How to Start a Makerspace When You’re Broke

How to start a makerspace when you're broke

Everyone’s Favorite Excuse

I’ve had the honor and privilege of sharing with hundreds of librarians and educators about our makerspace. Unfortunately, I see many educators hold back on starting a makerspace because of funds.  I’m always hearing excuses like:

  • “I’d love to do (insert cool Maker activity) at my school, but we don’t have a budget for that.”
  • “We can’t really afford a 3D printer right now.”
  • “I don’t see how we can get started with making in our school when our computers are dinosaurs.”

What many people don’t realize is that the idea that you need a lot of money to start a Makerspace is a myth. All you need is to have vision, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. A lack of funds is no excuse for keeping your students from experiencing the empowerment that comes with bringing the Maker Education Movement into your program.  It may take more effort and elbow grease, but you can start a makerspace even with a zero balance in your budget.

Share Your Vision with ALL THE PEOPLE

You want to start a makerspace.  You have some great, big ideas about what the space could be like.  How it could affect your students’ learning.  You KNOW that this could make an impact.  SHARE YOUR VISION.  Tell your administration. Tell the other teachers at your school.  Tell your students.  Tell your parents and community.  The more that you can get other people onboard with your vision, the more support you will receive.  Teachers, parents and community members love to hear about cool, innovative projects that their school is planning, and they’ll often help you out if they know what you’re trying to accomplish.

cardboard challenge

Recycled materials can make for awesome projects

Seek out Donations

Never discount the value of donated materials.  Let your parents and community know what you’re looking for. While you might not get a 3D printer, many families have craft supplies, LEGOs and other items sitting around their houses that they’d love to give you. And like classroom supply lists, many parents are happy to purchase items to donate when they know what you need (think Amazon Wishlists for your makerspace). We held a LEGO drive at my school and offered entries into an iTunes gift card giveaway to everyone who donated. Several teachers brought their college-aged children’s LEGOs, and many students donated LEGOs they no longer used at home.

Consider putting out a bin for donations of recycled materials.  These are easy-to-acquire, free supplies that people would often just throw away.  In the hands of your creative students, they can be magic.  As they say (sort of) “One man’s trash can become another student’s treasure.” During our Cardboard Challenge, we collected cardboard boxes, paper tubes, bottle caps and other items that would be thrown away or recycled, and we transformed them into arcade games, toy robots, reading caves, rocket ships and more.

Day 1 of our makerspace

We first started our makerspace with bins of K’nex found in a storage room

Work with What You’ve Got

Since you’ve started sharing your vision, you might have found out that your school already has some maker supplies lying around.  Scavenge your storage rooms.  When I first got started, one of my science teachers led me to several bins of K’nex that were gathering dust in our science storage room.  We put them out on our library tables, and that was the beginning of our makerspace.  Once you start looking around, you’ll often find awesome maker supplies hiding right under your nose.  It’s better to start small and then gradually build up your program than to keep sitting around and waiting for a huge chunk of money to fall into your lap.

our LEGO wall

Our Epic LEGO Wall was funded through DonorsChoose

Crowdfund Your Makerspace

DonorsChoose.org is definitely one of the best resources out there for starting a Makerspace.  From our whiteboard wall to our Epic LEGO wall to Snap Circuits to craft supplies, over half of my school’s Makerspace has come from DonorsChoose projects. The key is to focus on one particular project, keep the overall price low, and market like crazy. Promoting your project makes for a great opportunity to build community support and share all the awesome things you have planned. Search for projects tagged “makerspace” to get some ideas and inspiration.  Also, try to find matching offers that fit with what you’re looking for; a match means you’ll only have to raise half the funds. Matches for the Arts, STEM, and sustainability all fit in nicely with Makerspace projects.  Other crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and KickStarter can also be great options. Check out Gwneyth Jones’s Makerspace starter kit for some inspiration. (Check out my 5 Tips for Creating DonorsChoose Projects for more ideas)

Go Make Stuff :)

Remember, creating a Makerspace is about nuturing a culture of making and creativity, not about having a ton of fancy gadgets. Kids can get engaged with cardboard, scissors, glue and markers just as easily as with a 3D printer. At the same time, never let a lack of money hold you back from providing your students with the exciting, innovative learning environment that they deserve. It may take a little bit of extra elbow grease at first, but the end results will be worth it.

Some awesome budget-friendly makerspace projects:



Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons, STEM/STEAM

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2 replies

  1. Thanks Diana for including my blog post! That was real swell! :-)

  2. Great article- you’ve given me even more ideas as to how to acquire resources for my maker club!
    One really important thing that is crucial to running a club that I think you subtly touched on in the article is having the mindset that the projects we do are based on what existing resources we can get for free; not what needs bought. Implement this thinking when approaching projects- it has the advantage of making projects cheap and often free to run, but is it in itself is a creative exercise to teach the students how to be creative with existing resources and to use problem solving skills to bypass material restrictions. I will say first impressions of this strategy are that it’s limiting, but I believe the opposite is true in most cases. For example, with our Canjo (Tin can Banjo) project, I had students start out making their instruments with smaller tin cans brought from home, and after our initial build, they quickly realized larger sized cans and better strings greatly improved the design of the instruments. We then figured out larger #10 cans could be gotten from the school cafeteria, and I acquired a ton of instrument strings from a co-worker who plays mandolin, and both resources greatly improved their designs. At one point we built a working hoverboard using School District surplus items such as an old blower motor from a dust collector and a plywood sign- previous to this we used discarded leaf blowers, and once again the upgrade improved our vehicle so we could reach the goal of making it powerful enough to carry my weight (i’m 200 pounds). District Technology disposal allows us access to things like keyboards and dead hard drives- we researched projects which utilized these discarded items, and came up with projects like the keyboard wallet, hard drive based wind generators, and how to make a simple speaker out of a hard drive. I am a unabashed dumpster diver ( much to my wife’s chagrin) and I have harvested speaker components for our upcoming “speaker lab” project from multiple dumpsters. I’m leaving it up to the kids to bring in all kinds of different containers such as old suitcases, plastic buckets, ect… so that they can experiment with various speaker box designs and find for themselves what works best. We have literally no budget, our tools are borrowed or I bring in my own, and the club has become successful enough that I am now getting ready to present this program to our Asst. Superintendent to see if we can expand this program district-wide, on par with other similar programs like our robotics clubs. The fact that we have made this program out of next to nothing proves that any school can start a program- it’s the aforementioned mindset that makes it successful or not.

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