3 Key Strategies for Anyone Interested in Creating a Makerspace for Youth

A lot of folks have been asking me recently for advice about how to create their own Makerspace for Youth. While even just a year ago there were only a handful of makerspaces specifically for youth, the number has been growing exponentially with museums, libraries, and schools all converting underutilized corners into creative spaces for youth!


This growth is really exciting and we are happy to do whatever we can to support others! As Shawn (DHF’s Director of Technology) just highlighted in his recent post 3D Printers for Educators: A Review, we don’t want folks to have to struggle the same ways we did if they don’t have to — so please feel free to reach out and take advantage of the opportunities to learn from us!

Here are 3 lessons learned that anyone interested in creating their own makerspace for youth should know and do:

1. Partnerships Are Key


2. Be a Part of the Larger Movement


3. Don’t Be Afraid to Innovate (Iterate!)


In short, don’t be afraid to get started wherever you are and work with what you have! Reach out to folks, talk about what you want to do, then do it! Start by making a real difference in the lives of all of the youth who come into your program!


3D Printers for Educators: A Review

Join the discussion of 3D Printing for Education by joining our Google Group: https://groups.google.com/d/forum/3dfored

There are a lot of educators anxious to jump into the 3D Printing waters and I’m really excited for their youth to get a chance to work with these awesome machines that have almost literally changed my life. I’ve worked with software all my life because I liked the safety of an “undo” button, with 3D printers, I get that same safety with physical creations and objects.
I’d like to be a lifeguard for those educators jumping into the dark waters of 3D printing, to help them avoid from jumping where there are rocks below the water’s surface, or to pull them out when the undercurrent is pulling them under.


I’ve been using 3D printers for about 18 months and I want to prevent all people, especially educators, from making some of the same mistakes I made when I first started. Instead, I would like people to stand on my shoulders and make new mistakes that will help us push this whole movement forward.

With that, here is a review of the 3D printers I have used and some that are on the market. These are all assembled printers, no kits are reviewed here.


The reviews below are my own, Shawn Grimes, and do not necessarily represent the views of the entire DHF staff. My reviews are based on my own experiences or the experiences reported to me by trusted colleagues in the tech community. This is a snapshot of time and is my current opinions as of October 19, 2014.

Make’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing

Do check out Make’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing for even more opinions. The newest version should be coming out soon hopefully. I know that the testing for it has been completed and they need to compile the reviews. While their tests are not specifically with youth or in a classroom environment, it is still important to get multiple opinions and their testing team is made up of mostly experts.

Short Answers

If you want to just jump to the main course, these are my most current recommendations for educators:

The Printers

Printrbot Metal Simple

Printrbot Metal Simple

Price: $599

Print Area: 150mm x 150mm x 150mm

Heated Bed: Optional Upgrade (+$150 roughly)

Auto Bed Level: Yes

This printer works right out of the box and it’s so inexpensive compared to other printers that you can order two of them in case you have any issues in the future, you will have a backup printer or two printers that students can use.

Not only is this printer inexpensive, it’s super reliable! This is my go-to printer for reliable prints, I have the least problems using this printer and I can print one youth project after another all day.

The software they recommend can be a pain but using MatterControl(free) or Cura(also free) is an easy fix for that.


Afinia 3D Printer

Price: $1,299

Print Area: 127mm x 127mm x 127mm

Heated Bed: Yes

Auto Bed Level: Yes

I used the older version of this printer and I was amazed at the quality! The software is really easy to use.

The bed is small for the price. If this was less expensive or had a bigger bed, this printer would be at the top of my list.


MakerBot 3D Printer

Price: $1,999

Print Area: 285mm x 153mm x 155mm

Heated Bed: No

Auto Bed Level: No

Disclaimer: My direct experience is with the Replicator 2 in our space, not the new 5th generations but I have not heard or seen anything different about the new generation (it’s actually hard to find a working MakerBot anywhere but at the MakerBot store).

When it works, the quality is very nice. The software is easy to use. It has a very large print area (but due to bed warping this is greatly reduced after a few uses).

The print bed tends to warp and is very hard to get leveled just right. We had two print beds warp within 3 months of use. Once they warp, you can only print smaller objects and you have to get MakerBot to send you a replacement board, which required me to create a video to demonstrate the wobble in the warped board.

We paid a lot of money for this printer and it is the one I am most unhappy with.

Lulzbot Taz 4

Lulzbot Taz 4 3D Printer

Price: $2,194

Print Area: 298mm x 275mm x 250mm

Heated Bed: Yes

Auto Bed Level: No

Massive printing area! This is my go-to printer for big prints. The only thing I wish it had was an auto-level probe but surprisingly, once we got it leveled, it hasn’t needed any adjustments in 3 months. It uses safety glass that doesn’t warp as a platform.

The software they recommend can be a pain but using MatterControl(free) is an easy fix for that.


These are my recommendations for educators based on my using these 3D printers with youth on an almost daily basis for the past 18 months. I have my own personal 3D printers that I use as well but they are not the same ones I recommend for in the classroom. There are a lot of 3D printers available and even more appearing daily. As I test them, I will provide reviews.

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3D Scanners: A Quick Review

Join the discussion of 3D Printing for Educators by joining our Google Group: https://groups.google.com/d/forum/3dfored

I love talking tech with anyone, but I especially love talking tech with educators. When an educator is asking me about different technologies, it makes me excited that youth are going to get a chance to experience these technologies. However, Not all technologies are ready for mass adoption in the classroom (or other education space).

It took a while before there was a 3D printer and software that I could recommend for classrooms. My earliest recommendations were for bleeding edge adopters of technology, educators who were tech savvy and comfortable with temperamental tech and staying late for the chance to be one of the first in their county to be using a 3D printer. Now, I feel the technology has stabilized and some printers are reliable enough to use by almost anyone.

As 3D printers are adopted more and more, I am now getting asked about 3D scanners. Three awesome educators snagged me on Twitter for my opinion on 3D scanners while I was at a concert the other night on my vacation. I felt compelled to reply (I told you, I love talking tech) and as my replies turned into rapid bursts of 140 character tweet blasts, I realized it was better put to a blog post together for all to see so that I could be as verbose, ahem I mean thorough, as I want in my response.

Short Answer

The promise of “scan it/print it” does not exist yet.

None of them are great, but the one I like the most right now is the Structure Sensor by Occipital. It is $499 for the scanner and software. It is best for scanning objects the size of a basketball or larger (I love it for scanning people). At best, your scans will have the texture/detail of a stone carving statue.

For scanning smaller objects, I will not recommend any current product.

Make’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing

In last year’s Make guide they just barely touched on 3D scanners. I imagine this year, there will be a lot more so when that comes out, get a copy and see if they have anything to add to my content below.

Project Ideas

I haven’t really come up with any practical uses of 3D scanning except for scanning larger remote objects in museums that could then be brought back to the classroom. Similar to the work of folks at We The Builders. I’m open to hearing more possibilities though so please share them with me if you have any.

The Scanners


The reviews below are my own, Shawn Grimes, and do not necessarily represent the views of the entire DHF staff. My reviews are based on my own experiences or the experiences reported to me by trusted colleagues in the tech community. In the not-too-distant future, I may put together a formal testing procedure for testing 3D scanners, as I’m sure this post will not be my final word on 3D scanning.

Xbox Kinect

Price: $45 used from GameStop (get one with the AC adapter) + $129 for Skanect Pro software

OS: Windows

Software: Skanect Pro

Type: Handheld

Pros: Inexpensive start to 3D scanning, decent for scanning people.

Cons: Loses tracking easily, you must move the Kinect or subject slowly. Can be frustrating and time consuming to get a good scan. Requires wired connection to computer.

Review: This was our first scanning solution. We used a tripod to mount the Kinect and then had the subject turn themselves in a $10 swivel chair from Ikea. It was a lot of fun but also pretty frustrating. Scans had to be done very slowly and weren’t always reliable. In theory, the software all should have worked on a Mac but it made the scanning process unbearably slow and it would keep losing it’s reference point which resulted in a pretty bad scan. Just a note, you need the first generation of Kinect not the latest one so get it used from Game Stop.

This is an okay way of getting started with 3D scanning and youth think it’s cool that you can use an Xbox Kinect. The software can be re-used with the Structure scanner below so it’s an okay place to start and then you can upgrade to the Structure Sensor later. We lived with this scanner for about a year before I bought the Structure Sensor. Only recommended for very patient youth.

Structure Sensor by Occipital

Price: $499 (software and hardware) + iPad/iPhone

OS: Windows, Mac

Software: Skanect Pro

Type: Handheld

Pros: Reliable hardware that is easy to use. Great for scanning objects larger than a basketball, works great with people. Cordless.

Cons: Requires additional hardware (iPad, iPhone) but that actually helps it work better.

Review: This scanner has been a lot of fun to use and is easy to use. I need to try it with elementary aged youth but I don’t think they will have any problem completing scans. It clips to an iPad (but I 3D printed an iPhone clip for it so I could use my phone instead) and uses the iPad to wirelessly connect to a laptop. The laptop processes the data sent from the scanner. This is a great design because it allows for pretty reliable scanning. I’ve had almost no issues with scans losing reference. The scanning process is very fluid and only takes a minute or two. I love using it to scan people and to 3D print little statuettes of them.

Sense 3D Scanner by 3D Systems

Price: $399 (software and hardware)

OS: Windows, Mac

Type: Handheld

Disclaimer: Untested by author, review is based on reports from other users in the tech community.

Pros: The software looked good.

Cons: Supposedly loses tracking often. Requires wired connection to computer for scanning.

Review: When this scanner was announced, I was super excited! I had been looking to upgrade our Kinect scanner and I thought that this could be the unit for us. I saw a demo of the unit on YouTube and it looked pretty easy to use. They plugged the scanner into a laptop and then someone held the laptop and then another person held the scanner and they walked around the subject and scanned them. The software looked really cool too. I was out of town when Todd Blatt from We The Builders stopped by the Tech Center with one and showed the youth how it worked so I never got to see it in person. I went back and forth so many times on whether to buy it or not. I would have it in my shopping cart and then remove it at the last minute. I started reading some reviews on Amazon and a lot of people complained that it lost tracking a lot and didn’t work on small objects. The small objects wasn’t a big deal to me, but the loss of tracking was exactly the problem I had with the Kinect. I figured that maybe these folks didn’t know how to use it correctly. I talked to a few other people in the tech community who had used or seen them used in person and they all said that tracking loss was a big issue and having to be tethered to a computer was a pain too. Ben Heck did a video with the Sense scanner and that didn’t look very good either. The Structure Sensor filled the void that this scanner was supposed to fill and coincidentally, they’ve released a product that looks a LOT like the Structure Sensor. In fact, I think it’s just a licensed version of the Structure Sensor with the 3D Systems logo slapped on.

Matter and Form

Price: $579 (software and hardware)

OS: Windows

Type: Desktop Small Object

Pros: Folds up nicely with a nice handle.

Cons: Scans, so far, have not been usable. Software is Windows only.

Review: Truth be told, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time playing with this scanner. I’m borrowing it from a friend (thank you Amy!) and I got it working just a few days before I left for vacation. I tried scanning a few different sized objects including a Dewalt 12v cordless drill battery, a medium sized 3D printed Make Robot (that’s right, I 3D scanned a 3D printed object), and my iPhone 6 Plus. None of the scans came out to a quality that I could have printed or even used. There was very little detail and the scans took 15 minutes on the low settings and about an hour or more for the high settings. I will continue playing with this when I get back in November and post a separate update then, but for now this gets two thumbs down from me.

MakerBot Digitizer

Price: $799 (software and hardware)

OS: Windows, Mac

Type: Desktop Small Object

Pros: Software is easy to use and supports Mac and Windows.

Cons: Scans, so far, have not been usable.

Review: I saved this one for last. This is the one that educators ask me about the most. I think that’s because MakerBot spends a lot of money into marketing to the education market. Most of the original minds behind MakerBot that developed their first highly successful products are now gone and the stuff they are putting out comes in a great looking case but the reliability is lackluster for the expense.

This scanner suffers from the same issues as the Matter and Form printer (same issues, $200 more expensive) but the software is much better than Matter and Form’s software and it works on a Mac. The only problem is, it doesn’t matter how good the software is if the hardware can’t scan. Some of my friends have reported having more success scanning objects that are red in color so they only scan objects using red playdoh. I’ve seen the results first hand and they were still pretty mixed.

Looking Forward

At Maker Faire NY, I saw the Zeus 3D printer and scanner. This is one of the first “all-in-one” 3D printer/scanner I have seen. They had a sample of a scanned and printed object that was small and seemed to carry a lot of detail with it. They weren’t doing a live demo because the scans could take several hours but I will be keeping an eye on this product, more for its scanning abilities than the printer itself.

I will also be keeping an eye out for the Make Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing 2014 edition to see what new scanners they have seen and covered.


My current recommendation is that the technology is still very new and there are a lot of kinks that will be worked out. Handheld scanners are getting better and I have really enjoyed using the Structure Sensor but it’s just not the right time to buy into it, even for early adopters (unless you are buying it for yourself). In 6 months or a year, we’ll be looking back and remarking on how hard 3D scanning used to be and how easy folks have it.

Additionally, it seems a bit of a novelty right now and the technology needs to make some progress before we can start using 3D scanners for practical purposes.  I have personally bought our 3D scanners at DHF because I haven’t seen the benefit to our organization to make them a worthwhile investment yet. But as a technologist, I love the idea of them and will keep playing with them until I find a purpose.

Due to the lack of performance of small object scanners, we aren’t at a point where you can scan an object and then print a copy of it or even manipulate it into your designs. Currently, your best bet for small objects is to take lots of measurements and recreate it in your choice of design software.

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Continuum of Connectivity

I believe we do not have as much of an achievement gap as we do an opportunity gap and to overcome the digital divide, youth need access to both technology and technology education.

Yesterday, we hosted a special showcase that highlighted the power of partnerships between public, non-profit, and private organizations. The focus of the event was on how all of us working together can create a continuum of connectivity, building opportunities to successfully go from the classroom to one’s career!


David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast, addressing attendees.

The youth had a great time showing off their projects to all of our special guests, including:

Also in attendance were representatives from Baltimore City Public Schools, Office of the City Council President, Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, Maker Education Initiative, Johns Hopkins University, Exelon, the Abell Foundation, the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, the Bowe-Stewart Foundation, CyberPoint, KeyTech, and more!


DHF youth Amiri & Darius showing off their hard work to Governor Martin O’Malley, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Comcast’s David Cohen, and Andrew Coy.

Check out more about the day any of the links below:

We are really grateful to ALL of our supporters who help make everything we do at the Digital Harbor Foundation possible! Without your help, we would not have been able to create so many opportunities for youth here in Baltimore, nor would we be able to help affect the larger conversation. Special thank for the recent support from:


Governor Martin O’Malley with DHF youth presenter Samuel.

12 Year Old Bella Releases Her First iOS and Android Game

Download from the App Store Get it on Google Play

Bella got her first taste of mobile game development at the Digital Harbor Foundation’s summer Maker Camp series in 2013. As an 11-year-old, she was one of the youngest youth in the camps, but also one of the most enthusiastic and ambitious. It was expected that most youth would take an entire week to complete the sample project, if not longer. She completed the self-paced curriculum in only 3 days.

During the rest of the camp, Bella worked on coming up with her own game idea and began working on it. Using artwork provided by Vicki Wenderlich of Game Art Guppy, “Monkey Mayhem” was born and a playable demo was ready for the youth showcase in only 7 days.

Bella during Camp

This was not your typical drag and drop development environment used by most youth her age, Bella used true programming techniques and tools to write real code which created her game. It totaled nearly 1,300 lines of code (1,291 to be exact)! Similar tools are being used by professional companies such as Mindgrub, and to create games such as “Thomas & Friends: Mix-Up Match-Up“, and “Truffula Shuffula” the official app for Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax movie.

Bella's Code

Last Fall, Bella joined the Digital Harbor Foundation’s after school program and continued working to add polish to her game with the hopes of eventually publishing it in the app store. Along the way, she served as an inspiration for other youth and women in tech by speaking at the 2013 TEDxYouth@Baltimore and speaking on a panel at the DC Mini Maker Faire.

Bella Speaking to Inspire

After over a year of working on her game (in between playing soccer, going to school, giving two public talks about making, working on two other projects, and being a youth), her game was ready to submit to the app stores! Bella put together all of the marketing paragraphs and materials, and completed the application to submit the app for approval at Apple and patiently, or at least as patient as any youth can be, waited for word from Apple.

Bella's Waiting for Approval

Apple initially rejected the name of Bella’s game and she had to brainstorm a new name that would still go with the main menu and theme of the game. After a few swings and misses, she finally came up with a name that Apple accepted and it was published in the store on August 22, 2014. It’s now available in the Google Play store as well.

Download from the App Store Get it on Google Play

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3D Printing for Educators Workshop

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 4.12.32 PM

Here at Digital Harbor Foundation Tech Center, we not only help young makers discover a new world of technology, but we assist and train educators in replicating a innovative maker program for their own workspaces. In August, I had the chance to assist Shawn and Stephanie Grimes, on their 3D Printing for Educators workshop, which helped educators learn more about 3D Printing and software tools through a hands-on approach.

Over the course of four days, educators came together and learned as much about 3D printing and 3D design as we could cover! Most educators opted to purchase a Printrbot Simple Metal as an add-on to the workshop and learned how to operate this 3D printer and set it up during the workshop. The workshop introduced participants to a wide range of 3D design tools, the basics operation of their 3D printers, and how to use these skills and tools as part of their various education programs.


Our participants rocked! This was the first workshop we have done for educators in this way and it was simply awesome. We had a great time meeting each participant and working together with them throughout the week. We also received great feedback about the workshop as well as lots of information about what to improve next time.

The workshop was absolutely fantastic, one of the best I have ever attend in my 15 years in education. You all are simply awesome. The plethora of resources that I will have access to is an added bonus and just shows your commitment and dedication to go above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks so much!! I really appreciate it!!”  - Baltimore City Teacher


I think what made this workshop so successful, was the approachable and interactive delivery of the content and overall design of the workshop by Steph & Shawn, which ultimately made it fun to learn. If you have the chance to take this workshop, grasp the opportunity and if the workshop changes your outlook on learning, let it! We will be offering this workshop again in the near future, but we are still working on the plans for this. If you would like to be notified when details are ready, please sign up for our mailing list: DHF E-Newsletter

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Highlights From Family Make Night: Digital Postcards

Each month we host an event where local families can come and work on a maker themed project. We’ve had great success with this in the past and when we became a host site for Mozilla’s Maker Party initiative, we began to brainstorm a fun way to integrate Mozilla’s tools within the framework of Family Make Night. We decided that Popcorn Maker would be a fun, interactive choice to spread web literacy. We settled on the theme of digital postcards with the idea that families could create content based on what they did over the summer.


Families were encouraged to bring summer photos and videos to make a completely custom postcard to share with family and friends. We didn’t want lack of media content to be a barrier of entry, so we put together a small collection of videos and photos of local attractions that families could use for their postcard.


Two of our members, Amiri and Darius, volunteered to help our guests with any technical questions. They both did an excellent job and it was great to see our youth confidently assisting in the session. As this Family Make Night was more technically demanding than previous workshops, it was great to have the additional help!



Our guests had a varying range of web expertise, but found that Popcorn Maker was intuitive and fun to use. We had the attending families tag their projects with “DHF-FMN” so that they could see and share with other guests. Everyone was excited to finish their projects and send their postcards to family and friends! As families were leaving the space, we heard them mention that they want to continue to explore everything that Popcorn Maker has to offer!


As the night came to a close, families were eager to share their completed projects. Many of the attendees wanted to continue working on their projects when they got home,excited to be able to further explore their new Popcorn Maker expertise! We provided access to our tutorial and source material so that families could continue to create digital postcards once they left the center.


We had a great time seeing everyone engaged in the activity and really exploring the strength of Popcorn Maker. It was exciting to be able to integrate the Mozilla Webmaker initiative into our Family Make Night this month.

Check out all the great postcards from the night!


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Seeking Volunteers to Lead Technology Workshops

Hey there! Have you ever wanted to get involved here at DHF? Do you have a skill-set or profession in Graphic Design, App Development, 3D Design, Systems, or Web Development or some other technology?  Now is your chance to get involved in DHF by leading a workshop for our youth! We are interested in a broad range of workshops dealing with all sorts of technology and maker skills. Our program runs each weekday from 4-6pm at the Tech Center located in Federal Hill. We are looking for adults who are interested in sharing what they know with a dedicated and intelligent group of youth who aspire to gain new skills.


Below is a list of some of the possible workshop topics and desired categories, but if you have a workshop idea you would like to share, please don’t feel limited to what is listed here:

Email iman@digitalharbor.org if you are interested in leading a workshop for our youth at the Tech Center.

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Tutorial: Create a Digital Postcard!

Tonight you’ll be using Popcorn Maker, a multimedia creation tool developed by Mozilla as part of their Webmaker initiative. We’ll be creating a digital postcard that highlights the best parts of your summer by combining photos, audio, and video which can then be easily shared with family and friends. If you’ve brought your own photos and video you’re free to use those as your media material tonight. If not we’ve put together a collection of summer themed photos and videos that you can use to learn this fun tool!

Note: Clicking these screenshots will open a larger version in a separate browser tab.

Popcorn Maker Main


What You Will Need:

1. Computer with Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. You’re free to use one of our Macbook Air laptops!

2. Webmaker account. We’ll walk through the sign-up, don’t worry!

3. Source videos and photos. If you’ve brought your own, that’s great. If not, we’ve provided several samples you can use.


1. Navigate to Popcorn Maker and click the ‘Sign In‘ button in the top right.

Popcorn Maker


Screen shot 2014-09-03 at 2.02.18 PM


2. If you’ve brought your own media to upload, there are two additional steps to complete. If you’re going to use our content, jump to Step 3.

3. Popcorn Maker is split into three parts. The playback, the media layers, and the media browser.

Popcorn Maker-2

4. In the media browser, you’ll see a tab that says ‘+ Events‘ Events are any media other than video, which is managed in the Media tab. Here you can add Text, Popups, Images, and many other things. A lot of the fun comes from experimenting with these Events!

Popcorn Maker-3


Adding Images:

1. To quickly add images, navigate to the ‘Image‘ button in the Events tab. You’ll have two options for linking pictures: drag and drop or image url.

Popcorn Maker-5


Adding Video:

1. Now we’re ready to begin bringing video into Popcorn Maker! You can make an awesome postcard using just Events, but you can also quickly add video. We’ve put together a list of summer themed photos and videos that you’re free to use as additional material for your project. These links can be found on this page after the instructions.

Adding Layers:

1. You create the content of your postcard by layering the events and media on top of each other. The project timeline is a guide for you to see where you’re placing the media.

Digital Harbor Foundation Summer Popcorn - Popcorn Maker

This is an example of how I’ve layered the events and video. Some are overlapping and others are next to each other. Play around with the placement of your media to customize your postcard!

These are the basic tools you’ll need to create a great digital postcard! Experiment with the different events and layers!

Sharing Your Postcard:

1. When you’re ready to share, click on the Project tab on the far right.

Popcorn Maker-4


You’re now ready to create fun, custom postcards! The power of Popcorn Maker is the speed with which you can customize your projects, so make sure to experiment with the layout and have fun with the entire process!

Photo and Video Resources:


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