Sal Khan, who has created thousands of videos to teach kids basic concepts on Kahn Academy, believes that a flipped classroom model using his video lectures at home liberates the classroom time for more value-added activities such as PBL, Project Based Learning. Sal designed a Summer School with STEM, Science Technology Engineering and Math, MakerSpace in Los Altos as a way to test out his theory.

One of the summer school MakerSpace challenge activities was to have each kid create a 3D rendering of Sierpinski’s Triangle which is a fractal or repeating pattern. Creating the designs by finding the center point of the triangles to draw smaller triangles inside them helped with the notion of scaling smaller. When students began assembling their 3D triangles with each other, kids had a better understanding of scalability going bigger.  

A MakerSpace can be defined as a place that provides a hands-on way for students to design, experiment and invent as they engage in science, engineering, and tinkering. School MakerSpaces provide a space and opportunity for students to explore their interests using high tech tools and low tech materials to develop creative hands-on and virtual projects.

Students have learned to consume technology with the swipe of a finger but MakerSpaces encourage students to construct and create. Think of a MakerSpace as a DIY for classes that inspire student-centered inquiry and allow them to use technology like 3D printers to invent.

Schools can start low-tech with design challenges like using spaghetti noodles and marshmallows to build the tallest tower. Convincing student teams that the locus of control for problem-solving is theirs can take some coaxing.

MakerSpaces draw on academic content from multiple disciplines to solve a real-world problem by inviting students to work with a team. Jamie Leben’s “MakerSpace: Make Community” TEDTalk emphasized that makers come for the tools but stay for the community because they’re curious about each other’s projects and find a lot in common with other inventors.  

Lots of storage is needed in a maker space. The space should be filled with fun and crazy items from which to select when building their prototypes.  Bins should be filled with some classic supplies such as popsicle sticks, Play-Doh, and Legos, pipe cleaners, and glue guns. The high tech options vary but often include computers for coding and CAD, a 3-D printer and servos.

Some supplies used to create are purchased while others are collected like recycled materials. Students have turned a discarded computer mouse into the body of a robot. They can then create a program and write code to get this robot through a maze using distance and angle calculations.

Students take apart broken items to draw scale models and reassemble parts to make the item work again or create something completely different from the disassembled parts by adding parts from other disassembled pieces.

MakerSpaces often have a cardboard corner. This recycled material comes in all sizes and is easy for kids to manipulate because they can cut, glue, and tape it to create shapes and thickness. The custodial staff needs to know that it’s not garbage but building material.

Some MakerSpaces are a room used by teachers to bring their classes to create while others hire a facilitator to throw out design challenges for classes and give them time, space and materials to conquer them.  Students are encouraged to prototype and revise using multiple iterations. Albert Einstein said, “Failure is success in progress.”

Teachers who take students into the MakerSpace often design activities to help the students take more of a role in their own learning. Students are encouraged to try new ideas, explore old materials in a new way, to ask questions and create unique answers to the problems they encounter. The goal is to get them to think deeply about problems.

While it looks like play, really rigorous thinking can go on when making. Some students program their own video games. Other students create electronic textiles by adding servos and Arduino to fabric and creating clothing items that light up. With an easy-to-use 3D CAD design tool called Tinkercad, students can quickly turn their idea into a CAD model for a 3D printer.

 MakerSpaces can be a learning center in the corner of a classroom, the entire school library, a storefront or a warehouse. The space is a gathering point for tools, projects, mentors, and expertise. In some models, students come voluntarily for the tools before or after school, because they enjoy the synergy of the maker community. In other models, adults form a coop and jointly buy big kid toys to share and use for innovating projects.


Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at

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