Help! How Do I AFFORDABLY Supply My Classroom Makerspace?!

Help! How Do I AFFORDABLY Supply My Classroom Makerspace?!

I received another great question today, this time from Jessica Sowder of Indianapolis, Indiana and while answering it, realized that I had a little bit of time left in my schedule to also craft it into a blog post since this is a question I get a lot. I hope it’s helpful! 

Jessica’s question:makerspace, pbl, stem, steam, STEAMmaker,
“My township is putting lots of energy into STEM now and will have a Maker Space in every building. I’m looking forward to that. Since I don’t teach science or social studies, I’m going to work hard to collaborate with my partner teacher this year to do some interdisciplinary STEM/PBL stuff. Any recommendations on where to get materials (beyond reusable items) without breaking the bank?”

My answer:
I first clarified that she was asking about materials like consumables like glue, tape, cardboard, pipe cleaners, various rubber bands and stuff like that. She wasn’t asking about hardware like hammers, microbits, glue guns, 3d printers, soldering guns, etc. So that’s what this post is about: the consumables. If you want my opinion on the hardware side, please let me know as it’s a very different situation. 

Here are a few ideas for supplying your makerspace without breaking the bank. If you have more ideas, please do share them here. I’m sure the teacher will see this post and we can all use all the help we can get.

1) Go to Amazon and put a Wish List together. You can create several Wish lists and share them out. You can also make lists that are compiled, but private, so you can open them when you want. Here’s a screenshot of my Amazon Wish lists.  You can see all my different lists over on the left. Then you just send those out to families, community volunteer locations, churches, businesses, etc. They can order it and have it sent directly to you. 


2)  At the beginning of the year, create a form to gather parents jobs and hobbies. Then you can target your requests better. So if someone works at an electrical-type job, you can ask them for copper wire. Don’t make people fill it out. Just ask. Tell them you might be calling them in for expertise or mentoring and hope they’ll be willing to help out. It’s a great thing to keep, this list, year after year to call on your deep community roots. I would offer this for folks who don’t have a lot of $ to buy stuff, but who still want to contribute with human capital to the classroom culture. Which, in many cases, is WAY more valuable.
Incidentally, this is an idea I’ve stolen from a well-organized colleague of mine, Katie Perez, who used this in her classroom for years. I did a similar thing in my classrooms, but stored the list in my brain, which promptly dumped half the info as soon as I slept. 

3)  Create a Google spreadsheet that lists some supplies. Mark the number you need by coloring cells next to that item. It’s a nice visual for people to quickly see what’s still needed. Ask families to fill in their names (or “taken” if they want to remain anonymous) as they buy those supplies for the class. I would offer this for those who might not want to buy from Amazon. 

4)  Ask families and colleagues (and church family and etc) to keep an eye out for women retiring from crafts. Or old men retiring from their workshops. Tell them that you’d LOVE to take the supplies off their hands so they know it’s all going to good use. Often thrift stores don’t want that stuff and it’s hard to throw it away. And no one wants to piecemeal-sell stuff out of mom’s old craft closet. They just want it gone. Take it ALL. Throw away what you don’t want at school. This is also a great option for people without a lot of money. You can often go in and help them and your classroom out for PENNIES on the dollar, if they’re not interested in donating. 

[edit addition]

5) Nick Krahn, a good teacher friend of mine suggested these great ideas as well, and since I agree, I asked if I could add them here: “The Dollar Store and I became good friends when I started mine. None of it is as nice as even fancy Wal-Mart stuff but it works and you can buy a bunch for cheap. I know you listed Amazon but I wanted to add you can often buy consumables in bulk there if you hunt. I have an industrial sized bag of “assorted craft pieces” I bought for almost the same price as just pipe cleaners or pom pom balls. You have to be willing to dig but it was worth it. They also sell bulk duct tape. In different colors. The kids loved it.”

BONUS: One thing to consider when collecting supplies is storage of all our new treasures. The most expensive part of this collection is the storage and organizational bins to keep it all under control, and there’s no way around it. You can ask for those as donations too. But I used a giant refrigerator box for a long time and dumped the big stuff in there for kids to rummage through. I think it also motivated the more organized moms to see we needed a better system. 😉 

Hope this helps!! Best wishes this year! Let me know how it all works out, ok? 

I organized and run STEAMmaker Camps, which is professional learning for teachers, alongside students. This camp is a top choice for communities who would like to start makerspaces or expand the use of their makerspaces into classrooms beyond the “STEM” or “after school” labels. If you want to learn more about our STEAMmaker Camps, please visit this site!

If you want to know more about supporting PBL in your school and community, let me know!
The daily practicalities are precisely the stumbling blocks where new-to-PBL teachers decide that PBL isn’t for them and with over 12 years of K12 PBL experience, I can help navigate and knock flat those pesky daily hurdles.

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Written by GingerLewman

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