Farewell and Thank You from NWAIS Maker Labs Fellowship Team

As we reach the end of the 2014-2015 NWAIS Fellowship for Collaborative Innovation on Maker Labs, we would like to thank everyone who collaborated with us and supported us throughout the past year.  We feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to explore Maker Labs together and to share our learning with the entire NWAIS community.  

The Maker Labs Fellowship Team a the 1st NWAIS Maker Fest.   From left: Jeff Tillinghast (University Prep), Wing L. Mui (Overlake), Adrienne Gifford (Open Window School), Geneva Hinchliffe (Overlake), and Santosh Zachariah (Evergreen)

The Maker Labs Fellowship Team a the 1st NWAIS Maker Fest.  From left: Jeff Tillinghast (University Prep), Wing L. Mui (Overlake), Adrienne Gifford (Open Window School), Geneva Hinchliffe (Overlake), and Santosh Zachariah (Evergreen)

From meeting for the first time at the 2014 NWAIS area conference, to developing our project proposal, growing our collective expertise on Maker Labs through professional development, hosting our Maker Labs roundtable and Maker movie screening events, and many other engaging discussions, we have learned so much more by working together with the NWAIS community than we ever could have on our own.

By far the most rewarding (and fun!) part of our collaboration was organizing and executing the first NWAIS Maker Fest, where over 50 students (from kindergartens to high school seniors) from multiple NWAIS area schools came together to share their creativity and innovation with our wider community. 

Although our official project has come to an end, we hope that all of  you will continue to keep in touch with us.  The NWAIS Makerspace Listserv will remain active and you can join here.  

You can also find the Maker Labs Fellowship Team on Twitter: Adrienne Gifford (@adriennegifford), Wing L. Mui (@winglmui), Jeff Tillinghast (@jefftillinghast), Santosh Zachariah (@SantoshZach), Geneva Hinchliffe (@Lorien808).

We look forward to continuing the conversation around Maker Labs, and to exploring a new topic with the next NWAIS Fellowship for Collaborative Innovation team this upcoming year!

NWAIS Maker Fest Brings Student Makers Together

One of the hearts of the Maker Movement are events which bring makers together to show off projects, exchange ideas and skills, and demonstrate their creativity and innovation. While the Northwest has events open to the whole maker community, the NWAIS Maker Fellowship Team wanted to apply the energy and learning potential of these events directly to NWAIS students and teachers. On May 16, 2015, the team hosted the first NWAIS Maker Fest at University Prep in Seattle featuring projects from K-12 students at NWAIS member schools.

Student participants in the first NWAIS Maker Fest.

Student participants in the first NWAIS Maker Fest.

Students submitted projects in a wide range of categories, both made for school projects or in-class as well as outside hobbies or interests. While students had a teacher approve their application, the projects were student-designed and -constructed. As students stood with their projects or demonstrated them for the audience, they talked about the design process, their multiple attempts and revisions, and the myriad kinds of learning they experienced through their projects. Some, such as one student's Soccer practice wall, were the result of a personal need, interest or question. Discussing her project, this student described a challenge from her coach to get more "touches" in and practice her ball handling. In response, she built a short wall on wheels that she could move around to and set up whenever she had the opportunity to spend a few minutes on her ball handling. In another project, a group of students described researching and building a CNC router for their school club, following their interests in fabrication and design.

Some projects came directly from in-class work, but demonstrated a wide range of open-ended and creative approaches to a common prompt. One set of projects came from a class reading of "Danny, the Champion of the World." In the book, Danny concocts a plan to trap pheasants in a local competition. After reading the book, students were challenged to design and build their own pheasant traps. In pairs or trios, these students took the same starting challenge and each created their own unique traps and presented them. Talking with each team at the Maker Fest, attendees saw how each used their own ideas to create very different solutions.

One participating student explains her team's Pheasant Trap to an attendee.

One participating student explains her team's Pheasant Trap to an attendee.

Aside from the participating students, teachers and family members, many attendees were from other NWAIS-member schools who either had or were looking to develop their own Maker programs. As the audience circulated amongst the projects, teachers, heads and program directors discussed the various curricular and extracurricular programs developing with the school association and shared ideas and techniques. 

The first NWAIS Maker Fest provided over 50 students the opportunity to showcase their creativity and design skills to peers and the maker community at large. Based on conversations with participants and attendees, and in following with good making practice, the team looks forward to developing NWAIS Maker Fest 2.0 in 2016!

NWAIS MakerFest Preview

This coming Saturday (May 16), the NWAIS Makerspace Group will host the 1st NWAIS MakerFest at University Prep in Seattle. The NWAIS Makerfest is a festival to celebrate our students' maker projects and their maker mindset. It is an opportunity for K-12 students to showcase their creativity and work in a variety of categories, talk with like-minded peers, and both inspire and be inspired. This event will feature almost 40 student-designed projects from area independent schools in the areas of Arts/Crafts, Engineering, Food, Green/Sustainability, Music, Science, and Technology/Robotics. If you are interested in making in schools, either as a curricular or extra-curricular activity, this is a great chance to talk to students and teachers about how making and learning go hand-in-hand.

Here is just a sample of some of the projects that will be featured, along with the students' own description of their work:

"We made a Ferris wheel for Pom Poms with a Hummingbird kit and a program on Scratch. It is a Ferris wheel that spins, lights up, and plays music depending on how light the room is."

"Arcade fans can attest that a game feels much more exciting when playing with a joystick and colorful buttons. But dragging a classic, standing arcade game system into our homes is no easy feat considering the large size of most games. This project is a mini fully functional Arcade using a Raspberry Pi — a tiny computer that normally works with TVs or keyboards — and plays classic games with a proper joystick and buttons."

"I created a somewhat accurate 3D representation of an area in brooklyn, and then poured paint on it, Holton Rower style."

"My project was to design a hind leg prosthesis for a horse. I looked at how horses move, the anatomy of their legs, and why they would need a prosthetic. I also learned how human prosthesis are made and what they are made out of. This influenced how I designed my prosthesis. After I had made my design, I made a prototype out of wire mesh, fiberglass casting tape, and a thermoplastic called Worbla. Since this was my science project, I have a tri-fold presentation board with pictures and information about my prosthesis."

"A 3D printed prosthetic hand developed for people with amniotic band syndrome. Main components of the hand are 3D printed, pieced together with moldable plastic and cables."


"I will be playing my piece of music that I wrote myself for solo cello, and I will be playing it live."

"I love to bake creative desserts. I made wheat, egg and dairy free pac man and ghost cakes from scratch and placed them on a pac man board that I also made. I plan to share my paper blue prints of the board and my recipes for making the pac man, ghosts and pac man food. The hand-on activity will be eating the extra ghosts and pac man food (cake pops) I plan on making. I tried out a lot of frostings, cake mixes and, decoration ways and i believe this allergen free pac man is the best thing I could do."

"I built a skull inspired by the talking skull at the beginning of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland. My skull, however, responds in real time to an input by moving its jaw up or down. As of now, the input is currently only a button, but within the next week I hope to integrate a microphone so that the skull will move its jaw in response to what you say into the mic. I 3D printed the skull and used an Arduino board connected to a servo for the moving parts. In some sense, the skull could be considered interactive for attendees because it will respond to anyone who talks into the mic."

This event is free and open to the public from 9 AM to Noon in the U Prep Commons and Library (8000 25th Ave NE, Seattle, WA, 98115), and we invite everyone to see the projects and talk with students about their work. University  Prep is proud to host this event through our work in the NWAIS Fellowship for Collaborative Innovation, representing the teamwork of four Northwest independent schools (Open Window School, Overlake School, Evergreen School and University Prep) researching and developing making, tinkering and fabricating for students and teachers. For more information about the event, contact Jeff Tillinghast, jtillinghast@universityprep.org.

Near Space Satellites: A Science/Tech Collaborative Maker Project

Open Window School recently provided a year-long professional development experience on 21st century learning for all faculty.  After the training was complete, our school offered Summer Innovation Grants to teachers who wanted to collaborate and develop a new projects incorporating 21st century skills.  We (LeeAnn Stivers- 6th Grade Science Teacher & Adrienne Gifford - Innovation & Technology Lab Director) were awarded a grant which we used to develop this project.

Peep in (near) space!

Peep in (near) space!

Open Window School 6th graders embarked on quite an adventure recently, heading to where no Peep (at least that we are aware of) has been before! As a collaborative science and technology project, sixth graders worked through the scientific method and engineering design process to design, build, and program flight computers, sensors, and cameras that would be sent up during a high-altitude balloon launch in March.

Students began by studying the layers of the atmosphere, studying the characteristics including; air pressure, temperature, light spectrum, and weather conditions. They also began exploring the ways that balloon payloads survive the harsh and hostile conditions in a launch. Students worked in teams, each member in a defined role of Chief Scientist, Lead Engineer, Communications Director, or Manager as they began to formulate experimental questions and hypothesis, such as, “At what altitude does the ozone layer begin?” and “How do objects change shape/ size when they are at near-space altitudes?"

Students learned about electronics and soldering before building and assembling their flight computers and sensors (temperature, RH, photometers, etc.) themselves.   As students worked in teams to construct their flight computers, they explored electronic components, schematics, PCBs, and testing with multi-meters.  Students then applied their background knowledge in computer programming to program their flight computers, modified cameras, and sensors using BASIC in PICAXE Editor.

ISTE Standards for Students emphasized in this project include:

Creativity and innovation

  • Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products or processes
  • Identify trends and forecast possibilities

Communication and collaboration

  • Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media
  • Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats
  • Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems

Research and information fluency

  • Process data and report results

Critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making

  • Identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation
  • Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project
  • Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions

Digital citizenship

  • Exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity.

Technology operations and concepts

  • Understand and use technology systems
  • Troubleshoot system and applications
  • Transfer current knowledge to learning new technologies


Once teams reviewed conditions in the stratosphere, teams assembled their payloads and prepared for launch day. The launch took place in Ellensburg, WA at the end of March at sunrise on a clear day. Students gathered at the launch site to run through the pre-flight checklists, fill balloons, and release two balloons.  The balloons made it to 93,000 feet in altitude to near space, twice as high as a commercial jet! They traveled 101 mph in the jet stream and were tracked by GPS.  Each minute, the flight computer was programmed to fire the camera shutter as well as record data from each sensor.


The final step in the launch was the recovery. We tracked across cow pastures and through sage filled gullies to recover the balloons and their payloads. Following the launch, students disassembled the payload, retrieved then analyzed their data in Excel for a project report.  Check out this article featuring the project!

Student teams will share their data and results at the Open Window School STEM Day on May 21st!

Looking for more collaborative technology projects?  Check out the "Making" Our Community a Better Place: An 8th Grade Collaborative Maker Project to see how Technology Teacher Adrienne Gifford and Humanities teacher Corey Paulson implented a semester-long student-directed Tech/Humanities collaborative maker project!

"Making" Our Community a Better Place: An 8th Grade Collaborative Maker Project

Recently, Open Window School provided a year-long professional development experience on 21st century learning for all faculty.  After the training was complete, our school offered Summer Innovation Grants to teachers who wanted to collaborate and develop a new projects incorporating 21st century skills.  We (Corey Paulson - 8th Grade Humanities Teacher & Adrienne Gifford - Innovation & Technology Lab Director) were awarded a grant which we used to develop this project.

Students started off in Humanities class by brainstorming and researching to identify a need or a problem in our school or wider community that could be addressed by a maker project.  They identified how their invention will be distinct from existing products and how it will improve the world.  Additionally, students completed a feasibility study, researching which governmental agency or business they would need to talk to to in order to make their idea successful and discovering the finances involved in constructing the product.  They researched mission statements from successful companies and then wrote their own mission statement, which detailed the qualities of the product and how it would benefit the world.

In Technology class, student teams filled out and submitted electronic project proposals outlining their plan, research, needed materials, required expertise, and breakdown of tasks among group members.  

We were so excited to receive incredibly creative project proposals from students, including (but not limited to):

  • Cancer Detecting Device: Implantable Arduino device that monitors white blood cell count

  • Herb-in Urban: Compact, low-cost, and easy way to garden in urban areas

  • SAGA Awareness Project: Interactive art project incorporating e-textiles to promote the Student Sexuality and Gender Alliance

  • eyePhone: Phone-camera interface to help people with vision impairments use GPS more easily

  • Audio/Video Earrings: Earrings that record and store high quality video and audio to allow people to more easily record memories

  • SmartBox: Arduino bank device that helps children save money by regulating how much money they are able to spend

  • Modular RC Plane: remote-control airplane with interchangeable wings, propellers, tails, and wheels so children can learn about aerodynamics with experimentation

  • Heat-and-Cool: Small, portable, low-cost food heater and and cooler

  • Ergonomic Reading Desk: adjustable hands-free structure for the library

After each project was approved, we had student teams fill out our official school order forms for any needed materials that we don’t already have available in the Innovation & Technology Lab.  Each group was asked to keep their total cost in the neighborhood of $150 or less.

After materials were ordered, students commenced building their product in the Innovation & Technology lab.  This was also a great opportunity for parent volunteers to come and help out!

After each weekly work session in the Innovation & Technology Lab, students groups complete a blog post with a summary of their project progress (successes, challenges, and next steps) along with photos.  Approximately halfway through the process, student teams will present their progress to the class for group feedback.

Running concurrently with project construction in technology classes, is a research project in Humanities.  Each individual student will write a research paper that demonstrates their understanding of citizenship, the government, and how the Maker Movement can help democratize the economic and political processes.  They have guiding questions for their research paper: to what extent is involvement in Makerspaces changing industrialism in America? To what extent does the Maker movement support American values? How does my design improve the community?

student teams will presented their maker project to the school through a 3.75 minute (15 slides x 15 seconds each) TED-style talk that discusses their design thinking process, challenges, successes, and benefits of their invention.

Due to the fact that we teach different subject areas and do not have common class times with our students, we developed a timeline of what we accomplish in each Humanities and Tech class each week.

Our ultimate goal for this project is that students understand that they have the power to use their knowledge of technology, maker education, and American government to improve the world!   

ISTE Standards for Students emphasized in this project include:

Creativity and innovation

  • Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products or processes
  • Create original works as a means of personal or group expression

Communication and collaboration

  • Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media
  • Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats
  • Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems

Research and information fluency

  • Plan strategies to guide inquiry
  • Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.
  • Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific task
  • Process data and report results

Critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making

  • Identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation
  • Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project
  • Use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions

Digital citizenship

  • Exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity.
  • Demonstrate personal responsibility for lifelong learning

Technology operations and concepts

  • Understand and use technology systems
  • Select and use applications effectively and productively
  • Troubleshoot system and applications
  • Transfer current knowledge to learning new technologies

If you have any questions for Adrienne (Tech) or Corey (Humanities), please feel free to leave them in the comments below!

What Makes a Great Maker Fest

The 1st NWAIS Maker Fest is coming soon! While the May 1st application deadline is still almost two months away, it's a great time to start thinking about the kinds of projects or work that you might want to submit to this event. Because this is the first event of this kind for NWAIS, there are many questions about what makes a great Maker Fest project. We hope that these questions might help you get a better sense of what we hope to show at Maker Fest, and how you can tell the story of your project in a way that makes a great submission.

What is Maker Fest?

Maker Fest is an event for students to demonstrate creative work, skills or tools in a non-competitive environment. Students can show things that they made for a class, as part of an extra-curricular club, or just for fun. Categories at Maker Fest this year are:

  • Arts/Crafts
  • Engineering
  • Food
  • Green/Sustainability
  • Music
  • Science
  • Technology/Robotics
Seattle Mini Maker Faire, 2013. (Flickr: Majorbonnet)

Seattle Mini Maker Faire, 2013. (Flickr: Majorbonnet)

So it's like a Science Fair?

Science Fairs are showcases for students to demonstrate the scientific process, experiments and labs, and results and data. Events like Maker Fest showcase the creative process, and works of art or technology that students have made themselves (or the tools that they use). Some of the categories in Maker Fest have to do with science or technology, but they don't necessarily have to be technology-based projects. The heart of Maker Fest is in creating something unique and personal.

So it's like an Art Gallery?

Art Galleries allow artists to demonstrate their work, but aside from special events, you don't often get to talk to the artist when you see his or her work at the gallery. Maker Fest is about conversation, learning and demonstration--students will share with attendees how they made their projects, talk about the successes or failures along the way, and exchange ideas about their process.

What do you mean by "tool or skill?" What If I don't have a "product" to show?

Students can demonstrate skills or tools that are used to make or create as well. If you're interested in demonstrating a process rather than a product, that's fine, and our attendees will be able to learn from the demonstrations of how to make as well as what people made.

Are there examples we can look at?

There are lots of examples of Maker-type projects to use for inspiration. Look at the Seattle Mini Maker Faire or other Maker Faires as examples of the wide range of creative projects that can come out of our area. Make Magazine is a great resource with tutorials and examples, as are sites like Thingiverse, DIY and Instructables. The important thing to remember is that the most compelling projects are the ones that are unique and have your special spin on them-- don't just complete a tutorial on DIY and submit it, because you won't have much to say about your creative process. Use those guides as ideas of what's possible, and then ask yourself-- "What could I do like that?"

Why does a teacher have to sign off on it?

The application asks for a teacher contact so that our organizing group can a) have a good school contact if needed, and b) make sure that all students are connected to NWAIS schools. Teachers have to be willing to be a point-of-contact for students to get ready for the event, but are not required to be involved in making the project at all. It's great if teachers can be support resources if a student gets stuck, but sometimes that's as simple as picking up the phone to someone else in the area who's more knowledgeable in that field.

Would some class project be a good maker fest project?

Two good questions to ask about a class project: first, did the student make a real product in one of the categories above? For example, is the project a presentation about a dam (probably not a great project)? Or is the project a 3D-printed model of a dam? A virtual walkthrough? A CAD design for a new dam layout (all great products to be able to demonstrate)?

Second, who did all of the designing and research? Was it a student-designed piece, or teacher-designed? Did students own the process, or was it teacher-driven (with or without teacher guidance)?

What about my robotics team?

Competitive robotics programs, engineering teams, and hackathons are great ways to tackle real engineering, science and technology challenges. Sometimes these projects are also great examples of the creative process and are unique expressions of the people who made them, and they can be great Maker Fest projects. Sometimes these projects aren't great fits for events like Maker Fest, though, when the teams or students can't talk about the processes of exploration, design and creativity that went into them. Think about it like a bake sale-- we want to see the widest range of interesting, creative foods available-- not necessarily try and judge who made the best chocolate chip cookies.

I'm still not sure I get it...

Not a problem. Join the NWAIS Maker Spaces listserv and ask questions there. The organization committee follows that listserv and will discuss any questions that come up. You can also submit an application anyways-- they're free to submit-- and if the committee has a question about the appropriateness of your project, we'll get in touch and ask for some more detail. And if you don't have a project to submit this year, come attend the Maker Fest anyways and see the range of projects on display. Hopefully, you'll learn from the students and projects there and be ready to submit your own next year!

Makerspace Gallery from NAIS

School makerspaces was one of the big topics from the NAIS Annual Conference this past weekend. As part of preparing for the conference, the NAIS Annual Conference Online Community compiled a gallery of makers from NAIS member schools across the country. Not only are there photographs of the spaces but also detailed descriptions of how each space is used and how they tie into individual school programs, making this gallery a great resource for schools that are gearing up to start a makerspace.

If you have a makerspace at your school and would like get it added to the NAIS gallery, you can do that by following the instructions here.

Project-Based Learning Meets Maker

As you’ve read in our previous posts, the MakerEd movement is built on a philosophy that students learn by doing. Teachers are letting their students get their hands dirty (literally and figuratively) through exploratory and discovery based activities as well as giving them the tools and technical skills to make their designs come to life. So what happens when the MakerEd philosophy collides with the world of standards-based assessment?

One answer: Project-Based Learning (PBL).

The Buck Institute for Education (bie.org) has become the go-to resource for those of us interested in PBL. Their Essentials Checklist highlights the elements of a well-designed project, many of which are aligned with the MakerEd philosophy such as in-depth student inquiry, developing 21st-century skills, and an iterative design process. The element of PBL that may be missing from some maker projects is the direct link to content standards.

The design of a PBL unit acknowledges that the end product is only one part of the process. In Project-Based Assessment, for example, students are taught content standards per usual, and instead of having a test or quiz, they demonstrate their knowledge and skills through a more creative and individualized end product. This model does provide an opportunity for a Maker style project. However, the reason I believe Project-Based Learning may be a better fit is that PBL brings together the content standards with the design process - the Maker project becomes the vehicle by which students learn the content. Thus, it provides more opportunity for learning that is authentic and student-driven while addressing specific content standards. Most importantly for a healthy Maker environment, PBL is also driven by student inquiry.

A well designed PBL unit will have inherent structures to insure students are meeting your expectations in terms of content standards: design logs, tasks which require the use of specific skills or knowledge, benchmark assessments. However, that does not mean the death of student creativity. PBL begins with an open-ended, essential question which might be phrased as a problem that needs solving or a big idea that is open for debate. For example, a biology project could be guided by the question “is our drinking water safe to drink?” From there, students generate unique solutions to the question. In the process of experimentation and developing a method of answering the question, students will learn new content and skills while engaging in the creativity of designing and making.

Using “projects” to assess student learning used to mean asking students to digest rote knowledge onto posters, dioramas, or tri-fold brochures. However, the times have changed. With access to more efficient and powerful tools and technology, students can generate much more robust products. Developing 21st century skills is a worthy goal in teaching and the MakerEd philosophy is a great way to do just that. When it really comes down to it, what the future makers of the world will need is creativity and a willingness to tinker until they find what works.

Sources for inspiration:




Screening and Discussion of Maker, the Documentary

The NWAIS Makerspace fellowship team will be hosting a screening and discussion of Maker, a documentary of the maker movement at The Overlake School on Thursday, March 5th at 6PM. This is a free event, and there will be pizza (which is also free)! This event is funded by the NWAIS Fellowship for Collaborative Innovation and is open to all faculty and staff from NWAIS member schools.

To RSVP, please fill out this form: http://goo.gl/forms/yfOfyMFKn7

We ask that all attendees RSVP so we can make sure that we have enough pizza and parking spaces for everyone.

What is Maker?

"Maker" is a feature documentary looking into the maker movement in America reforming the economy with a new wave of Do-It-Yourself and Do-It-Together. Breaking the hobbyist movement stereotype, "Maker" delves deep into this ecosystem of design and manufacturing in the Internet era.

For more information on the film and its trailer, visit http://makerthemovie.com/

Free Pizza?

Free pizza! Please RSVP via the link above to we can make sure that there's enough pizza for everyone and that all your dietary needs are met. Gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan options are available.

Where/When is the Screening?

The screening will be held at The Overlake School on Thurs 3/5. Pizza will be served at 6PM, with the screening starting at 6:30PM, with discussion to follow after the 65 minute screening.

The Overlake School is located at 20301 NE 108th Street, Redmond, WA 98053. The screening will take place in Discovery Hall in the Math/Science Building (building 1 on the campus map).

Overlake Campus Map: https://www.overlake.org/sites/default/files/documents/guides/CampusMap.pdf
More Information and Directions: https://www.overlake.org/about#campus


Driving: You can park in the lots labelled Visitor Parking, Staff Parking, and Senior Parking on the campus map. No permits or placards are necessary for parking. Need a carpool partner? Try the NWAIS Makerspace Mailing List!

Public Transportation: Overlake is not easily accessible on public transit. We can make limited pick ups and drop offs at the Redmond Transit Center (where many buses, including the 545 to/from downtown Seattle) before and after the event. If you would like to be picked up at the Redmond Transit Center, please let us know on your RSVP form and e-mail Wing at wmui@overlake.org to work out the logistics.

School Makerspaces: Why is it a good idea?

As educators, one question that we must ask ourselves whenever we encounter a new form of technology or teaching is “why?”. Why should teachers incorporate making into the classroom? Why MakerEd and not one of the many other ways of engaging students? Why should a school devote resources into building a new project? And most importantly: why is creating a makerspace right for our school? Before a school chooses to pursue maker activities---anywhere from funding a small, mobile, makercart to building a state-of-the-art makerspace---these are questions that must be answered. In this blog post, I hope to provide some resources to answer at least some of those questions.

Makerspaces are Messy

In 2013, Audrey Watters gave a talk at the ELI Annual Conference making a case for makerspaces on college campuses. There are many great ideas in her talk, one of which is that makerspaces are different from what we generally think of as “ed tech”. Many recent innovations in education technology aim to streamline education and make it more efficient and scalable. Makerspaces, on the other hand, are messy. They are not scalable like a video lecture and require much more attention than an adaptive assessment system. But, in Watters’ words, they let students learn by doing, and not clicking. Making in a makerspace is like playing in the dirt. In independent schools where students are in small classes and receive personal attention from teachers, we don’t necessarily need to streamline education. However, we are looking for ways for students to learn to solve problems, to drive their own learning, and to create technology instead of just consuming technology. A well-run makerspace, Watters argues, would allow all of that to happen. As so much of education goes online, we need to focus on how independent schools can do something different with face-to-face environments that cannot be easily replicated online.

Makerspaces are Communities

In a previous blog post, Santosh explored what a makerspace and what the maker movement are. One of the important points he made was that makerspaces are not just collections of tools, but also places to foster communities. From a recent study from Intel, a significant percentage (over 50% of women and 25% of men) of makers engage in making activities because they want to contribute to their communities through teaching or through their products. Schools such as University Prep in Seattle have makerspaces that are open to students outside of class time and have found that students use the space not only for making, but for sharing their project ideas and teaching and learning from each other. Many of our students are already makers---from the Intel study, 1 in 4 youth in the US has made things with technology in the past year---and by building a makerspace we can pull the individual, creative energy together.

Makerspaces are Equalizers

The Intel study suggests that girls who engage in maker activities are more likely to develop a strong interest in computer science and engineering. This is because “the playful and creative nature of making provides an avenue for people to engage in engineering and scientific problems that have personal meaning for them”. Public libraries across the country are starting makerspaces to provide access to both modern, powerful creation tools and safe spaces for makers to learn and explore for patrons, especially those who are economically disadvantaged or in underrepresented groups. By creating a makerspace and fostering a maker culture in which everyone is encouraged to make use of the space, regardless of area of interest or skill level, a school can provide all its students access to this engaging and effective avenue into science, engineering, and computer science. (As a side note, resources for library makerspaces, such as the ALA TechSource Blog, are often also very applicable for school makerspaces.)

Going Deeper

In this blog post I’ve outlined three big picture ideas, but I’ve only hinted at some of the research that have been done on how makerspaces can benefit students. That’s because two other people have already compiled much of that research. In chapter 12 of Invent to Learn, (available for free via Scribd) Martinez and Stager provide a great bibliography of research involving makerspaces and education in as well as some guidance on how to convince others at your school that building a makerspace may be a good idea. It’s a good read, and covers topics ranging from why it may be harder to sell a makerspace to students than teachers to how you should answer questions like “what if kids 3D print inappropriate things?”.

Do you have any experiences with convincing coworkers or administrators at your school that a makerspace is a good idea? Do you know of a good resource that I didn’t mention here? Please join the discussion in the comments or on the mailing list!


Light-Up Bracelets: After-School Workshop

Makerspaces are meant to support independent creative work, but many offer guided workshops as ways to develop skills or familiarity with tools, or to invite new makers into the space. At University Prep, we're planning a series of after-school workshops around some of the different tools and types of work available in our "Sandbox," designed to introduce the space and its capacities to our students. Last week, we held a pair of workshops (one each for Upper School and Middle School) guiding students through making light-up felt bracelets.

This workshop was a collaboration between librarian Leah Griffin, Computer Science teacher Emma Anderson and Director of Academic Tech Jeff Tillinghast. Together, this group has been looking for ways to increase student participation in our makerspace beyond "the usual suspects"-- the existing core of students who are familiar with the space and work in it. One of the thoughts was that by offering specific, goal-/project-oriented workshops, students would be able to clearly see what they could do in the space as a step towards them creating their own projects. These basic sewn circuits were good introductions to some of the basic ingredients of our electronics kits, as well as to the concepts of building electronics such as polarity and circuit design.

Because of a number of model bracelets at the center of the room, and a written handout (available on the Lesson Plans and Resources page) available to all the students, the kids were able to work largely independently while Leah, Emma and Jeff were able to "float" and support students when individual help was needed. There was also a lot of peer sharing and collaboration happening as students talked with their neighbors.

Students chose from a variety of felt patterns and colors, as well as a range of LED colors. Using the coin cell batteries, bracelets could support up to three LED's (we used 3mm LED's). As students worked, they ended up with a wide range of designs. The one-hour workshop was a little too short for many students, though, and there were some "mostly finished" projects at the end of the time.  We put them on our "work in process" shelf so that students can return and finish them another time.

Makerspace Tour - Open Window School

Greetings, makers!  Over the past couple of years, I’ve enjoyed touring many of you through the Open Window School Innovation & Technology Lab in Bellevue, WA.  In this post, I’d like to offer a little virtual tour for those who may not have the chance to visit in person.

Our Innovation & Technology Lab has been a work in progress for 4 years with additions and changes happening organically as we learn more about how students utilize the space.

The back part of the room houses a bank of iMac desktop computers, a whiteboard panel, a large-format color printer, our 3D printer station, and our sewing station.


At our 3D printing station, we have two Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation 3D printers set up with dedicated PC desktops so students can have full control over the 3D printing process.  We also use the station for our flight simulator software and practice (which is why you see some radio transmitters sitting around).  At our sewing station, we have 3 basic sewing machines, a pegboard for storage, and an ironing set.


The front part of the room has our green screen/digital film making station, soldering station, robotics station, as well as a Smartboard, magnetic whiteboard wall panels, anti-static tile floor, rolling storage bins for student projects, overhead power drops and flip-top tables on wheels.

One of our big goals was to put as many things on wheels as possible.  This way, the room can be easily reconfigured to suit a wide variety of projects.

One of the questions I hear most from visitors is how I manage storage of supplies, equipment, and student projects.  This has been a labor of love over the past few years, but I have a system now that is working out pretty well.  

Student projects are stored in the blue, red, and yellow rolling bins that you can see in some of the previous photos.  For equipment and supplies, I have a wall of cabinets.  Over the summer, we replaced the shelving in a few of the cabinets with a plastic bin system.

The cabinet on the left has headphones, chargers, mice, photography/videography equipment, and art/craft supplies.  The cabinet on the right has electronic components, tools, and soft circuit sewing supplies.  This system keeps our supplies somewhat organized and it makes it easy for students to find what they need for various projects.  

I hope you enjoyed this little virtual tour!  If you are interested in an in-person tour, feel free to contact me (Adrienne), and if you have any questions you can post them in the comments below.  Happy making!


What exactly is a K-12 Makerspace?

a K-12 Makerspace is that conceptual space within a school’s collective thinking (possibly expressed within a classroom, building, curriculum, or schedule) where the values of the maker culture are supported and where constructivist experiences are intentionally facilitated.


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NWAIS Fall Educators Conference Maker Play Space

At this year's Fall Educators Conference, Brad Baugher of host school Oregon Episcopal School organized a Maker Play Space demonstrating technologies and projects from 4 NWAIS-member schools. The event featured a great exchange of ideas and opportunity for teachers to explore and discover. Brad contributed this write-up of the event.

I am the Director of Educational Technology at OES. I’ve been here since 1980 and have been working with integrating technology in the classroom since the early 1990’s. The boilerplate description is: to help guide the evolution of the school’s academic technology philosophy and strategy, plan for and implement educational technology initiatives, facilitate faculty member and student inquiry into uses of technology to support teaching and learning, and support the integration of information, communication, and technology literacy standards within the instructional program.

I’m convinced that we are at a crossroads moment when Seymour Papert's vision of "constructionist learning" can finally be realized through the Maker movement in all of it’s facets, bringing students to the functional understanding that they really are the architects of their own learning. (I’ll step down from the soapbox now ;>)

This year’s Fall Educators Conference proved to be the perfect venue for showing teachers and administrators why people are so excited about designing, making, and engineering  and what it means for student learning. Everyone seems to have heard about the Maker movement, but without seeing it in action folks are really left to their own devices when trying to sort out how and why it might have such an impact in schools. Since the 2014 conference theme was Create Play Wonder, we created a Maker Play Space to showcase some of the more well-known making and tinkering activities that are available.

Setting up “stations” at tables and work areas in an open space allowed participants to see, learn about and play with the materials and devices that were distributed around the room. Teachers and student helpers staffed the stations to explain the activity and encourage attendees to give it a try themselves. This open-ended, hands-on approach was just the ticket to create the atmosphere of creative involvement we were looking for.

While the number of interested and engaged visitors to the Play Space was impressive, one of the best things about the session was that it represented a collaborative effort with folks from five different NWAIS schools jumping in to either set up activity stations of their own or to volunteer to help staff an existing station. Many conference participants commented on the fact that different schools were working together to make the play space such a success. Many thanks to all who helped and I hope we will be able to collaborate like this again on future projects.

Here’s a rundown of the stations that were available during the play time:

Student projects - Various NWAIS Schools

Some of the most promising entrepreneurial and creative kids seem to be drawn to the Maker arena and we were able to feature a couple of projects that really illustrate that fact. One student was incensed at the price of filament for 3D printing so he developed a system for making his own. Another project involved creation of a pair of adaptive glasses that includes the ability for the wearer to make adjustments for magnification, brightness, and contrast. Conference attendees loved talking with students about bringing their ideas to life.

Little Bits - Colin Monaghan, The Evergreen School

Little Bits’ mission “to put the power of electronics in the hands of everyone” has led them to create simple, functional parts that connect magnetically to form circuitry that allows people to easily build and quickly prototype using switches, sensors, motors and other output devices. This let conference visitors have fun learning and playing with a little or no technical knowledge and experience.

Tinker Camp - Rob van Nood, The Catlin Gabel School

Rob van Nood’s cardboard design and build area proved to be a very popular activity. Rob is the EdTech coordinator at The Catlin Gabel and also runs a summer program that encourages kids to create their own unique solutions problems. Using sheets of corrugated cardboard appropriate tools and supplies he allowed visitorsto build creative artifacts they could take with them. His battery powered cardboard cutter and electric scissors were quite a hit.

Makey-Makey - Debra Thomas, Oregon Episcopal School

One of the most surprising stations for visitors was the computer interface kit called Makey-Makey. With this simple to use computer interface kit, people can build touch-pad activities that are fun to create and play. One set-up demonstrated a “banana piano”, which uses a Scratch program, a Makey-Makey kit and some bananas as keys that generate sound when they are touched. Another activity used play-doh and Makey-Makey to build game controller to play Pac-Man.

Design Challenges - Brad Baugher, Oregon Episcopal School

At this station participants were challenged to devise a way to get a ping-pong ball from the top of a strand of fishing line down a slope to the bottom in exactly four seconds. They were given other materials and tools (scissors, tape, straws, dixie cups, metal washers, etc) that they could use for their solution the challenge. The idea was to present a fun and engaging problem that could be approached in a multitude of ways and give visitors the opportunity to test and refine their theories.

Lego Wall and Stop Motion Animation - Anglea Hancock, Oregon Episcopal School

We at OES wanted to build a Lego Wall for a few years now and this conference gave us the push we needed to go ahead with the project. Angela Hancock, the Lower School EdTech coordinator,  glued green lego sheets to a 4 by 8 foot sheet of particle board  which acted as a vertical building surface. Using lego bricks and a stop-motion app on an iPad mini, visitors had the opportunity to see how students could build their their own stories and bring them to life.

Arduinos & Wearable Computing - Debra Thomas, Oregon Episcopal School

EdTech teacher Debra Thomas showed visitors that circuitry and electronics can be used to design art projects and projects that can be worn on the body. At first it sounds more complicated than it really is, but with a little cloth or felt, some conductive thread, LEDs, metal snaps, a coin battery and a switch its amazing what a person can invent. Throw in a Lily Pad Arduino kit and you really have some flexibility. A second station with a more general Arduino demonstration was available for visitors to check out how a programmable micro-controller interface works.

Raspberry Pi - Ed Cecere, Oregon Episcopal School

The smallest, cheapest computer around is the Raspberry Pi. Ed Cecere, Upper School EdTech coordinator at OES put together a demonstration that showed off just a few of its features. Conference goers had a chance to see how this simple, yet powerful system allows students to attach peripherals, run programs and use the internet all from a system that costs about $40 and fits in the palm of a hand.

Digital & Paper Book-making - Angela Hancock, Oregon Episcopal School

Angela Hancock also led participants through a project that has younger students work together to create digital books that can then be turned into traditional paper books, complete with sewn bindings.

Coding with the iPad - Angela Heath, Annie Wright Schools

Angela Heath, EdTech director, brought along some iPads with apps specifically targeted to teaching students in elementary grades about coding. Sometimes just having the time to find good resources can keep teachers from moving ahead with teaching programming and coding. Teachers especially liked having access to someone who did a great deal of research and could make recommendations.

Squishy-Circuits - Angela Heath, Annie Wright Schools

Angela Heath was generous enough to also bring along materials for squishy-circuits, which allows students to create circuits and explore electronics using play dough. Using both conductive and non-conductive recipes for the dough, and some batteries, lights, switches and motors, kids can come up with highly inventive projects while learning about circuits.

3D Design and Printing - Ed Cecere, Oregon Episcopal School

One of the most popular spots in the Play Space was the station that featured the 3D design software called Tinker CAD and a Makerbot 3D printer. People were very intrigued with the idea of creating objects in software that could then be downloaded to the printer to become a physical reality. The most interest was generated by a working prosthetic hand made from parts that were entirely 3D printed.

Fall Conference Roundtable Discussion


During the NWAIS Fall Educators Conference, our team hosted a roundtable discussion to share with NWAIS educators what we've been working on, the goals and scope of our project, and solicit from the community the questions and interests around makerspaces and makerEd. In this post are notes from that roundtable discussion both for participants and for those of you who were interested but unable to join us. Did we miss anything in the notes? Please let us know in the comments!


We are not here to set the mold for how to implement maker on your campuses. It is our goal to act as a clearinghouse, to gather and cull through resources in our region and beyond, and to share our findings in order to help teachers who are trying to start a makerspace or implement maker projects. We discovered that when teachers do begin this process, they are at a loss for models and points of contact - our goal is to fill that need.

Here are some questions that came from participants and that we will work to address on our website/blog:

  • What does a makerspace look like? Is it a separate space? Is it integrated into the classroom/curriculum?

  • Are there any pictures of existing makerspaces?

  • What does makerEd look like in action, especially in our region?

  • How can we build meaningful relationships between schools and community makerspaces?

  • How did the existing makerspaces (at Open Window School, University Prep, etc.) come to be? What was the process/evolution? What challenges were overcome?

  • Where in the school day/curriculum does makerEd seem like a natural fit?

  • Where is makerEd already happening and how do we capitalize on that existing framework?

There were several common ideas that came through in our discussion that reflect the conversations our team is having.

  • The definition of makerEd and makerspaces is very flexible and fluid, and while that is a good thing, we can create some measure of consistency by establishing which specific tools, technology, practices lead to a productive and successful maker program.

  • It is helpful to have someone on campus with experience in makerEd in order to bridge connections between the available tools/tech and the existing curriculum (Adrienne fills this role at OWS).

  • There is a wealth of maker lessons/projects available online, but finding them and knowing that its relevant to your content is challenging.

  • There are tinkering camps/clubs and then there are maker lessons/projects that tie to the curriculum. Both models are viable, relevant, important - it depends on your objectives.

  • There are many tool lending libraries and community makerspaces that cater primarily to the adult community; the philosophy of these places is to bring people together to share, to create, to inspire - this is the mindset/philosophy that makerEd offers students.

  • MakerEd is based on student agency. Students may be taught how to use a tool and be asked to complete a specific task, but it is up to the individual student to discover HOW they will solve the problem.

  • Just as computer labs are disappearing as we integrate technology into the classroom, maybe dedicated makerspaces will be less relevant as the maker philosophy is more integrated into the classroom (still, not every student/teach will have their own laser printer).

Welcome to the NWAIS Maker Labs Blog!

As more and more and more learning happens online, we need to be able to do something different with our face-to-face learning environments in NWAIS schools. Makerspaces bring innovation directly to the most important part of the NWAIS community – the students! Through this project, we hope to help NWAIS schools create innovative spaces that help student unleash their creative spirit as they invent, design, prototype, and problem-solve.

Adapting these opportunities to schools requires expertise, materials and modeling which may not be readily available to an individual school. By creating a resource kit, collecting local and global expertise for teachers to draw from, and building example spaces and projects within the NWAIS community, we hope to support schools and teachers in their desire to integrate design and fabrication into their own schools. The contributions of NWAIS member schools will be an important part of this process, and we will be actively collecting the experiences and expertise of our community to share.

On this blog and our accompanying website, we will explore and define the role of the teacher in a makerspace, investigate the power of learning by doing, determine how various spaces can be transformed into makerspace, discover student-centered makerspace projects aimed at various grade levels and content areas that will engage learners in solving real problems, identify and create support resources for teachers and schools interested in integrating maker technologies, and organize a NWAIS Mini Maker Fest!

We hope you will follow along and participate throughout the year, as our team reads and discusses relevant books and publications, attends professional conferences to learn more about the maker movement in schools, visits schools both in and outside of NWAIS that are using maker education in creative ways, designs and “test-drives” project ideas, and more!


Meet the Team!

Adrienne Gifford, Innovation & Technology Lab Director at Open Window School

Adrienne is an ISTE Emerging Leader 2013, Innovation & Technology Lab Director, robotics coach, and crafter. She has taught middle school science and technology for 9 years in public school, private school, and museum settings. Adrienne has presented at many conferences on various maker topics, such as design thinking, computer programming, physical computing, and e-textiles.  She is in the process of developing a school makerspace at Open Window School in Bellevue, WA.

Jeff Tillinghast, Director of Academic Technology at University Prep

Jeff is developing a makerspace and program at University Prep which will connect with teachers to create opportunities for technology integration into diverse subjects and curricula, as well as offer extracurricular programs for students. Prior to his work in Educational Technology, Jeff taught choral music and music technology at the high school level. In addition to his experience in the classroom and school administration fields, he was a Science on Wheels teacher for the Pacific Science Center, delivering science, technology and engineering lessons to K-12 students across Washington State. He has been a lifelong “maker” in electronic art and physical computing.

Geneva Hinchliffe, Middle School Math Teacher at The Overlake School

Geneva is a middle school teacher who has taught math and language arts for the last four years as well as her craft-of-choice: knitting. Her research into discovery-based learning led her to create a unique, student-driven program at ACE Academy in Austin, TX which changes each month based on student interests, talents, and questions. It was during its development that she first encountered the MakerEd movement.

Santosh Zachariah, Upper School Science/Math/Technology Teacher at The Evergreen School

Santosh has been part of The Evergreen School’s Technology team for the past four years.  At Evergreen, all students from 4th through 8th program, design, build, invent, and create both within and outside the curriculum, using technologies like Lego NXT robots, e-textiles, Makey-Makey’s, arduino kits, quadcopters, and 3D printers. This year marks the third set of Adventure Days, in which students may pursue any passion of theirs for two whole days. Evergreen is currently consolidating all these within a purpose-built Maker and Innovation space.

Wing L. Mui, Math Department Chair at The Overlake School

Wing is currently in the beginning stages of developing a makerspace at The Overlake School and is a board member of Seattle Attic, a new Seattle community makerspace with diversity and inclusion as core parts of its mission. Before moving to Seattle, Wing taught at The Putney School in Vermont where he managed shops and helped create a space where he and his colleagues could work with students on their electronics, robotics, prototyping, and fiber arts projects.