About Shaunna Smith

Dr. Shaunna Smith, Assistant Professor of Educational Technology OFFICE: ED 3006 PHONE: 512-245-4377 EMAIL: shaunna_smith@txstate.edu

Design Challenge Task Cards and Facilitating Purposeful Design Experiences

Within open-structured makerspaces, kids have free range to use materials in any way they desire. This can be creatively inspiring for some and overwhelming for others who are not sure how to engage in purposeful design. While open-structured makerspaces can instill creative experimentation, it is only effective if students are prompted to reflect on their experience and further examine their design process and/or content learning (see our suggested assessment strategies listed in “Tips for Facilitating Maker Activities”).

Unfortunately, one of the many laments people have about open-ended makerspaces is that it looks like creative chaos and unrecognizeable “junk”. Though it may sound hurtful at first, it is worth pointing out that with strategic scaffolding we can simultaneously nurture creative exploration while also supporting thoughtful and purposeful design considerations that can help students create more effective designs. As Krueger points out in 4 Maker Activities To Keep Students Tinkering we can provide the freedom of choices while also providing structure to support student learning in our makerspaces. Taking a page from design education and engineering, we can provide “constraints that enable” our students to create designs that are even more personally meaningful and have potential to directly address problems and solutions.design-task-cards

Design Challenge Task Cards are meant to be short inspirations to spark student creativity and inventive problem-solving. They can be A) individual cards that fit on an index card or digital equivalent of ¼ or ⅙ of an 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper or B) an assortment of tasks formatted as a bingo-style choice mat or quest map on an 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper.


Design challenge task cards can be used at choice-based stations for students to select during free time, formal instruction to facilitate problem-/project-/design-based learning, or sent home for enrichment. Design challenge task cards can be formatted to target a variety of outcome types, including:

Encourage constant reflection using exit tickets or ask students to create reflective maker reports to communicate their design process and final artifact with peers.

At The MAKE Lab, we are working to create even more design challenge task cards (like our Content Specific example set above) and we look forward to sharing them with you soon.

2D Design with Silhouette Studio and Silhouette Cameo

Silhouette Studio Software is a free vector-based design software that allows you to prepare designs to be cut on the Silhouette Cameo paper/vinyl cutting machine. It can be accessed as a free download on Silhouette America website.

The Silhouette Cameo Paper/Vinyl Cutting Machine can cut thin materials, including cardstock (blade=3-4), fabric (blade=8-10), vinyl (blade=1), heat press vinyl (blade=1), and craft foam (blade=10). As you are using the Silhouette Cameo machine, remember that you must input your material type in Silhouette Studio’s “SEND” menu and you must manually adjust the Silhouette Cameo’s blade to correspond with the blade depth needed for your chosen material/media.

We’ve listed some basic tutorial videos below but you can learn more about the tools at the Silhouette Studio YouTube Channel or the Official Silhouette Blog.

Connecting Literacy and Coding: Resources for Integrating into K-12 Classrooms

Computational thinking and computer programming, or coding, have gotten a lot of traction lately. New computer science standards are suggesting that these skills should be integrated throughout K-12 in order to prepare students for this unique way of thinking and enacting upon their world. What some people don’t realize is computational thinking and computer programming have authentic connections to the way that we engage with language and mathematics, which makes them excellent companions to enhance literacies at every grade level.

Here is a collection of resources that we have put together to help get you started:

Computational Thinking & Coding/Programming Integration in K-12

Computer Programming + Literacy/Writing

Computer Programming + Mathematics

Scratch Jr. Resources

Scratch Resources

Makerspace Event at OCES 12/2/17

We had such a great time bringing our mobile makerspace activities to OCES! We explored:

  • Upcycled Design (Novel Engineering, Upcycled Art, Creative Challenge Cards)
  • Fingerknitting (Yarn, Plastic Bags)
  • Papercraft (Kirigami, Pop-up Cards, Silhouette Studio & Silhouette Cameo paper.vinyls cutting machine)
  • 3D Modeling (3D Drawings with Hot Glue and 3D Pens, Converting 2D Drawings into 3D models with MakerBot PrintShop app, Creating 3D Models with Tinkercad, Demo of MakerBot Replicator Mini 3D Printer)
  • Computer Programming (Computational Thinking with Robot Mouse Game, Visual-Based Coding in Scratch, Interactive Games with MaKey Makey Microcontrollers)
  • Electronics Explorations (LittleBits Kits)

For a complete list of related resources, please click here.

Remember to explore our website to find more fun activities to help you
Make Awesome Knowledge-building Experiences and remember to proceed with curiosity and MAKE something awesome!

Novel Engineering

Often teachers ask us how making can authentically connect literacy and language arts concepts. Tufts University’s Novel Engineering is answer! This is one of our favorite activities because it uses common recyclable materials, easy to access craft supplies, and encourages students to dive deeper into books and stories in order to create unique solutions for problems the characters are facing. With a focus on the literacy concepts, this is a fun way to bring engineering and simple machines into the classroom.


Novel Engineering was designed by a group of educators and researchers from the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. Their team has assembled an authentic way to integrate the engineering design process with a clear focus on literacy outcomes. They have created a curated list of books to get teachers started and have also provided examples of what novel engineering looks like in a classroom to help you brainstorm learning outcomes and prepare your lesson.

When we are working with students in a workshop setting we will often begin with commonly known fairy tale books and short picture book that we carefully curate for diverse representations. Some of our favorite diverse author/illustrators are Rachel Isadora, Duncan Tonatiuh, Carmen Tafolla, and Yuyi Morales. For more information about diverse fairy tales and picture books, check out our list of novel engineering fairy tale picture book and engineering problem examples and  this list of multicultural fairy tale books.

Novel Engineering Process (adapted from Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach):

  1. Read a book and define problems that the character(s) is/are facing.
    1. Discuss while reading, clarify as needed, identify design constraints.
    2. We created this visual guide handout to help keep designers on task
  2. Examine problems and brainstorm solutions for character client(s):
    1. Novel/Story is context and characters are client. Try to empathize with what they need in their situation.
    2. Make inferences from text, brainstorm solutions, define criteria
    3. Explore types of simple machines and recyclable building ideas to be used in design.
  3. Design solutions and plan the design.
    1. Consider and discuss what materials are needed for the design.
    2. Consider and discuss how the design will work.
    3. Sketch what will the design look like.
    4. Share and discuss designs and criteria/problem.
  4. Create functioning prototypes.
    1. Test it and reflect.
    2. Get feedback during Mid-Design Share Outs with fellow designers.
    3. Reflect on feedback and make notes of changes you make or questions you have.
  5. Improve design
    1. Revise and make design better after feedback and testing.
    2. Make note of changes.
  6. Share final design solution and design process
    1. Show off final solution to peers/audience.
    2. We created this reflective prompt guide to help students communicate their design and learning with others.

If you’re interested in learning more about Novel Engineering, check out these resources:

Articles about Novel Engineering:

Research about Novel Engineering:

Tips for Facilitating Maker Activities

As every educator knows, the success of an activity often relies upon the success of the facilitation. Whether in a formal or informal learning, the facilitator must be thoughtful about nurturing maker mindsets and strategies for supporting our learners during difficult experiences with failure and problems that arise throughout the creative design process.

We love using certain picture books to set the stage for makers of all ages, including some of these titles below. These books can help to break the ice by acknowledging that we support a collaborative, failure positive environment where we want everyone to have fun while they are learning and making.

More formally, we turn to Exploratorium Tinkering Studio’s research on best practices for facilitation in maker environments. Their Learning Dimensions Framework highlights ways the facilitator can observe indicators for engagement, initiative and intentionality, social scaffolding, and development of understanding. This really helps novice and expert facilitators maintain awareness of verbal and non-verbal forms of learning during hands-on experiences. Additionally, their Facilitation Field Guide is a great tool for strategies to spark, sustain, and deepen learning throughout the sometimes chaotic and messy making process.

Encourage Constant Reflection

In addition to the above mentioned strategies, we like to leverage formative assessments as much as we possibly can. Reflective prompts are very useful for recurring experiences, including Dr. Smith’s research on student-created reflective video as a means of exploring process and product. For briefer experiences we like to use reflective exit tickets based on K-W-L strategies. Our 3-2-1 exit ticket is helpful for identifying what the learners understood from the experience, what they are curious about, and what they want to learn more about. These help us with our own reflective practice changes to our workshop programs as well as give us a starting point to follow up with participants interests. Our typical 3-2-1 exit ticket is as follows:


Encourage Sharing & Communication With Others Upon Completion

Design is iterative, which requires time to reflect and revise as well as time to discuss these reflections and revisions with others. Ultimately, we want our learners to be able to  communicate their design process and project/artifact to others. Discussion is great, but learning can be enhanced if we ask students to complete a reflective report for each design project/artifact in order to formally share their learning. Reflective reports can also benefit as artist statements for display in library or school event/class. Here is an example of a reflective maker report that we use as a culminating activity with our makers.

NOTE: There are also many facilitation strategies and resources available on the Maker Ed website.

Tips for Designing Maker Activities

When designing effective maker activities, you have to consider the best pedagogy and creative instructional strategy for the task. Making and makerspaces are inherently rooted in Constructionism, which is a learning theory that promotes the idea that learners can construct knowledge when they actively participate in the making and public sharing of a physical object (Papert & Harel, 1991). These types of activities lend themselves to Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Design-Based Learning (DBL). There are so many amazing resources you can explore to learn more about this and more to support your quest to design the best maker activities for your learners. Some of our favorite research-supported maker education resources include: Agency by Design and the Tinkering Studio.

Maker Ed: Grown out of Make Magazine and the influx of educational makerspaces, Maker Ed is a national non-profit organization that provides educators and institutions with the training, resources, and community of support they need to create engaging, inclusive, and motivating learning experiences through maker education. They have links to great resources and provide an excellent starting point for educators who are just beginning their maker journey. We appreciate their dedicated look at the state-of-the-art of makerspaces in education and use them as a resource to examine trends and current initiatives.

Agency by Design: Harvard Project Zero’s maker-focused research project that is investigating the promises, practices, and pedagogies of maker-centered learning. Visit their website to check out their educator resources and brand new book, Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape their Worlds. Because The MAKE Lab has an arts focus, we really like how AbD focuses on student agency and community building. We especially like to use their Thinking Routine activities to encourage open-mindedness and creative thinking mindsets prior to beginning making projects.

Tinkering Studio: Exploratorium’s studio workshop for playful invention, investigation, and collaboration. Visit their website to explore awesome projects that you can use with your learners and learn about unique tinkerers who are blurring the lines between art and STEM. Also check out their awesome book, The Art of Tinkering, which is both a beautiful collection of artistic tinkering and a guide for exploratory making activities with common materials. Because The MAKE Lab enjoys taking a multidisciplinary approach, we really like how the Tinkering Studio blurs the lines between art and STEM. We love gaining inspiration from their open-ended activities and multidisciplinary artist spotlights. Their research also inspires some of our facilitation strategies (see more in our next post, “Tips for Facilitating Maker Activities”).

In addition to the above mentioned resources, here are some of our favorite resources for designing our maker activities.

Books About the Research Behind the Learning in the Making:

Books About Maker Activities:

Great Websites to Find Awesome Maker Activities & Inspiration:

  • PBS Design Squad: Great website with activity resources, videos about the engineering design process, contests, and ways to share artifacts via safe social media.
  • Tinker Crate: Their primary function is to sell curated boxes of monthly hands-on experiments and making projects. However, they also host an amazing variety of activity ideas for all skills and abilities that you can easily do with common materials.
  • Adafruit: This is an online store for electronics components and they have the most fun educational videos (Circuit Playground, Collin’s Lab, etc.) that teach both concepts and how-tos. They have great activity ideas with step-by-step instructions that include lists of materials that you can buy directly on their site. Everything has an artsy and eclectic flair, making this a very inspiring website for makers. They offer educator discounts and price cuts for buying in bulk.
  • Makezine: Home of Make Magazine, this site has articles, project instructions, and reviews of the latest maker technologies and tools. They also promote Maker Faires and the diverse forms of making ranging from woodworking to DIY drones.
  • Sparkfun: This is an online store for electronics, similar to Adafruit. They specialize in microcontrollers and have great educational guides to support novice and experts in taking their electronics making to the next level. They offer educator discounts and price cuts for buying in bulk.

Some of Our Favorite Activities:


Papert, S., & Harel, I., (1991). Constructionism. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing. URL

Tips for Organizing Your Makerspace

We get a lot of questions about how we organize and set up our space.Truthfully, everyone will have different needs that inform how they set up and organize their makerspace. Before you jump into purchasing the latest and greatest tools, consider these 8 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Makerspace by Fingal (2018).

Guided by a need to inspire teachers with practical options, our space is set up with affordable and low-cost equipment and materials. We are fortunate to have a dedicated classroom/lab space in the College of Education, where we have work tables in the center of the room (5 tables with 4 chairs each), thematic exploration areas set up around the perimeter, and sufficient cabinet space to store additional equipment and materials. All of our equipment is small and portable, making it easily capable of being stored or placed in a collapsible rolling cart for transport to other sites. Learn more about our classroom makerspace setup below.

2D Explorations Area
This area includes tools that work with 2D materials, including paper and textiles. Additional equipment is stored in a nearby cabinet and is available for use on work tables in the center of the room. Resource books are arranged on a nearby shelf to help promote self-help (see our list here). Here is a look at the 2D explorations area:
2D-explorations-areaSewing machine, Silhouette Cameo machine, and additional equipment

3D Explorations Area
Set up in a similar manner to our 2D area, this area focuses on tools that work with 3D materials, including modeling clay, blocks, and 3D printing. Users use the work tables in the center of the room to create their 3D models using free CAD software (e.g., Tinkercad, Makerbot Print Shop). When they are ready to 3D print, they load their .STL file onto one of the designated laptops that operate the 3D printers (via USB drive or through transferring from cloud-based storage) and print directly to the 3D printer. A nearby cabinet contains additional modeling tools and additional 3D printer filament options (always stored in plastic storage bags to limit warping damage to the filament).  A nearby shelf contains student-created examples and resource books to help promote self-help (see our list here). Here is a look at the 3D explorations area:
Makerbot Replicator Mini 3D Printers

3D printed examples

Electronics Explorations & Computer Programming Area
This area includes a variety of equipment and resources focused on simple electronics and computer programming that are easy to access for beginners. Through our grant funding, we are fortunate to have class sets of electronics kits that allow us to scaffold beginner activities, including LittleBits, SnapCircuits, Makey Makeys, and Picoboards. A nearby cabinet contains additional electrical components organized in plastic boxes, including batteries (AA, AAA, CR2032), conductive materials (steel thread, copper tape, aluminum tape, paper clips, alligator clips), LED lights (diodes with resistor legs), motors (DC motors, pager motors), and additional craft materials. Student-created examples are on display around the area to help inspire new projects. Resource books are arranged on a nearby shelf to help promote self-help (see our list here). Here is a look at the electronics and computer programming explorations area:
Electronics and Computer Programming equipment

Mobile Makerspace Carts
The mobile rolling carts are critical to The MAKE Lab as they enable us to bring our equipment to locations throughout the community and they also enable teachers to borrow equipment for use in their own classrooms. Here is one example of a 2D Digital Fabrication cart that holds a Silhouette Cameo machine, assorted cardstock, fabric, and vinyl:
Mobile makerspace cart for 2D explorations

To learn more about specific details and logistics regarding how we configure our mobile makerspace carts, please view Dr. Smith’s book chapter, “Mobile makerspace carts: a practical model to transcend access and space” located in Mills & Wake’s (2017) Empowering learners with mobile open-access learning initiatives (preview Google Book here).

MAKE Kirigami with Silhouette Studio Software

Kirigami is the art of paper cutting which dates back hundreds of years. This technique has inspired expressions from cultures all over the world, including, Chinese Jianzhi and shadow puppets, Japanese Monkiri and Senga, Polish and Ukrainian Wycinanki, German Scherenschnitte, and Mexican Papel Picado. You can view our Prezi, For the Love of Paper, to see a visual overview of kirigami from around the world. You can also explore modern uses of kirigami and new media techniques with real world connections with another Prezi, Modular Paper Engineering.

We love to being Kirigami explorations by discussing where we see the technique in our everyday lives. It can be seen in fabricated decorations (i.e. laser CNC metal signage, slidetogether lighting sculpture, Dia de los Muertos decoration, and even in clothing design cutouts). You can explore these digital fabrication techniques using Silhouette Studio software, which is free vector-based design software, and Silhouette Cameo machines, which have a small blade that can trim fabric, foam sheets, paper, vinyl, and more.

Try some of our Kirigami activities:

Sewable Wrist Cuff with Metal Snap Switch

Sewable soft circuits are a unique way to explore electronics and fashion. Using conductive stainless steel thread, you can sew circuits that power lights in unique ways. When you add a metal snap, you can create a switch to turn the circuit on and off, which conserves battery power and can also create unique interactive effects. This tutorial is inspired by Leah Buechley’s e-textile activities located in Sew Electric.

GATHER MATERIALS: (Vendors – Sparkfun, Adafruit, Amazon)

  • LED lights with resistors
  • battery (3 volt CR2032 coin size)
  • conductive thread (stainless steel thread)
  • scissors
  • sewing needle (self-threading needles work best)
  • felt fabric
  • sewable metal snaps (male and female ends that fit together)
  • assorted sewing notions (fabric pencils, buttons, scrap fabric, sequins, regular sewing thread, etc.)


  1. Draw on paper to plan your design. Indicate placement for the battery and LED light and where the conductive thread will connect the components.
    1. Remember you will use one piece of conductive thread to connect “+” sides and a separate piece to connect “-” sides. Think about the metal snaps as being “+” and “-” components as well because when they touch they will complete the circuit path in order to power the LED light.
    2. Do not cross the positive and negative lines of conductive thread.
    3. Consider how you can use regular thread to complete non-conductive aspects of your design.
  2. Lay out your materials.
  3. Test batteries and LED light to ensure they work.

THINK ABOUT: How can the design use as little conductive thread as possible and still maintain a balance of conductivity and aesthetics?

PART TWO – MAKE THE FABRIC BATTERY POUCH: (*Note: You can purchase battery holders but they are usually too expensive to use for large group activities.)

  1. Cut two squares of fabric (slightly larger than battery).
  2. Sew a small circle of conductive thread in center of each square (about ¼ or ½ size of battery).
  3. Use regular thread to stitch three sides of squares into a pouch (leaving one side open for access).
  4. Test to make sure battery fits. Make sure battery is accessible for replacement. Used batteries cannot be thrown in regular trash and must be disposed of properly.

THINK ABOUT: How much conductive thread is needed to ensure maximum power from the battery pouch? Will the battery pouch be placed on the inside (non-viewable) side of the cuff or appear on the outside (viewable) side of the cuff?


  1. Mark the longer “+” lead of the LED light(s) with Sharpie marker.
  2. Coil resistor ends of LED light(s) into sewable circles.
  3. Sew components onto fabric. Remember to use separate pieces of conductive thread for “+” and “-” connections. Don’t forget that the metal snaps will act as your on/off switch and one will need to be sewn on the outside visible side of cuff and the other sewn on the inside hidden side of the cuff.
  4. Secure ends with hot glue.

THINK ABOUT: How can you insulate the conductive thread without compromising the aesthetics of the design? Is the cuff comfortable and functional for everyday wear?


  • How many LEDs can you power with one battery? What other types of circuit designs can you use to power more than one component?
  • What other conductive materials can you use to make the sewable circuit interactive or modular?