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Category “making”

Spacelab Winter STEAM Camp

We’ve been working on getting this out for the last couple months, but couldn’t bring ourselves to release it until it was *just right*. Well, I’m happy to announce that finally, I think, we’ve got the makings of an excellent STEAM program at Spacelab. Check it out.

Make something cool, tinker and learn, and take it home.

While at STEAM camp, students ages 6-10 make customized tech-projects. They learn about design, engineering, science, and applied mathematics. The registration fee includes project materials, and students take home their completed projects at the end of the session. Our teachers are professional educators with over 10 years experience and expertise in mathematics, technology, and design.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Philosophy of Making Presentation

Systems have become complex. Hard to navigate. As a result, it’s incredibly difficult to discern how the things around us work. This problem — not knowing how things work — has led to a symptom we’re all aware of: mistrusting the real. We question scientific facts (like the earth being round), well-regarded and verified information, even the sincerity of others. In other words, we are questioning reality itself. And it’s very easy to dismiss and deride these symptoms until we realize that they are part of a broader problem: people not having access to the information, knowledge, and ways of thinking that allows them to trust the systems around them. Systems, then, are part of the unknowable to your average student. And one of the greatest human fears is the fear of the unknown… instead of scratching below the surface and digging into the unknown, we build on top of it.

Here are the slides from a presentation I’ve been working on for a long time: The Philosophy of Making. I would highly recommend downloading and checking out the speaker notes as well.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Session 7 – FIRST Robotics in Education and Community Representation with Jackie Moore

Blurb for the episode below. Jackie moved her FIRST Robotics team, the Chicago Knights, to the Idea Realization Lab at DePaul last year and since then, I’ve been able to witness some of the amazing things she does every day. I had a really great time with this interview and hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the conversation.

In this podcast session I talk with Jackie Moore, Chicago Knights FIRST Robotics team founder and coach, makerspace organizer, Chicago Southside Mini Maker Faire organizer, educator, and many, many other things. Jackie and I sit down to talk about the philosophy behind making — and making with other people — and what that means about how we can learn from each other. That, and much more, on session 7 of This Should Work.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

HAM Radio at DePaul

A while back I wrote about my love for HAM Radio. In particular, it’s not just that becoming an amateur radio operator is something that’s a useful skill now, but that the HAM community, and the technology that this group has been tinkering with for nearly a century, is the antecedent to many things we do today. It predates, but also foretells, maker culture. It is what got many of the first outer space explorers, cell phone inventors, and many others interested when they were kids.

It is important for us to know where we come from, and part of that is understanding the communities that these technologies group up in. HAM radio is one of those things, and I’m proud to say we’re now offering a five week course (if you include the extra week for the test) run by Mel Marcus, NE9A and Brian Davis, W9HLQ of the Hamfesters Radio Club, Crestwood, IL.

Check it out.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

This Should Work Session 6 – Aligning Maker Principles and Educational Learning Standards with Sarah Margalus

This was an interesting episode because it was an interview with… my wife, Sarah Margalus! Sarah is an educator, reading specialist, and maker who has been studying the alignment of maker principles to learning standards in the classroom.

A lot of sham “maker” and “STEM” companies out there try to sell a pre-packaged curriculum and/or makerspace, but that’s just not the way it works. Sarah explains why, and the right way to go about integrating making into the classroom, in this episode.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Makerspace Budget Worksheet

Over the last ten years I’ve built three successful (and widely different) makerspaces. I’ve gained insight into purchasing for and outfitting these spaces by making mistakes and finding out what works. This free worksheet solves a common problem that many people looking to build a makerspace encounter right off the bat.

After answering countless questions at conferences and in consulting sessions, I decided to make a simple, easy to use resource to help others. Anyone familiar with spreadsheets can use this worksheet to select their own tools and purchase them. Just plug the quantity of the thing in that you want and out comes a budget.

The sheet includes hundreds of machines and consumable items, purchase links, prices (which may vary for you), and brand choices. It covers general tools, woodworking, metal working, electronics, textiles, computers, 3D printers, vacuum formers, laser cutters, and CNC routers.

To get access to the Makerspace Budget Worksheet just sign up to my mailing list below. I will never share your information with anyone else.

Get the Makerspace Budget Worksheet

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Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Making Makerspaces: Culture, Traditions, and Community. Introduction (1/8 in Series)

I started my first makerspace when I was 23-years-old. At the time, I’d just quit my job clerking at a law firm that I’d joined out of college, and was working freelance making websites for institutions like McGraw-Hill and Johns Hopkins. In my down time, I’d post on a web forum called “Manrus” (our mascot was a walrus in a suit) that some old friends from my alma mater, North Central College, had started where we chatted about technology, art, video games… just about anything you can think of.

This was in 2008, and hackerspaces (as makerspaces were then known) had just become a thing some people in various corners of the Internet were talking about. I became aware of publications like Make Magazine and started poking around to figure out what this was all about. It was around that time that I wrote a post to Manrus with a subject line that read something like “Hey, have you all heard of these things called hackerspaces?” The contents of the post linked to a few things I’d read, and concluded with a call that, maybe, we start exploring starting our own hackerspace.

I had no idea what that meant, but in relatively short order there was a small group of us meeting in a coffee house at North Central College talking about starting our own hackerspace and getting projects off the ground. We began to call ourselves Workshop 88, after the I-88 corridor that we were located in near Naperville, IL. Bylaws were written, we incorporated, and I became the Vice President of a hackerspace that didn’t even have a home yet.

To raise money to buy a space while we were still meeting in the coffee house, people began paying paying dues ($50/member) just to be around each other and talk shop. We’d meet at the coffee house in Naperville, hold hackathons in my dining room in Mokena, IL, or go out on group outings at local breweries. We started a small international event that got some attention in its day called “Hackerspaces in Space,” where hackerspaces competed against each other by sending high-altitude balloons into near space. This was right around the time that the “Power Wheels Racing Series” got its start, and there was some talk early on of making a hackerspace olympics. The energy behind this movement was palpable. It was a very creative and productive time in my life.

Many of the first people who were coming to those early Workshop 88 meetings went on to become some of my best friends and collaborators. Others went on to launch products like the “Shapeoko” (Ed Ford), films about the maker movement, and their own maker companies. In fact, I discovered the people who I’d eventually join and co-own my first company with, Lunar Giant, while I was talking with some co-founders of Workshop 88 who were about to launch their first video game.

Notice that everything I’ve talked about up until now has nothing to do with the tools we had at Workshop 88 (none at the time), the space that we had (also none), or the cool projects that were coming out of the space (you get the picture, none). People were literally paying money to hang out with each other in a coffee house on a college campus, and there’s a powerful lesson in there about what these spaces are actually about.

Makerspaces to me have always been about the community first. Yes, the first question you get when someone walks into your space is “do you have a laser cutter,” but, in my experience, the laser cutter is broken half the time and may have been for quite some time. Makerspaces are about the common spirit that we all have to reject consumer culture, take learning into our own hands, and figure out solutions to problems that we didn’t even know existed.

Since starting Workshop 88 a decade ago, I’ve gone on to found another non-profit makerspace called Spacelab, and an academic makerspace at DePaul University where I teach called the Idea Realization Lab. And while the spaces may have many differences, both in culture and membership, they also share many of the same traits with each other. Makerspaces are a playground for a tinkerer, and as with all play, they help us learn something about ourselves, other people, or the world around us.

Much critical work has been written about these spaces since they first started. In academic literature especially, there has been a focus on the so-called frivolousness of tinkering, the idea that people at makerspaces rarely graduate beyond tinkering and into professional practice, and that makerspaces are just another form of consumer culture. My experience has been the opposite, as evidenced by the litany of companies that I’ve seen grow out of all of my spaces. But my main problem with this point of view is that it’s focused on the end result that emerges from the acts of making, and not the thinking process itself that happens when one engages with the physical world through the act of tinkering. As Tim Ingold says, thinking is making. This, I suspect, is a much more radical idea than some of us realize.

Making, then, is about the way of thinking that emerges from our engagement with physical material. More than that, makerspaces give us the forum to share the work that we create with one another, and learn from each other. This is precisely what Seymour Papert wrote about over three decades ago when he wrote on constructionism, and what others like Vygotsky touched on when he forwarded the idea of the “zone of proximal development.” Makerspaces are, in some ways, the culmination of educational theories that we’ve been discussing for quite some time.

This series is the culmination of a decade’s worth of experience in developing makerspaces. It does, indeed, dive into many of the technical aspects that you need to be aware of when starting a space, including what machines you need to buy, how to incorporate, who you need to talk with, and so on. It also talks about makerspaces in different contexts: schools (K-12), libraries, academic institutions, and plain old DIY makerspaces.

But more than that, this is a series that will show you the importance of setting up the correct political structures and cultures at a space in order to help its members thrive. It’s about how to engage with your community to help spread these still-radical ideas of making and tinkering that are so direly needed in many corners of education and professional practice. And it’s about how to keep a space like that alive and running day, after week, after month, after year. It’s not always easy.
You’ll hear from people in the maker community who have started their own makerspaces and maker events, their own companies, or use the things that they learn at these spaces to inform their professional practice. We’ll touch on the educational philosophy behind makerspaces, and “systems tinkering,” which is an idea I coined that changes how we think about the systems around us and how we engage with them.

Two years ago I stood in front of the Obama White House to take a picture after being invited to a national summit of makerspace organizers. After spending a few days meeting and talking with other organizers, I finally realized that the work we’d been doing was starting to get noticed by other well-respected institutions. The year prior, I’d been told by some of my colleagues that in order to develop my career in academia, I’d need to shift out of tinkering and develop a persona that had purpose.

Making, and makerspaces, are still to many crazy ideas that are anathema to the way we go about doing things. Let’s change that together.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Running A Creative Space in Small Town America Redux

A while back I wrote a piece for Make Magazine on running a creative space (hackerspace/makerspace) in a small town. I won’t rehash it here, but if you want to catch up with my writing, here’s the article.

Every now and then I still get emails about that piece from people looking for more information. It seems there are plenty of folks who want to start their own space in their village, but don’t know where to begin! Setting aside the fact that this seems to suggest a lack of practical information for people looking to start makerspaces outside of central urban areas, it’s really great to see so many folks interested in growing their communities into true places of learning.

Anyway, along with the usual obligatory response of sending these people emails back encouraging them and linking them back to my Make article, I’ve begun giving the following advice, which I’ll copy and paste here for posterity:

  • You may have an idea for what you want the space to be, but let the members drive it. Start meeting at a coffeehouse and having people talk about their projects. Let their interests drive what the space does and what machines it acquires.
  • Partner with local libraries to teach classes on 3D printing, coding, etc. This is a great source of revenue for small spaces, and libraries really want these kinds of programs.
  • Run classes regularly at the space to bring in money and also to drive membership. Try starting a series like “Learn to Make” that runs through the basics: soldering, circuit building, programming for microcontrollers, 3D printing.
  • Find industries in your area that are looking to expand into emerging technology, and seek out partnerships with them. Listen to the problems they are having and see if you can position yourself as a group that can help solve them through continuing education and advisement.
  • If the space allows it, offer a co-working option. People usually have jobs with regular hours in smaller towns, and so the space will be empty during the day — unless you can fill it with a few co-workers.

As always, I am available to speak and consult on this topic with your organization or company. I’ll be speaking at the AMA ChangeMedEd 2017 Conference in September on the transformative acts of making in education (the likes of which happens at makerspaces!), and at C2E2 in a few weeks about how to make games (where I’m sure I’ll end up talking about making as a practice as well). Come say hi!


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus