Here at STEM MINDS we are approaching our 6 month anniversary in our permanent home at 212 Earl Stewart Drive in Aurora, Ontario! It has been a whirlwind journey from our first days as a business to now, where we run several programs every day of the week at our own location, in schools, and with community partners. We have worked with more than 1000 children and families in our short time and we are just getting started!
We’ve been in several locations during our time and have learned so much about what makes a successful makerspace through that journey. Here we will take you through each of the spaces in our new location to talk about the mindset behind why we made it that way, what led us up to that point, and even some mistakes we made along the way to give you some insight into how to create an amazing makerspace of your own!
Much of the furniture you see in these pictures was designed and built by Evan Bare of 608Design, a local industrial designer with an eye for sustainable design. All of our tables, couches, and more were created by him! He worked tirelessly with us to bring our vision to life and we couldn’t be happier with the results! If you want to learn more, visit www.sixoeight.com or follow him at @608Design on Twitter.
We knew we wanted our front entrance to have a “wow” factor; after all, it’s the first thing you see when you come in! Plus, in all of our other spaces, we never really had the room for a designated lobby. We wanted somewhere where we could display our awesome projects, have some space for us to work, as well as have some room to actually talk to parents about our programs! We are so happy with what we’ve ended up with and we think it looks really cool! To us, this is the definition of an Ikea hack; our front desk is made up of a variety of colours and sizes of those cube storage units that everyone seems to have that gives it a really cool, modular look. Inside all of the cubes, we have on display tons of the projects we create in our programs. One of the best pieces of advice we can offer to people who want to start a makerspace, particularly in schools, is to tell everyone about what you are doing! When people see it, they understand it, and they get excited about it and want to join in! This is what we wanted to accomplish with our front lobby desk and we really feel like we hit the nail on the head. Nothing is off limits; everything is meant to be picked up and played with so everyone young and old can see all the amazing things they get to do here. The bright colours and unique design further reflect our dedication to doing things ourselves and trying new things, something that any maker can understand!
The collaboration Zone is the largest and most used area in our new location and one we put a ton of thought and effort into. One of the biggest focuses for us is having the kids we work with collaborate with each other on an every day basis. Nothing in the world of STEM is done in isolation and collaborating with people who have different thoughts, ideas, and skill sets is how you learn! Prior to being in this space, we had long rectangular desks as our main work spaces. We didn’t have a lot of room so they were functional for allowing us to have enough space for a class, but they really prohibited kids from working together. We knew this was a huge barrier for what we were trying to accomplish
Working with 608Design, we created what we have lovingly termed our “Hex Tables”. They are shaped like a hexagon, meaning we can not only seat 6 people at each table but they can actually all see each other and work together seamlessly! Inspired by our visit to the Innisfil Public Library and their amazing makerspace, we decided to have our power cords drop down from the ceiling instead of the floor to increase flexibility and add a certain cool factor! Each individual seat has a laptop and Arduino kit stored in the leg area with all the relevant chargers, a pull out drawer with a silicone mat for extra workspace or for soldering, and more than enough desk space to work on awesome projects! This greatly reduces the extra space we used to require for storage of computers and materials and makes it so easy for kids to get right to work. Plus, the space looks so unique! We love getting to run classes and workshops in this space and are so happy to finally have our Collaboration Zone actually work for having kids collaborate with each other!
Every person who walks in our doors wants to head straight to the fab room, and who can blame them? It looks amazing! As a business, we have put an enormous investment in tenchology, so we want to show it off! In our old space, it was almost impossible! All of our equipment was tucked away in what can only be referred to as a slightly oversized closet. You couldn’t see in and working in it was loud, isolating, and cramped! Certaily not an inspirational place! We wanted the exact opposite for our new space and we got precisely that! Our Fab Room is amazing to look at but is also extremely functional for our needs. It currently houses our Epilog Laser Cutter, Carvey CNC Mill, 4 different 3D Printers, our ExpertII Vinyl Cutter, a ton of supplies, 2 desktop computers, and a workbench! Phew! There’s a lot going on in there! Having enough room to work as well as store materials used to be a huge hassle, but not anymore! We regularly have 3 people working in there with plenty of room to move around. Plus, each piece of machinery is resting on a desk specially designed to hold the materials needed for it. Our 3D printing desks are designed to hold all our extra rolls of filament, the laser cutter houses all of our sheets of MDF and more, making storage and easy access a breeze!
We wanted to have some separation between the rest of the space and the Fab Room for the sake of noise and safety, but we still wanted to be able to show it off. The sliding glass doors were a perfect solution! They muffle even the loudest cut on the Carvey CNC Mill but also make it easy for everyone to see inside. We don’t ever get tired of watching a 3D printer do its thing, and neither do kids! This way they are able to see what is going on even when it’s closed off or they are working in the Collaboration Zone. Taking the time to carefully plan out and map your workspace can be exhausting, but it’s worth it to have it actually be functional. Think about your workflow, what machinery gets used most often, and what kinds of materials you need to store so you are able to create a space that works for you. Always plan and seek out professional help for venting and safety, and make sure you have all the necessary emergency and safety equipment. Safety is way more important than coolness! Finally, make sure you plan space for future equipment. Our 4th 3D printer only joined us this month, if we hadn’t pre-planned we wouldn’t have had the room to grow! Technology is constantly evolving so make sure you don’t back yourself into the corner of being out of date too quickly.
Digital Media Studio
Part of our mandate at STEM MINDS is giving kids the opportunity to explore the whole world of STEM, and there is more to STEM than just robotics and coding. Getting kids to explore photography and film introduces them to so many amazing ideas and careers and really inspires them to get creative in their thinking, a skill necessary for every part of STEM. Therefore, we knew we wanted a really awesome dedicated space for digital media. In our previous spaces, the best we had was a wall. This made it difficult to get a lot done and was really limiting. Our new space still isn’t as big as we’d like, but we have found lots of ways to use the rest of our space inventively to meet our needs. In our Digital Media Studio, we have tons of professional grade equipment in terms of lighting, cameras, lenses, software, and computers. This gives kids the opportunity to get beyond iPhone selfies and really take their skills to the next level. Some people might be hesitant to hand over an $800 camera to a 10 year old, but you’d be surprised at just how responsible kids are when you give them the chance to be trusted. In our Digital Media Studio, we have a nicely sized space for filming that includes a green screen, plus a black and a white backdrop. There is a dedicated desktop computer to handle the enormous amount of media we collect. There is also lots of space for kids to sit and edit their content and work together, making it ideal for collaboration and storage purposes (the importance of storage cannot be overstated!). We’ve gone from a sad single wall to a dedicated zone and we are so happy to have somewhere for kids to explore their creativity (this is also our the favourite place for our staff to work because of the comfy couches designed by 608Design). Having this space was super important to us so we could really live up to our mission of offering holistic STEM learning experiences. Including this space in our plans not only allows us to meet the needs and passions of more kids, but allows everyone more opportunities to see how they can combine areas of STEM to create even more awesome ideas!
Having the room to have a lounge area is such an awesome luxury! We always wished we had enough room to have a place for kids to spread out to work, eat snack, or just relax between programs, but we never had the space! Our lounge is more multifunctional than we could have imagined. It functions as an additional class area for some of our smaller programs, as a place to hang out when taking a break, and as another place for kids to spread out when they’re working on a project. On the blue couches, we included acoustic panelling to help reduce noise. We originally intended these couches to function as pods where the couches would be facing each other to make a kind of meeting space, but it just wasn’t working with the layout. Now, they function as additional space for kids to go when it’s getting a little too noisy or if they have noise sensitivity issues, which several of the kids we work with do. They also serve as an additional barrier between our workbenches, which houses a lot of our power tools and where kids are not permitted to go. Our coffee table style tables provide extra storage as well as space to spread out and work, making the space truly functional.
In this area, we also have our 3D scanner and a TV on a rolling stand to still bring that tech flavour as well as make it useful for classes we may run there. Having flexibility for where and how kids can work is huge for us because it allows us to meet the needs of all kids, not just those who work well in one kind of setting.
Last but most certainly not least, our maker zone! This zone has quite a few components to it, but all of them come together to make a truly cool space. First and foremost, we have our two robotics tables. We coach a First LEGO League team, so these are competition sized tables. Now, we did make a small mistake when we designed these tables, but as we always say, mistakes equals learning! We wanted these tables to be easily movable, so we attached wheels to the bottom. However, when we measured the height of these tables, we forgot to think about the extra height the wheels would add! Oops! This means the tables are a little too tall for our youngest participants, but we have step stools for them to use. Plus, we discovered our littlest ones really like working in the Lounge area, so we often just run our junior robotics program in there. At the end of the day, not a disaster, but definitely a reminder to always double check everything and get a second set of eyes on decisions so you don’t miss any details!
Nevertheless, these tables are in constant use and are also a great place for storage. All of our robots are in rolling carts tucked underneath the tables, making access and charging super easy. Directly behind the table we have a workstation for kids to have more space to spread out while they are working on their code. On the far wall, we have another workbench that functions as a station to set up and work on some more long-term Arduino projects. Lots of storage for all our little wires and sensors as well as plenty of space to spread out and get down to business.
You’ll notice on the top half of the wall, are our awesome NanoLeaf lights. We get so many compliments on just how cool these lights are! We have them in both our Collaboration Zone and our Maker Zone because we love them that much! These are modular lights that are controlled by a phone or tablet to program different colour schemes or even sync it up with music! They add so much cool factor to the space and we can’t imagine our location without them. Visit https://nanoleaf.me/en-ca/ to check them out or to purchase!
Last but most certainly not least we have all of our shelving with all of our maker materials. These house extra LEGO, electronic components, basic materials like glue and popsicle sticks, and more! There’s more than 300 different boxes full of awesome materials (we actually counted!) and all of our kids have access to everything there to bring their ideas to life. We have all of our materials in clear boxes or jars with labels plus a colour coding system to help keep everything organized. This is a huge step forward from our previous locations, where it was always impossible to find what you needed and it never seemed to stay organized. Having a system that is easy to use and maintain and allows kids easy access to the things they need means a more successful makerspace!
Written & Authored by: Nicole Myers, Director of Curriculum & Business Development