Work-in-Progress: the process of making ideas a reality

Throughout the summer making program, we used several techniques to help students develop their ideas at different stages of making. The processes of drawing, prototyping, and documentation are just as important as the actual ‘making’ of a project.

1. Journals: Initial ideas, sketches of designs, lists, a working book that keeps everything organized.
image-54IMG_1335IMG_1513Every student on the Summer Making program had a journal to sketch, write, draw, stick, and paste their ideas. One of the most crucial things we learned from using journals is that students need LOTS of prompting to use their journals, but once they “remembered” that they had a journal they got used to using them and they were a great tool. As well as developing ideas, the journals were also used to referring to what students were thinking yesterday/last week/at the last session. A lot has happened since the last session (both to student and teacher), and a reminder of where you were in the process, especially when projects are still conceptual, is very useful.

2. Models: 3D sketching, concept models, prototypes, test-builds.
20140725_094722 (1)20140725_11192420140801_150611I can’t stress how useful making a concept model is for solving problems and refining designs. For example, in wood-working week, students’ chair design ideas were elaborate and diverse, and many of them were ready to get making after making a few sketches. Before moving to the next stage (making in wood) students were forced to make a cardboard model. This was not a popular technique with the students at first. However, they soon realized how important a test-build was, because every single design was changed before moving on to a wooden version. Models were also used as props to refer to and further ideas. Cardboard models are invaluable for visualizing problems that are not clear on paper. We applied the same rule to laser cutting -students could laser designs they wanted, but needed to test in cardboard first.

3. Documentation Station: Photograph, blog, tagging.

IMG_1304IMG_1295IMG_1279The documentation station was integrated into part of the development process. In each room, we set up a computer, camera, and a white board backdrop, where students would take photos of work and write tags and labels for progress and finished work. Students would take photos of the work as they progressed to a new stage in the process. They could immediately post to a school-run Tumblr by using the inbuilt camera and a monitor (Tumblr allows you to upload a a photo directly to a post). This way, our young makers became acclimated with documenting, tagging, and sharing their work and process.

3dPrinting- Make Something Cool: Expectations and Reality

What is the problem?
3D printing looks and sounds really cool. It instantly gets people’s attention no matter what age group. It also takes a long time, is prone to error, is not an intuitive process, and the learning curve for 3-d modeling is very steep. What one can actually make on a 3D printer is often far less cool than the idea of what a 3D printer does. Making a fully realized plastic thing out of tiny layers is amazing. Making a little bit of plastic that doesn’t look like anything isn’t necessarily as cool.


What happened?
Students would often dream big, then become frustrated at being unable to make the shapes they envisioned. Even when using Tinkercad, the simplest free modeling program we could find, it was hard for our middle school students to design 3D models. Precise sizing and movement was difficult, even with snapping to grid measurements. They had lots of issues with placing things in the wrong planes of height/depth. There were some students who could master the program, but spent so long modeling they ran out of time to print. Bugs, glitches, and failed prints finally torpedoed many students’ hopes.IMG_1365IMG_1358

How do we fix it?
Start Simple. The most successfully printed object was a small, and mostly flat, necklace pendant. It did not take long to design (2 hours) or print (5 mins). It looks exactly on the computer as it would printed. When the print did inevitably mess up, we could start again without much lost time. It was a simple project with many routes for expansion, which could be explored in further projects. It was practical -it could be worn, and be a source of constant pride for the wearer. He was even able to stay late one day, and printed copies for friends and teachers.


Building Circuits with MaKey MaKey

image-35We spent a week using the MaKey MaKey and Scratch to create interactive instruments and controllers. The MaKey MaKey is a kit that let’s you interact directly with your computer to control the keyboard and mouse. The week was popular with students, and in 5 days they learned the concept of circuits, programming, and made some cool things! Students had an hour and a half of class per day, and it was structured as follows:
Day 1 -Introduction -We started with a class activity: making a human orchestra, then watched inspiring films (we watched the kickstarter film and a film of music examples), unboxing the MaKe MaKey (most students jumped straight into building circuits using the  well documented instructions), introduction to Scratch
Day 2 -More inspiring film watching, more Scratch, making paper piano.
Day 3 -Inspiring film watching (again), making your own instrument or controller.
Day 4 -Continuing making instruments and controllers
Day 5 -Finishing instruments and controllers, and presenting work to the group.

IMG_2238GIMG_1695At the end of a week making circuits with the MaKey MaKey, one of our 4th Grade middle school students made an interesting observation that I thought I would share. Yareley, who is an excellent maker and came to everyday of the 5 week camp, saw a box of e-waste by the classroom door that was going to be recycled. She picked up a hacked fragment of a mother board, and pointed to it, “Ms Becca, when you said we were going to be working on electronics this week, I though you meant we’d be doing something hard like this”.

She was pointing at the microchip, and she was right: it did look like something “hard”, foreign to everyday vocabulary of things. Probably, Yaraley had seen many of these in her 9 years, in fact, these “hard” things (i.e. microchips) are part of her everyday life in most electronic devises she uses on a daily basis.

She continued: “but actually it was not that hard at all, and quite fun”. She was referring to the week of programming in Scratch and using MaKey MaKey pins to create circuits.

She was holding a MaKey Makey in her hand, as she was so excited about them that she wanted to borrow one to play with over the weekend. I asked her to look at the MaKey MaKey and turn it over. She did. The back was almost identical to the hacked up circuit board she had pointed to moments before. She smiled with pride, “Oh! It is hard!”.

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Cutting Tools and Young Makers

Kids of pretty much any age can use tools. Determining which age groups can use what tools (with what kind of supervision) is the trick. When do you trust someone to use power tools? When do you trust a student to cut without supervision? In this post I will talk about cutting tools used in woodworking. Here are some thoughts based on our experiences at Lighthouse.

Japanese Saw- The japanese style handsaw is much easier to cut with than the European counterpart. It cuts while pulling towards the body, which helps keep the blade flat and straight. The saw cuts best when the saw is not being excessively pushed or forced. Use of strength is not necessary, and is in fact counterproductive, to quick and accurate cutting. Young makers (5-10+ yrs) can use a Mitre Box to help maintain a square edge. These saws can be used safely with minimal supervision at any age.


Battery Powered Circular Saw – A battery powered circular saw is a good tool for middle-school aged makers. The saw must be held with two hands, eliminating the possibility that a stray hand gets in the way of a stray blade. The motor is not powerful enough to pinch and create kickback, unlike a corded saw. Using a Square to draw a straight line helps students create square edges. After a few supervised cuts, most students can begin to make cuts on their own. Goggles should be used at all times when using power tools.


Mitre Saw – Also called a Chopsaw, used by middle school and high school students, and requires an adult present at all times. Students should be instructed on how to hold and move the saw, then do some ‘dry runs’ without wood to get used to the noise. Goggles should be used at all times when using power tools.


Jigsaw – Since the jigsaw is best for curved cuts, it is a more specialized tool than the other saws discussed here. Most young/new makers making simple projects (boxes, stools, small chairs) only need straight cuts. The few students who need to make curves can be individually instructed to use the jigsaw after learning to make other cuts. Goggles should be used at all times when using power tools.

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Table Saw- The table saw should only be used by advanced high school makers. They may start by making cuts on medium sized pieces of plywood, and only later move on to making longer rip cuts. Make sure the guard and push sticks/blocks are used at all times. With the amount of time we had this summer, I felt more comfortable making the few necessary table saw cuts and having students catch the offcuts behind the saw. I wore goggles, because I don’t like wood chips in my eyes.

Summer Making (Part 2) – Woodworking & Installations!

Summer making in the Creativity Lab was wildly successful.  It lasted 5 weeks and taught more lessons than can be contained in one digestible blog post so here are a few bites-sized morsels:

  1. The impact of concentrated making over time on students is visible.  The results include increased confidence, creativity, and resourcefulness.
  2. Talking about what they are making helps students learn how to relate to others and how they are perceived by others, not to mention that it teaches them how to have difficult conversations.  (Communication & Inter/Intrapersonal Skills)
  3. Students do not know their worth in money when asked the value of what they’ve made, but once they do they get a little swagger in their step.  And they take on the teacher role, challenging themselves, the ultimate victory.
  4. Mentors, extra hands, and feedback (a.k.a. critique toned down) are resources to be welcomed and used.
  5. Learning to ask for help, perhaps my favorite silver lining and probably one of the most valuable lessons of all.

Week 4: Woodworking

Stools, boxes, &  chairs!

Pricing Your Furniture (while integrating curriculum)

Juan working with Colin, one of our mentors.

Juan working with Colin, one of our mentors.

I asked Juan what he thought his chair was worth, he said, “$25…”

So I said, “$25 what…?”

And he said, “dollars.”  As I mentioned in lesson 3 (see above), most of our kids don’t know the value of money, let alone the value of handmade furniture.  So I went on to ask how long he had spent building that chair, we worked it out to be about 25 hours, meaning he was charging $1 per hour, without factoring in material costs, labor, and so on.  Ms. Becca (making instructor)   all this and chimed in to add that he’d also neglected to add on a design fee.  In the end the three of us worked out the value of his chair to be somewhere in between $300 and $400.  His face was priceless.

Laser-cut Stamp for Printmaking (tutorial):

The Amazingly Diverse Body of Week 4 Work:

Week 5: Installations

In the final week the kids were asked to create something permanent for their school, a sort of modified-for-the-classroom Design Thinking model.  And so they did…

Curtains, tables, trophy cases, lumber storage, signs, hall-passes, recycling videos, and more!

Ernesto’s Recycling Animation

Ernesto in the midst of editing slash trying to work out a scene.

Ernesto in the midst of editing slash trying to work out a scene.

The kids did stop-motion animation during week 2 and Ernesto (a middle schooler) really took to it.  He decided to make an animation about recycling, as related to the San Francisco Bay Area.

During the editing process Aaron (making instructor, and no, not Mr. V) was working with Ernesto, trying to explain the concept of Context.  Making-teacher breakthroughs are always exciting to see, when recounting it for us after all the classes wrapped up, Aaron said, “I told him that context is the thing that makes you understand, or feel related to, what is happening in the movie.”

Teaching making involves explaining complicated ideas as simply as possible.  And I would say by the final edit, for both Aaron and Ernesto, that was a success.

An Installation of their Installations (or something like that)

One Final (and very important) Matter

HUGE thank you to Becca Rose and Aaron Strauss, our Maker Corps summer making instructors without you, this would not have been possible. 

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Summer Making – Fiber Arts, Animation, & Makey Makey!

Over the last three weeks I have watched one of our regular drop-in makers, Yarely (a 4th going on 5th grader), go from making very simple, crafty, step-by-step projects for kids to making projects that blow away her 7th and 8th grade summer making peers.  I bring this up for two reasons.  First, when a child connects with themselves as a maker, a visible shift is made.  Not only in the quality or type or style of work, but in the creative process behind it.  There is a sense of pride and confidence attached, which brings me to reason number two.  When a child isn’t exposed to making, the introductory process takes time.  Figuring out how to start, how to find an idea, how to try through failing is hard work.  It takes persistence and patience to figure out how to sketch out or prototype an idea, how to narrow your options down when looking at material choices, or how to use something like a box cutter.

Not every kid approaches making ready to put in the tremendous amount of effort making will require from them. But sometimes that’s okay, the exposure to making is an opportunity in itself.  This brings me to the work from all the kids over the last three weeks.   Becca Rose and Aaron Strauss  (our summer making instructors) have brought Summer Making into full swing at The Creativity Lab.

I have tried to include video as much as possible to give you a real sense of all this making in school stuff.  Some of the work isn’t great but I still documented it, not only to share it with you (and provide a range of what you can expect in your own classroom), but also to let the kids know that I think what they are doing is important.  It is in the process of making that we learn the most.  So, on to week one!

Week 1: Fiber Arts

Tie-dye, embroidery, and sewing!

Week 2: Animation

Creating animations using stop-motion!  Some chose to work in groups, others solo, most used story-boarding to get going, some made props, and others stuck to whiteboards.

High School Animations

Made using a very affordable software (under $20), the high school makers worked on Macs using iStop Motion to create their short animations.  Here is what they came up with:

Middle School Animations

Made using a FREE software, the middle school makers worked on PCs using MonkeyJam to create their short animations.  Here is what they came up with:

Week 3: Makey Makey

Instruments and controllers using Makey Makey!

Middle School Makey Makey (please forgive the sound quality!)


I will end with this: if Yarely, at 9 years old, is making pianos from scratch where will she be as a senior?!

Special thanks to Becca Rose and Aaron Strauss, our summer making instructors!




Project Guide Sneak Peak!

Projects to make and share, worksheets to use, and probably spelling still to be fixed. None the less, many of our tried and true K-12 making project guides are up for you to use.

Keep an eye out for new project additions on the Lighthouse Creativity Lab projects page.

Project guide PDF Files can be downloaded here:


Adaptable Habitats and Animals

Altered Books

Chair Building

Egg Drop

Making Journal Extension Hand Sewn Binding

Making Journal Extension Hand Stitched Detail

Making Journal Extension Tissue Paper Painting

Making Journals Elementary

Making Journals Middle

Making Journals High

Paper Bridges

Paper Circuits

Pillow Stitching

Programming Lego WeDo

Scribble Machines

Stomp Rockets

Upcycled Paper Making

Worksheet PDF Files can be downloaded here:


Adaptable Habitats and Animals: Shoe Box “Fabrication”

Adaptable Habitats and Animals: The Rocky Shore

Adaptable Habitats and Animals: The Creek

Adaptable Habitats and Animals: The Open Bay

Adaptable Habitats and Animals: The Salt Marsh

I Like Making Because

List & Sketch – Blank

List & Sketch – New words

Making Journals High: How to blog

Write & Sketch – Blank

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Shaping, Cutting, Connecting for Kids

What do words like woodshop and woodwork bring to mind?  For me, it’s always been the hand and power tools one uses that I think of most easily.   For kids in some of my afterschool classes, that’s been pretty much the same case.  When I asked Kindergartners and 1st and 2nd graders what words came to mind when seeing pieces of wood, the same answers always came out: hammers and saws, sandpaper and drills.  When I asked five, six, and seven year olds if they wanted to learn to use these tools and others, most of them answered loud yeses with excitement.  285Sure, some students looked at the teeth of our saws with trepidation and others were reluctant to help me hold the handle of our power drill, but after a few weeks our students left afterschool classes feeling more confident of their own fledgling woodworking skills. Tools cause trepidation for a reason: saws can bite and drills have a loud snarl when digging into wood; accidents can happen, and that means that there is the potential for injuries, large and small.  Regardless, woodworking skills can be an important component to a maker’s abilities–for this reason, we’ve decided to get students learning how to work with wood early on, starting the very first year they join our community here at Lighthouse.  That’s why the Creativity Lab closed off the year with a quarter-long focus on woodworking skills: kindergartners made wooden houses, 1st graders created their very own wooden boats, and 2nd graders put together and decorated wooden cars, thanks to support from Nova.

Three broad woodworking categories we delineated for young makers are Shaping, Cutting, and Connecting.  Safety is itself important enough to warrant its own category, but it’s also a component that runs throughout any other area and so it functions as the common denominator for everything children are doing when they are first learning proper usage for tools.  Things like safety glasses and work gloves are essential to keeping kids safe from splinters and irritated eyes.  Modeling proper usage of all tools is a necessity, and setting up norms that guarantee that children continue using tools properly is also a must.  In my classroom, the first time a student misused a tool, they were unable to use that tool for ten minutes.  The second time they misused it, they lost the right to use that tool for the day, followed by an end of class conversation on safety.  Anything beyond that, and a student would lose the right to use a tool indefinitely, until they could adequately demonstrate that their attitude towards safety had changed.

139We found Shaping to be the easiest and safest place to begin.  Children were given an end goal, either a house or a boat or a car to work towards, and after putting on safety equipment and seeing proper usage for sandpaper and hand files, they were asked to bevel the edges of 2x4s, to shape the curve of their boat’s hull or the curvature of their car’s hood.  Using crayons to mark progress worked really well: students or teachers could mark corners and planes to sand away in red or blue, and students knew that they were properly sanding away and shaping those areas when the colors started to rub away from the wood.  Shaping is a long, at times tedious, process that asks younger students to learn persistence.  Sanding takes effort and little hands get tired.  Letting students take short breaks here and there was a necessity.  But also, shaping as a process extended throughout all the many weeks our young makers spent learning how to work with wood.  When I was introducing a new skill to a few students others could continue shaping their wood.  When students had finished another task earlier than others, they could continue shaping their project.

289This year we introduced Cutting in kindergarten during the school day, and in afterschool we had 1st graders using clamps, a miter box, and this saw to cut the bow of their boats from 10” length of 2×4.  In class, I modeled usage of the saw for the class, and then had students try to use it one by one before setting up a sawing area with five miter boxes.  Sawing through a 2×4 is no easy task when you’re six years old and it took all of my students two to three weeks (and in some cases four!) to cut their way through the wood.  When they were tired of sawing, they continued shaping the hulls of their ship.  When they were tired of sanding, they came back to sawing, and finally when that piece of wood fell away, there were cheers around the room, kids congratulating themselves and others when the task was finally done.  After cutting hulls, they also cut through smaller pieces of wood, donated decorative trim kids were marking and cutting to use as gunwales for the sides of their boats.

281Connecting was the one area in which we reverted to one of making’s most versatile tools: the hot glue gun.  The plan was to have students using doweling as a simple introduction to joinery methods, but time ran thin, and students were able to learn and practice safe usage of hot glue guns in order to adhere larger pieces of wood together.  Doweling methods were used, though briefly, to fashion chimneys for kindergartners’ houses and to create the masts for the 1st graders’ boats.  With assistance, students practiced using the power drill, holding the tool outwards and pressing the trigger switch to see what it felt like when powered on.  Then they drilled into an old log we have in the classroom, practicing how to press the trigger switch while pushing on the drill, then changing the drill’s direction to be able to get the drill bit out of the wood.  Once they had practiced, they learned how to use clamps to clamp their wood down onto makeshift workbenches, and with assistance, they were able to drill the boreholes they needed for their dowel chimneys and masts.

After four weeks, there were no major accidents, nothing more than a scrape here or there.  What we did have after all that time you can see here in our students’ final projects.  More importantly, though, we had young makers who had been introduced to and were incredibly excited to continue work developing their woodworking skills.  Though I won’t be here at Lighthouse this upcoming year, I’m certain this young makers will keep up the good work, will keep bringing energy and excitement to the Creativity Lab and to everything they choose to do with the skills they’ve been learning.283

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Summer of Make!

This summer the Creativity Lab will be offering 5 weeks of creative making. Each week there will be a different theme including Fiber Arts, Animation, Toys and Games, Wood and Metal, and Creative Installations.

Artist-Makers, Aaron Strauss and Becca Rose will be based at the Creativity Lab from June, working on the summer of making. This is part of a national program called Maker Corps. Before summer at the Creativity Lab, Maker Corps members take part in a nationwide development program, where they train together to learn an array making, teaching, and communicating skills. They thought they’d take a moment or two to introduce themselves:

B1“Hi, I’m Aaron and I’ll be working with the high school students at Lighthouse this summer. I’m excited to learn new ways of working at Lighthouse, and seeing what everyone wants to do. I make my own clothes, my own tools, and teach myself as I go. I make my own shoes to stop myself from buying shoes. I’m always thinking about material properties, construction techniques, design principles, old ways to do new things. I’m looking forward to interesting problems”
See some of Aaron’s work here:

shadowbook5“Hello! My name is Becca Rose, and I shall be making with middle school students this summer. I am very excited about making at the Creativity Lab -especially about electronic textiles, toy-hacking, and the animation! I like to make puppets, illustrations, fiber arts, animation, books and more! And I also love storytelling, and love things that tell stories, or are interactive in some way. Currently, I am learning to code and electronics, and looking forward to making interactive projects at Lighthouse. I can’t wait to see what everyone makes and the stories we tell this summer!”
See some of Becca’s work here:

Meet the Makers

Lighthouse high school students met up at the Lawrence Hall of Science this morning to show off their projects to the public in preparation for the Maker Faire next weekend. Just like most other makers, our students are currently scrambling to put the finishing touches on their projects.


Francisca soldering LEDs for her scarf


Jennifer adding leads to 126 LEDs









The event gave them a chance to get some much needed work done.


Jesse explaining his solar charger

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Alix explaining her LED dress









Explain their work to others – in preparation for the masses of people at the Maker Faire.

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David working on his bench

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David riding the Drift Cycle








And spend some quality time outdoors.