Selecting engaging projects
Activities can range from short activities to longer projects spanning multiple sessions. In this article, you’ll learn about different types of activities and projects you can organize for learners in your makerspace.
Respond to a challenge
STEAM challenges are a great way to develop students’ thinking skills while encouraging the ability to design and create. There are lots of activities that can be challenges set as part of a wider topic. For example, students can learn about ancient civilisations by being challenged to build their own Greek building using the post and lintel system: “You have been commissioned by the city of Athens to build a temple for Athena. You can only use 18 paper cups and cardboard to build the strongest and tallest structure!” Typically, STEAM challenges involve construction, with constraints on materials.
Challenges don’t only need to be set by you. Lots of organisations publish STEAM challenges for students. Some involve a level of competition, some even have big prizes, and some are designed to bring young people together to share their work. Here are some examples:
- The James Dyson Foundation’s Marble Run Challenge
- The Rube Goldberg Challenge
- The First Robotics Leagues
- The Parched Plants STEM challenge from BP, the Science Museum, and STEM Learning
- The CoderDojo Coolest Projects showcase supported by the Raspberry Pi Foundation
Solve real-world problems
By focusing on real-world problems, students can find tangible solutions that are meaningful to them. Through this approach, students become more invested in solving other types of problems they face in academia or life. Real-world problems can be answered at a global or local level. For example, some students might want to make a project based on deforestation or global warming, whereas others might want to focus on waste disposal in school, or on air pollution. Here are some examples:
- Practical Action’s global project ideas provide an excellent starting point for pupils wanting to do a project based on global issues.
- Citizens Advice Scotland have a list of problems in your local environment that would make a good starting point for brainstorming.
Become an entrepreneur
Another option is to use your makerspace to respond to real clients and their needs so that students can develop their entrepreneurial skills. The authenticity of a problem and the feeling of achieving something real are great motivators for young people. Your makerspace could run a student-led consulting firm to help local businesses grow by offering design and manufacturing services. In turn, students can learn more about careers or real-world questions from clients, enriching their knowledge about enterprise along the way.
The FabLab team in Warrington was approached by a very special client, five-year-old Andrew and his family, to discuss the possibility of developing a prosthetic hand with the FabLab team. Andrew got a prosthetic hand that fit him, and the FabLab team learned about prosthetics, measuring, engineering, and lots more.
Chris Aviles, Raspberry Pi Certified Educator and makerspace educator in New Jersey, founded the Fair Haven Innovates programme, which engages students in social entrepreneurship projects. Participating students sell products and solve problems while running real businesses that turn a real profit. Students even give back a percentage of these profits to their community through their student-run charity.
If students have an innovative build that they think could become an commercial product, then there are a number of organisations to recognise their achievement. The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award, known as iDEA, provides ways for students to badge their digital enterprise skills. The Duke of York also supports entrepreneurs and their business ideas through Pitch@Palace.
Compare the three types of activities outlined above.
- What are the benefits and drawbacks for each project type?
- Which format do you think will work best for your makerspace environment?
Share your thoughts on this article in the comments below.