With the advertisement of maker-this and maker-that, there are a flood of products claiming to be the “next big thing” you need in your makerspace.  I’ve tried some things I love, somethings I thought fell short, and I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas, new gadgets, and new ways to use old things.

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 9.07.55 AM1.) USE: Is this tool versatile?  Can it be used in an open ended way?

2.) GROWTH: Can this tool grow with the students?

3.) CHALLENGE: Is it going to offer hard fun?  Is it a challenge?

4.) STUDENT-DRIVEN: Is it going to offer a fully student-driven experience?  Or will it require a teacher to be in charge of it always?

5.) SOFTWARE/APP: Does it work with only one type of software or app? Does that app allow for open creation?

6.) CURRICULUM: Can it’s use be tied into existing curriculum for classroom experiences?

7.) QUALITY: Rechargeable? Sturdy? Is it going to hold up with multiple uses and a variety of kids tinkering with it or is it easy for kids to create with it?

I’m always looking at products and mentally scoring them… looking for a yes to the questions above.  According to my questions, a hammer is a 7-star item!  On the other hand, a set of robotic cubes I was SUPER excited about turned out to be so limited, they rarely left the shelf.   Looking at the questions? It’s a 2-star (2 yes answers only).  That doesn’t mean the product wasn’t fun, but it means it’s not fun for very long… or challenging.  I know making is NOT about the stuff, but the stuff we stock our spaces with should stoke the fires of creativity.

It’s so important that you KNOW your students on a personal level, because their questions and creative ideas will guide what’s needed in the learning space.  The kids favorite things in our space continue to be the found materials like cardboard, beads, pipe cleaners, and cardboard tubes.   If several years ago, someone offered me a choice between a box of cardboard tubes or robotic cubes, I would have laughed and grabbed the cubes.  Now I’m not so sure.  Slowing down and thinking about how materials are used can help guide us to make the right choices, and in the end, make the best space possible for our students.