10 ways to find supplies and increase your makerspace budget!
Are you new to makerspaces? Are you wondering how to find funding and supplies? Have you gotten your feet wet in the makerspace pool and are now looking to dive in to the world of robots, Arduinos and 3D printers, but need funding?
This article contains 10 proven strategies for finding resources and funding; including one strategy that recently helped raise several thousand dollars of funding for technology innovation at my school! This is intended to be a comprehensive guide – these strategies range from the quick and simple to the utterly audacious!
Feel free to scan the headers and then delve into the strategies that seem most interesting for you. And if you’ve got a second, thanks for leaving a quick comment about which strategies you intend to try!
- Start with what you’ve got
There’s a common misconception amongst people new to the maker movement that you need impressive equipment like a 3-D printer or a laser cutter in order to start your own makerspace.
I love high tech gear, but some of the best makerspace activities need only materials that we already have in abundance in our library and classroom spaces – like paper!
Right now I’m doing an origami unit with a grade 4 class. The kids are having a blast as they ideate how they can use the simple folding strategies I’ve shown them to develop their own creations. You can find my first origami lesson here.
2. Think ‘Dollar Store STEM’
You can generate a whole lot of awesome yet remarkably inexpensive makerspace activities with just a quick Google search for ‘dollar store stem ideas’ or ‘inexpensive makerspace projects’.
If you’re a parent of young children, then you’ve probably had that experience where on Christmas morning your child was having more fun with the box that a gift came in than with the actual gift… This really emphasizes the point that makerspace activities don’t require expensive gear to be engaging.
Just yesterday I found some impressive dollar store stem activities in my twitter feed. Have a look here.
3. Ask fellow teachers and staff for help
“Never underestimate the power of asking!”
This September I acquired several hundred dollars’ worth of K’nex and Lego in just a few short days simply by asking the staff at my school if they had any in their classroom or at home that they’d be willing to donate. Many people have boxes of these types of resources stored away (and grown up kids off at college) that they will gladly share with you… if you ask!
4. Garage Sales and Craigslist
If you don’t have a lot of dollars in your initial budget to spend but are willing to invest some of your time, garage sales and Craigslist can be a fine way to find some of your initial makerspace resources.
A few weeks ago I found a 20+ pound tub of Lego for sale for $25 on Craigslist. Considering that used Lego tends to sell for upwards of $10 per pound, I categorized this under ‘major score’!
The real cost associated with ‘garage sale’ supplies is your time, but here are a few quick tips to help minimize your time commitment and get the most ‘bang’ for your buck…
Invest your time wisely – I’ve found time that not all neighborhoods are created equal when it comes to garage sale hunting. I live in a nice neighborhood, but my neighborhood has a large senior demographic. Investing my Saturday mornings garage sale hunting close to home doesn’t often yield what I’m looking for. But if I drive for 15 minutes to a nearby middle class family neighborhood, I usually come home with some great finds for my makerspace!
Your time is precious – when garage sale hunting, be sure to invest your time where it is most likely to yield results.
Use Craigslist Alerts – Anyone can view items for sale on Craigslist, but by taking 2 minutes to set up a Craigslist account you can set up daily email alerts to let you know when desirable items come up for sale in your neighborhood. There are some very good deals on Craigslist, but good deals tend to go quickly to the first person who responds to the ad. Using alerts helps you snap up some of those bargains.
Note: If you do use Craigslist alerts, I find it helpful to make them specific so I don’t have to sift through too many alert emails. ‘Bulk Lego’ or ‘assorted Lego’ is more specific to my desired search and keeps my mailbox from getting filled up with less relevant results.
Bonus: I also make alerts for common misspellings like ‘Knex’ instead of the correct ‘K’nex’. This can result in some great finds.
Negotiate price – If an item is fairly priced, it’s usually better to just pay the asking price rather than risk losing out on a good deal. However, I have found that often I can get a better deal on an item that’s a little too expensive simply by asking! I know not everyone enjoys haggling, but here’s a very simple formula for negotiating a price that seems a little high – without confrontation:
- Pay an honest compliment
- Explain your position
- Tell them what your budget is
It really is that simple. When I see something that has been for sale on Craigslist for a while that I like but where the price seems a little out of reach, I’ll often contact the seller with a note like this…
Hi [person’s name],
I saw your ad on Craigslist listing an [x] for sale. It seems like a very nice item and your price seems reasonable. I teach at [school] and I’ve got some awesome kids in my classroom that would be over the moon if we could get an [x] in order to help them do [y]! My classroom budget is modest but I’m able to offer [$amount]. I do hope that you get your asking price, but if for some reason you don’t, thank you for keeping my students and I in mind. 🙂
Wishing you the very best!
Teacher Librarian at Canyon Heights Elementary
Often this approach results in an email back with a substantially better offer!
5. Ask your school parent group
Your school staff members are not the only ones with toys and materials tucked away that their children may have outgrown or failed to show an interest in. By asking your school PAC/PTA to include a mention in their monthly newsletter letting people know what you are looking for you may find yourself inundated with supplies!
6. Arrange a ‘gear swap’ with your fellow makers!
An awesomely equipped makerspace isn’t created overnight – it’s usually acquired one piece of awesome gear at a time. But how many times can you use the same awesome equipment before it starts becoming a little less awesome?
What if, after using your Makey Makeys (or Littlebits or Arduinos), instead of shelving them and letting them gather dust, you swapped them for a few weeks with a fellow maker?
Maybe I loan you my Makey Makey set and you loan me your Arduinos! Not only does this help both of our budgets go further, but we also get a chance to try out some new gear out with our students without having to dip into our budgets!
You probably already have inter-library loan network within your school district for things like novel sets and other resources. So why not make use of that network to help your makerspace resources go even further?
7. Present to your parent group
Why not ask to do a presentation about makerspaces at your next PAC/PTA meeting? I know presenting can feel a bit scary, but sharing your excitement for making with the parents in your community can be a great way to gain allies, discover resources and acquire funding for your makerspace program!
At my school’s last PAC meeting I gave a 20 minute presentation on makerspaces to school parents, and after the presentation I experienced the following results:
- The PAC voted unanimously to launch a school innovation fund of several thousand dollars for supplies like robots, Arduinos and other high tech items that we makers all dream about!
- A member of the grade 7 legacy gift committee asked if they could possibly purchase a set of Raspberry Pi for the school!!
- Parents around the school are now talking about and generating a buzz over makerspaces!!!
Never done a presentation before? Not sure where to start? Here’s a few quick tips to make your presentation a success:
Ask to be at the beginning of the meeting – People are a lot more engaged at the beginning of a meeting, and tend to be nearly comatose by the end, so try to be first on the agenda. This also helps so you don’t have to waste valuable presentation time with setting up an activity, which leads us to our next tip…
Start your presentation right out of the gate with a quick ‘hands on’ making activity. Think of something fun with minimal setup that will get people engaged right away and set the scene for your talk about making.
I set up some laptops with Makey Makeys and different challenges each printed on a brightly colored card of paper. I gave no instructions – I just let parents discover and play, sharing the occasional hint or comment of encouragement! I then asked people who were really engaged to share how they found the activity, before I launched into my formal presentation.
Keep your presentation short and to the point. When it comes to presentations, less really is more. Allow 10 minutes for people to engage with your activity and no more than 10 minutes for you to make your case. The longer your presentation goes, the more people you will lose, so keep it short.
Skip the PowerPoint – for every 1 presentation that is improved by a slideshow, 99 more are turned into excruciating digital death marches. I know it’s comforting to have a bunch of slides to remind you of what you are going to say next, but asking people to sit in a dark room while you spend 20 minutes reading off of a bunch of slides on a screen is like inviting your audience to slip off into the sweet sweet land of slumber… Instead, try this:
Share a story that comes from the heart. Facts and figures wash off of people like water off of a duck’s back. But a short heart-felt story about why you are running a makerspace and how it is impacting kids’ learning will touch the heart of your audience. Some of the best heart stories come from those moments within our own classrooms, where we got to witness student success, and had that ‘Aha!’ moment about the power of a makerspace.
My own heart story came from my very first makerspace activity. I had a class engage with 5 Makey Makeys and they were totally enthralled. And after the lesson was over at 3:00pm, I couldn’t get them to leave the library! They kept coming back in, actually dragging other kids from other classes into the library to show them what they were doing!! I had 2 students run all the way home and then race all the way back to the library again, shouting: “Mom said we could stay!!!”
That was the moment I really understood the power of a makerspace to engage students, and that’s the moment that I like to share.
Avoid technical lingo and teacher jargon – Just talk to people in plain English with sincerity and conviction. People often use jargon in an effort to elevate their own authority. But what usually happens is that excessive lingo and jargon winds up excluding your audience and they fail to connect with you or your message.
Spend your time showing your parents how making is helping their child to experience a fundamental joy of learning and academic success.
When you end your presentation, paint a brief picture of where you’d like your makerspace to go next, and let parents know you’d be grateful for any help that anyone would care to offer for making your vision happen.
When you do this with sincerity you’ll be surprised by people’s willingness to lend a hand!
8. Find your champions
In every school and district there are individuals with have a vision and a passion for innovation. Find them. Connect with them. Share your vision and show them how your vision can help promote their vision.
At my school, my principal has a vision for innovation. She immediately saw the value of a makerspace and has become a champion in promoting a makerspace at our school!
Within my school district we have technology leaders who are working to promote innovative uses of technology including areas like coding and robotics. These wonderful people are natural allies and are proving to be invaluable in helping to bring my vision to life.
Often school and district champions may be aware of available but little known funds and resources that can help you with your vision. They might be able to connect you with other people who can help your cause. And they are often invaluable in helping to get rid of roadblocks on the path to making your makerspace a success.
9. Available Grants – Money is out there! Spending just 5 minutes on Google I came up with the following grant possibilities for Canadian teachers:
Your first grant proposal may take a bit of time. But I find that once I’ve written one, the rest go a lot faster. It’s not a sure thing, but for the amount of time and the potential payoff I think it’s worth the effort.
10. Reach out with your story
Sometimes the best place to find resources and funding are in places where no one else is looking. If you were interested in say… getting a class set of robots to help your students learn coding, why not make a list of 20 local and national coding and robotics companies that might be interested in being a benefactor, and then reach out to them with a short email, letter or video?
Concisely share your story, passion and vision. Be creative! Let them know that you are looking for organizations interested in helping to develop the next generation of great innovators!
This strategy is a longer play and requires the patience to do a little research and then periodically reach out to potential candidates. But when this strategy pays out it can pay out in a big way, with big benefits for both your makerspace program and your benefactors!
Summing it up:
It doesn’t take much to get a makerspace program up and running. With a little creativity many people can and do run a makerspace on a shoestring budget. But once you want to go beyond garage sale supplies and dollar store stem, the health of your budget will in large part hinge upon your willingness to connect with others, share your vision and express your passion!
Tell people what you are doing!
Inform people that you are looking for help!
Share your story about the joy of making!
And most of all… lead with your heart!!!