t working, and design for opportunities to iterate and grow.

Making and Educational Standards

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Makerspace projects and programs can also take place within formal school education. Now is a great time to start adding making to your curriculum, because making aligns really well with many of the academic standards that teachers are required to address. Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards, and the National Educational Technology Standards all encourage hands-on exploration and learning.

Need to convince your principal or superintendent? Here are some articles that you can reference:

Want more information? At the Digital Harbor Foundation we offer Educator Workshops to give educators the tools and knowledge they need to successfully integrate making into their own programs.

Digital Harbor Foundation Programs

To find out more about all of the things that we do at the Digital Harbor Foundation, check out the links below. You may find that some of our Baltimore programs would also be beneficial to start in your own community. Feel free to contact us for more information about any of our DHF programs.

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Books and links

There are many, many other online resources that can help you start or grow your own makerspace or Tech Center. Here are some links that can help you get started:

Printable Handouts

Download and print these handouts to help spread the word about the Digital Harbor Foundation Blueprint resources!

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Workshops