Start making! – It’s easy
Making is new branch of the Do It Yourself approach, which uses new technology to enable people to make whatever they want. The flagship of movement is Make magazine and the Instructables website (https://www.instructables.com/). The seminal book of Sylvia L. Martinez and Gary Stager, Invent to Learn has shown that making can be applied to STEM teaching especially to teaching through an inquiry-based approach.
It is easy to think that making is something that requires some fancy equipment and special skills. Although making is usually connected to makerspaces and FabLabs which have big and intimidating machinery (3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines). However, nothing is farther from the truth: what you really need is your imagination, creativity and some cheap tools and materials to start with. Setting up a makerspace is really easy and does not require big investment. Of course, there is always room for improvement, and you develop with time. Here are some of the things you should consider getting if you think about applying the maker approach to your STEM classes.
This is the tool we use the most in our school makerspace, it’s extremely versatile and reliable. It is not hard to teach smaller kids to use it safely, but for them, you probably need supervision. It can be used to glue together almost any material, waterproof joints and even to make holes in plastic. Usually the school already has a couple for the arts and crafts classes so you do not need to buy them.
LEDs are really cheap, you can buy them by the hundreds on eBay or AliExpress. The only thing you have to teach your students is that the long leg connects to positive. As they are so cheap, it is not a problem if one or two is broken. A nice making activity if you use them with conductive and insulating dough to make sculptures with lights on it. Also you can make your own cereal box robot with the LEDs. To use them comfortably you will need the following item as well.
It does not explanation why this is important, you should get some for two AA or AAA batteries, and also one for 9V ones, the later can sometimes be handy when you need the extra power.
These can be of immense help in electronics based projects. You can make your circuits without any soldering which what you should prefer working with younger children or when making prototypes. As the heart and soul of making is building and improving prototypes, you will use these a lot.
Another very cheap a versatile tool. I use it to build circuits on paper. Much cheaper than conductive ink which is usually used for that. You can use copper tape to turn anything conductive.
Cheap but strong neodymium magnets can be used in a lot of ways and are always the favorites of students. Get some and use them for connecting parts, picking up things or just playing with them.
The microcontroller is a small computer with inputs and outputs which can run one program uploaded to it. The most popular is Arduino which is open source so you buy really cheap ones (4-5€). Programming the Arduino is not difficult but if you start you can use a block programing environment design for maker projects at https://maker.makecode.com. If your budget allows you can buy BBC micro:Bit microcontrollers, they are inexpensive, have some sensors and LEDS built in and there are a lot of educational projects for their use.
The breadboard is nice tool for electronics prototyping, you do not need soldering and can easily modify your design. A soldering kit is nice to have but not really safe for younger students (though you should get one with time), breadboards are easy to use and most of the projects never get to point where you would need a permanent, soldered circuit.
There is a plethora of devices you can use for your projects which does not cost more than a few euros. Servo motors are ideal for moving puppets, operating things while DC motors can move a vehicle. Optoresistors change their resistance to light, so you can build light gates, light sensors with them. Thermistors are sensitive to temperature. Potentiometers ca be dials, microswitches can detect if a box is open or closed, transistors are electronic switches and these are just some of the things you can buy very cheap.
Of course if you can have a 3D printer or a laser cutter do not say no, but you can see that starting a makerspace is not necessarily a costly affair. You can find ideas for educational maker projects at HackingSTEM (http://aka.ms/HackingSTEM) or at Instructables. Start making – it’s easy!
Author: Gergely Nadori
Tags: making, STEM, STEM education