Making & Tinkering Spaces in Museums Hangout: School Groups in Maker Spaces - Your Questions

By Mary Mathias posted 01-14-2015 11:15




Making & Tinkering Spaces in Museums Hangout -

School Groups in Maker Spaces 


Your Questions from the Hangout


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These questions were asked by attendees of the Making & Tinkering Spaces in Museums Community of Practice hangout that took place on January 8, 2015. The panelists, Peggy Monahan from the New York Hall of Science, Olivier Grant and James Magee from the Montréal, Anthony Pelaez from MOSI, Faith Dukes from the MIT Museum, and Ryan Jenkins from the Exploratorium have provided the answers below. You can view the recording of the webinar at

Q: How much does it cost you to dispose of materials which you cannot repurpose?
A: Ryan Jenkins -  In the tinkering studio we try to reuse materials as much as possible by not having “make and take” activities and working on collaborative projects like light play and chain reaction. I’d say our biggest disposable material is masking tape. We stay under a $2000 materials budget a month for both field trips and general public and many months it’s much less depending on the activity.

Q: Do you use materials that require extra disposal fees, like old computer parts?
A: Peggy Monahan -  NYSCI uses coin cell batteries that we collect and dispose of on special electronic waste disposal days.

James Magee - We may eventually include materials repurposed from old equipment that we will invite visitors to disassemble (for example, projectors that we no longer use internally, used for optical parts, plastic parts, etc). For the moment, however, we do not use such materials. In any case, even these materials will be (ideally) repurposed over and over and will not find their way into the waste stream. 

Q: What is role of chaperones? 
A: P.M. - We like the idea of giving chaperones a role, and sometimes we give them their own intro, giving them tips about how to help without taking over. Essentially, we give them questions to ask. In some activities, I've written table signs that repeat those questions. We also get excited about the idea of chaperones and teachers as documenters of the event. So excited, in fact, that we're just finishing an app called Design Stories that will soon be available for free download (iOS and Android, tablets and phones) that should help them do that. Essentially, there are thought bubbles that you can drag into the live camera view to add to the pictures you take. The thought bubbles are pre-loaded with design process phrases like "How can I make this better?" and "I know I can make this work." Onscreen tips help encourage teachers and parents to look for collaboration, struggle, etc. The images can be edited later and used in slide shows, in journal pages the teacher can print out, or to make full comic book stories.

Anthony Pelaez -  The program facilitator orchestrates group programs without the need for any chaperone involvement. We find that most chaperones prefer to sit on the sidelines during programs. 

R.J. - Chaperones in the Tinkering Studio are invited to participate in the activity alongside the school groups. Sometimes they take more of a facilitator role and other times they work on their own project. We try to communicate the time commitment and age limits to the chaperones so they can decide if their group can join in.  

J.M. -  We hope teachers and chaperones will help with group discipline, attention to instructions, and inter-group conflicts. Some teachers/chaperones decide to try the activity themselves and I personally enjoy it, as it provides an excellent example to young visitors. 

Q: How much effort and time does this take?  
A: A.P. - Setup time for our group programs is usually 30 minutes. Typically we will deliver several programs throughout the day, so the initial setup is enough for four to six programs. Because the duration of our programs ranges from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, we designed the activities so they can complete their projects while meeting the program objectives.

J.M. -  In a one hour session, we hope to have 5 minutes welcome, 45 minutes building and testing, 5 minutes final demonstration, and 5 minutes tear-down and clean-up. 

Q: A question for Fabrik - what is your materials budget annually? 
A: Brigitte Belleville from Fabrik - Initial outlay, $15,000. Projected annual budget is $20,000–$25,000, but we have only been open for four months. Our museologists are currently inventorying what we have used in this period. We believe we will come in under this projection. We ask visitors to tear-down their creations and we reuse the materials. We also use a lot of repurposed internal waste: vinyl banners and coroplast from internal and corporate events, translucent ad posters, plastic streamers from summer festivals, hand towel and toilet paper rolls recovered by maintenance, and offcuts of plexi and wood from our museology and carpentry shops. What we spend on are rolls of tape, LEDs, batteries, and some cardboard tubes. We will have more info on this once the inventory is completed.

Q: Are the post-visit activities available for families and the general public? We often have requests from parents for information about continuing making & tinkering activities at home. 
A: P.M. - Our post-visit activities are available online where parents can get them, but they're currently formatted like classroom activities. I suppose parents could use them, but they'd have to be singularly motivated... or, they should be available online. Currently, they're not there because there's some work being done on our website. Sorry.

A.P. - Most of the students and families that approach us about at-home projects usually have very specific ideas and need personalized support. We see ourselves as being a community resource and have helped many families with school projects and inventions. We also help teachers with special classroom projects.

J.M. - We get some requests for these. With other school programs for which we have provided post-visit activities in the past, we find little takeup and so we found the effort of putting them together was not worth the reward. However...

Olivier Grant - I will develop a post-visit for teachers. I will develop it with a didactician from the education department of a local university. The idea is to provide a tinkering activity that will be brought back to school with a learning sequence attached to it. Basically, if a teacher takes pictures of the prototypes of each team, they can work on a lot of notions back at school with their teacher. They could draw a concept or a building design. Concepts could include simple machines, transmission and transformation of movement, friction, gravity, or even the Bernoulli effect! They can reflect on their prototype, analyze it. Why they used this type of material instead of that one, what are the properties that are helpful? What you learned from your failure? What were the steps of your creative process? etc.

Q: If pre-visit activities are great when they're done but don't affect the program if not completed, why do you hang on to them?  
A: P.M. - We definitely do notice a difference when the teachers do the pre-visit activities, as simple as they are. The kids are quicker to dig in, and are more fluid with ideas of how to approach the problems. We really like them and want to keep them available. Realistically, fewer than half of the teachers actually do the pre-visit activities, so we have to create our activities to work even without them.

A.P. - We do not do provide pre-visit activities because we find they are rarely accomplished.

O.M. - We do not provide pre-visit activities, especially not in a tinkering space because we want them to think with their hands and with the material around them, live.

Q: How do you curate your found object collection? What have you found to be most inspiring? What's the breadth? (We're experimenting with this right now for chain reactions - balancing inspiring objects vs. an overwhelming variety) 
A: A.P. - Because we do so many group programs, we find that experience with the objects culls our collection to the most useful and fun stuff. Some of our programs that create large-scale Rube Goldberg contraptions, such as our Kinetic Art program, seem to be in a constant state of development because we want to encourage lots of creativity. As long as we provide the functional pieces (dominoes, tubes, foam tracks, etc.) we can be experimental without losing sight of our invention objectives. Of course, we have a vast collection of junk, but junk is fun!

B.B. -  The theme of our whole tinkering space is the backyard and play. Our materials reflect this theme, as they are all items that could be found in the home or the yard: toys cars, plastic buckets, golf and tennis balls, hand shovels and hand rakes, etc. 

Q: I'd be interested to hear about registration fees for school workshops in maker spaces in different museums.  
A: P.M. - Right now, we charge $125 per class for a 45-minute Explainer-led session in Design Lab.

A.P. - We package our makerspace/fab lab programs with museum admission. Our per-student registration fee for a 45-minute program plus admission is $10. Our per-student registration fee for a 90-minute program plus admission is $14.

R.J. - The Tinkering Studio is a drop-in space included in the admission to the museum for school groups.

Fabrik team - Specific fees are listed on the slides of our presentation. There is no separate fee for tinkering activities at our science centre.

Q: Do you go into the science or keep it informal?  
A: P.M. - We often keep things informal, but sometimes go into the science. It depends on the activity, the explainer, and the visitor.

A.P. - We incorporate STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) in all of our programs. Although our programs are fun, exciting, and taught informally, we strive to ensure the students are inspired through STEAM experiences.

R.J. - We try to follow the path of the learner as much as possible. If their investigations lead them into something that involves scientific terms or practice we may point that out, but we want to respect each individual's process (especially in the short time we have with them to build a relationship). We try to design our activities to also encourage science practices like asking questions, testing ideas, and analyzing results though each participant's personal investigations.

J.M. - Sometimes we include specific content required for the activity (example: we ensure all visitors can make a simple circuit for our lightplay activity... if they can't make light, they can't play with it!). However, even in this case, the approach is more in line with a guided discovery approach, rather than transmissive. Otherwise, we try to only mention concepts when they come up naturally from visitors" conversation. We never force it and we don"t include content in the "scripts" for the activities.

Q: With an open layout, how do you manage with facilitators against visitors dropping in? 
A: P.M. - You were probably asking this of someone else, but... Each of our spaces is visible from the outside, but each one has a perimeter, an entrance, and a gate.

A.P. - Traditionally, our group programs reserve our makerspace/fab lab for their exclusive use. But our interest in promoting our drop-in experiences for all of our guests prompted us to adapt some of our makerspace programs to work in other spaces at our institution. We still close the space to our drop-in guests whenever we cannot accommodate groups in the other spaces or whenever they need specialized equipment. We attempted to run group programs while the space was open to drop-in guests, but the noise levels and chaos that ensued taught us a valuable lesson.

R.J. - In the Tinkering Studio, we think a lot about how they introduce the environment, activity, and materials. When visitors enter the Tinkering Studio they are encouraged to looks at examples, share ideas with each other, and learn alongside facilitators. Depending on the activity and how long we have been prototyping it, we have 1-2 facilitators working with about 10-15 people at a time.

Q: For those of you who provide training for teachers, do you charge a fee for that? 
A: P.M. - Design Lab's teacher professional development opportunities have been grant-funded, and pretty intensive. We build stipends into the grants so that we're able to pay teachers. One good thing about that is that we can ask the teachers for deliverables like lesson plans and reflections on their experiences. Our Education Services group sometimes charges for teacher professional development, but I think the fee structure depends on the partnership they've developed with the districts or other organizations they work with.

A.P. - We provide training for teachers through a combination of grant sponsorship and fee-based training usually paid for by the schools and adjacent school districts.