MAKERSPACES: Big Projects for Little Spaces

By David Adkins-Brown

Working as the Anchorage regional rep for Alaska Association of School Librarians a few years ago I saw and heard from almost every librarian in the district on the topic of makerspaces. This has probably been one of the biggest topics across school districts amongst school librarians when it comes to being more inclusive of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Maths) programming. A question that keeps coming up has been: What makes a makerspace?

Sheninger, E. (2016)

Many people seem to have the idea makerspaces require large 3D printers, saws, and supercomputers capable of teaching children to program the space shuttle. But what is the function of a makerspace? A makerspace provides people with the opportunity to explore and create through the presentation of problems and the opportunity to tinker and make mistakes. With this in mind, a school library makerspace doesn’t need fancy machines or huge amounts of space to be successful and fulfill the above definition. In fact, less is probably more when it comes to school library makerspaces, especially when you might be pressed for space, money, and class time.

The many school district library strategic plan calls for library makerspaces in all schools. In the meantime, while you wait for grants to fund those 3D printers and new laptops, here are makerspace ideas to last ten months as well as make sure you don’t break the bank. All of these small kits should store well in a large shoebox or a slightly larger container.

1: Cardboard loom weaving:


Suomi, P. (2016)

Coding with punch cards has roots in the Jacquard Loom and was formalized into the coding we recognize today by the mathematician Ada Lovelace. Get down to the basics and origins of coding with cardboard loom weaving. Students only need cardboard, string, yarn, a ruler, scissors, and a fork to produce a mat of woven cloth. Include a pattern with X’s and O’s and see what your students can produce.

2: Finger Knitting Kits:

Everyone in Alaska seems to know how to knit or quilt. In fact, I can personally say it seems knitting is a very Pacific NW hobby for men and women. Of course needles cost money, and just learning to cast on might take kids a week to learn. Why not take some yarn (nice ropy stuff for small hands) and create a kit where kids can learn to finger knit? This helps develop hand eye coordination, finger dexterity, and problem solving.

3: Electronic Playdough Kits:

So, you don’t have money for the fancy snap circuit kits and robots. Who cares? Sometimes it’s the simple things kids need to explore. LCD lights, batteries, two wires, and play dough is all you need for this.

I did this one in my school library with great success. Please be advised that this needs to be closely supervised.

4: Fruit Electronics Kits:

Similar to the play dough, this time kids learn about batteries. Just grab some of those oranges they don’t eat at snack time and peel one. Each wedge should be enough for a small LCD light, but they will have to experiment with that to find out. Note: Lemons work best, and the more the better.

5: Black Out Word Poetry:

Everyone wants to do something with poetry, and I always want to do something with the books I just deleted. Blackout poetry offers a solution to both of these issues.

Glimco, E. (2016)

Tasteful, artistic, and puts the A in STEAM; black out poetry will offer all ages a fun time and create something to decorate the library and fridge with.

I pulled this one together and made some really great quick displays kids were proud to show off.

6: Paper Plate Marble Maze:

When I first heard of this, I thought people meant one of those high standing platform marble mazes that the marble rolls down from top to bottom. Mazes are pathways for our marbles to follow. Keeping this in mind, we can direct our students towards exploring concepts found in disciplines of engineering, i.e., electrical, mechanical, and structural engineering. From this experience with marble mazes, students are experiencing the basics of circuitry, Newton’s Laws of Physics, and basic geometry.

7: Simple Winch:

Engineering and physics are not always the most natural areas for librarians to turn to and explore, but here’s a small project that provides participants with the space to explore both of these. Kids can start with just a pull system and then try out the winch itself.

8: Zine Making:

I am so Oregon. I had to include something about zine making. We have great writers and journalers. We have some artistic people drawing and taking pictures. It just seems a zine would help communicate with many people over a large state that lacks a lot of internet access seen in other places. Zines can provide for all this!

Creating zines takes a bit, especially if you are making simple cut and fold books, but it is an excellent introduction to the field of publishing. As I had more students interested in zine making I began finding zines hidden all over the place, even outside of school where anyone could pick of a piece of guerrilla art.

9: Pine Needle Bowl Kits:

When I was in college I had a friend making these all the time. I never tried it but always loved the look and feel of his finished product. You may have to order away for pine needles since the best for this project are usually the longer style needle. You can order long pine needles on ebay for about $20.00 for 1.5 lbs. average.

This project also bridges Native arts as well into the library STEAM lab and makerspace. We have a responsibility as teaching librarians to be finding ways to connect cultures and technology together.

10: Noodle Marshmallow Towers:

Okay, I was going to stop earlier, but I had to include this one too. Have the kids make towers with noodles, marshmallows, and their brains. No using a computer or pictures, this project requires kids to experiment with engineering and math. The answer is always triangles . . .

This is cheap and fast to get out there for a program. Give it a try. Of course, expect kids will probably start eating the building materials too.

Sheninger, E. (2016). Free resources to support your makerspace. A Principal’s Reflections. Retreived from

Suomi, P. (2016). How to weave using a cardboard box loom. All Fiber Arts. Retrieved from

Glimco, E. (2016). Poetry in reverse: The art of blackout poetry. Floodmark: Poetry Beyond the Lines. Retrieved from



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s