Creating a Culture

Looking back at the past year I realised in some ways I was dictating too much of the creative process to my students in a hurry to make sure everyone was on the same page.  I was eliminating the struggle and creative process.   MakerBox is all about creativity and learning through doing.  Process over product.  Mistakes are to be celebrated, ideas to be shared, and obstacles to be overcome.

For Term 4 I set out to get back to the basics.  For our very first Recycled Robots project I decided I would introduce the students to the concept and show some examples, but it was up to them to figure out how all the individual components fit together to make a drawing robot.   I also brought back the Innovation Board, a space for us to share innovative ideas that we think might be helpful for other students.

On the first day, I was a bit scared. There was a great sense of uncertainty, what if my grand plan didn’t work?   Ironically, I was worried about (gulp) failure.

At first the kids were a bit uncertain as well.  They approached the supplies table with caution and not much conversation.  But eventually they got to work and the end results were amazing!  Every single bot was different and the kids came up with many ideas my boring adult brain never would have.  Ideas they probably would have never articulated if an adult was walking them through the steps.

Caitlyn had the idea to use straws to hold markers on for easy removal and switching of colours.  She cut straws to size, then made a straight cut, she then hot glued the straws onto her robot.

Other students saw this idea and decided to replicate it.  Natalie found the straw was too small to hold the thick marker she wanted to use, so she remixed Caitlyn’s idea by wrapping a pipecleaner around the pen then hot gluing it to her robot.

The best part was during reflection time at the end.  One student would say something about what didn’t work and how they fixed it and their peers would chime in with an “oh yeah!” or “that happened to me too!”  The students were listening and engaging with what their classmates were saying and learning in the process.

During the second session I had to return to my teacher role so the kids understood how to connect the Hummingbird and components together, then code an LED using Scratch.   There was a bit of self-discovery, but it was more structured then the previous week.

In the third week though, I made an active decision to focus on facilitation over lecture.  I told students they were going to learn about three more types of output: motors, servos, and tri-colour LEDs, but I wasn’t going to tell them how to code these components or what they did.

As a class we quickly reviewed how to plug the components into the Hummingbird brain, then they were off!

It was amazing!  Every group ended up coding their components in 30 minutes or less.  The servo tripped everyone up the most, “It worked once,  but then it stopped!  Everything else is still working though”, one group remarked.   After some careful questioning, “So you told it to go to 70°, then what?” they all realised the servo was now at their chosen angle and couldn’t go there again until they told it to go somewhere else.   They immediately set to work, remedying the problem.


Students interact with teacher-made robot to determine how it works

In later weeks sensors were a trickier component to understand.  Sensors are different from output.  Output is the way a robot reacts, a simple action, but sensors are how a robot gets input from the world around it.   To code a sensor requires a bit of maths and a lot of logic.


Student draws code blocks needed for “if, then, else” statement

To add sensors to their robots the students had to know how to use greater than, less than, as well as if, then, else statements. We played multiple games to help us understand how robots respond to sensor input.

In the end, Recycled Robots 2017 was a complete success.  The kids explored with more passion and even learned how to manage themselves in groups.  By giving students the opportunity to learn new things for themselves and share with others discoveries were more personal and creativity was at it’s highest.   I can’t wait to see what this creative bunch will get up into the future.

I’m excited for what 2018 will bring, starting with the revamped Game Design Adventures.



Steampunk Science

Kids honed their engineering skills at Steampunk Science this spring holiday.   Class kicked off with an exploratory trip to the Cable Car and Museum.  We observed the inner mechanics of the Cable Car which uses many different simple machines to work.  This makes it a compound machine.  It was really interesting to see all the moving parts and how they fit together.  We were even able to hold a piece of cable similar to the cable used to pull the cable car.

We then headed back to the Space Place to build our own simple machines!   Before students could begin collecting supplies they sketched out their plan.  We ended up with a wide variety of machines, but they all fell into two categories: pulleys and levers.

Mistakes were made throughout the building process, but that’s all a part of learning.  By asking questions and being persistent everyone was able to work through the sticky bits.


Questions to Keep the Learning Going:

  • What are the different parts of a pulley?
  • What is a fulcrum and why is it important in a lever?
  • Where should you place the fulcrum in order to make it easier to lift a load?
  • Where might you find pulleys, levers, and ramps in your daily life?

Roving Mars

The first week of spring hols brought a great deal of hammering, creative problem solving, and fast-paced rover racing to the Space Place at Carter Observatory.   For three days we led Mars rover building workshops for eager young engineers.

Rover Planning

We explored the many ways humans explore the solar system and how rovers can help provide important data to scientists here on Earth.   We then looked at rovers that have been sent to Mars, exploring the various parts that help rovers collect this data.

This was an especially exciting week to be talking about Mars as NASA just announced that they have found water on the Red Planet.  This sort of discovery would not be possible without the help of rovers and satellites.


In order to create our own rovers we had to think about all the parts that comprise a rover and how we could apply the same principles to our smaller prototype versions.  In doing this we discovered some new words to add to our vocabularies.

roverWe also saw both potential and kinetic energy in action.  Potential energy is stored energy that has not yet been expended.   When we wind up the rubber band energy source on our rovers we are creating potential energy.  When we let our rubber bands go we create kinetic energy, which is energy in motion.

Measuring a plastic lid to find the centre to make a wheel

Measuring to find the centre for a wheel

We quickly realised designing and building a rover isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Over the three days we discovered our rovers needed more than cardboard wheels to traverse the Martian landscape.  Wheels need to be thick to provide enough surface area for traction. Real rovers created by NASA have wheels with cleats to help them climb rocks and escape sandtraps on Mars.  Cleats were in short supply at the Space Place, so we experimented with creating different types of tread for our wheels using everything from rubber bands to the ridged edges of pie tins.


For some of the days robot testing ran over and we weren’t able to reflect, but if you get the chance ask one of our awesome engineers the following questions:

  • What worked well on your rover?
  • What could be improved next time?
  • What was your biggest challenge when building and testing your rover?







Design Your Own T-Shirt

Want to make your very own Maker Party T-Shirt?  Now you can!  Let us show you how.

This project involves sharp tools and has the potential to be very messy, so it should be done only with adult supervision.


  • Snap-Off-Blade Knife
  • Fabric Paint
  • Thick Cardboard
  • Blank T-Shirt
  • Stencil Print Out
    • You can use our stencil or make your own
  • Translucent Mylar Plastic
    • We used plastic L-Shaped pockets
  • Small Foam Paint Roller / Foam Paint Brush
  • Cutting Board
  • Permanent Marker
  • Tape
  • Iron
  • Ironing Board
  • Hair Dryer*
  • Spray Glue/Display Mount*



1. Print out your stencil and tape it to a sheet of mylar

IMG_20150712_1335032.  Cut out your design using a snap-off-blade knife.  Remember to only cut your design out on top of the cutting board.

3. When you have finished cutting out your design, peel the paper away from the plastic.

4. Now you’re ready to paint!  Place a piece of thick cardboard inside the t-shirt you want to paint.  This will prevent paint from soaking through to the back of the shirt.  Place your stencil on top of the shirt, you can tape it down if you are worried it may move.

5.  Squeeze your fabric paint onto another piece of cardboard and roll your paint roller through the paint, making sure to coat it evenly.  Avoid using too much paint or else your design will become a blobby mess.

6. Now hold down your stencil with one hand and roll over it with the other.  Make sure that you get even paint coverage across your design. IMG_20150712_160924 7.  Wait for the paint to dry.  You can use a hair-dryer to speed up this process.

8.  Once dry, carefully remove the stencil. IMG_20150712_1611169. If your design requires multiple stencils, apply the second stencil in a different colour.  Be sure to follow steps 1-7.

10.  Once the paint has completely dried and you have finished your design, iron over the paint for approximately a minute.   You must iron the paint to set it, this prevents it from washing off.  If you have access to a clothes dryer you can opt to stick your shirt in the dryer for 30 minutes instead of ironing. IMG_20150712_154821_edit


  • You may have to make more than one stencil to create your design.  the Maker Party logo takes two stencils; one for the blue shape, another for the yellow words
  • If you have multiple stencils for your design number each stencil with a permanent marker so you can keep track of the order they should be used
  • Watch out for letters with holes such as P, A, and R.  You can create “bridges” to these centre pieces so they aren’t lost in your design.
  • When stencilling text use a foam brush instead of a roller to dab the paint on.
  • New shirts often need to be washed prior to stencilling.  You can test your material by dripping a few drops of water onto it.  If the water beads, your shirt must be washed first.  If it soaks into the fabric you’re good to go!
  • Instead of putting your design on a t-shirt, try a piece of thick craft paper to create a poster!


Space Exploration

Over the summer hols little learners between the ages of 5 and 7 blasted off into space with our Space Exploration programme at Saint George’s Hall.

We learned the order of the planets using the clever mnemonic device:

Then we painted our own planets to create a mobile of the solar system while discussing facts about each of the planets and what happened to Pluto.  It is important to note that the sun is not a planet, it is a star.  It is the only star in our solar system, but there are many others that are larger throughout the universe.

Painted Planets

The kids loved the idea of planets orbiting around the sun! We went out on the front lawn to explore how planets both orbit around the sun while simultaneously rotating on their axis.  It was difficult to orbit and rotate at the same time without getting dizzy!

The students did struggle a bit with understanding the difference between the solar system, galaxy, and universe.

Life, Universe, & Everything

The solar system is just the system of things that orbit around our sun.   That’s why it’s called the solar system.  Our solar system has only one star, our sun.

Our solar system is a small part of the larger Milky Way Galaxy, which has many more stars, some of which are larger than ours.

The Milky Way Galaxy is just one galaxy in the larger universe which comprises everything!

After lunch we learned about comets, which are commonly referred to as “dirty snowballs” because they are made up of ice and dirt.  As comets near the sun they begin to melt slightly, forming a “tail” of gas particles.  The students created their own flying snowballs out of foil and streamers.


We ended the day by using homemade puffy paint made out of PVA glue and shaving cream to create moons in various phases.  We used our fingers to create craters in our moons.  It’s always great when a project is both educational and messy!


Maker Party Samuel Marsden

Circuit BraceletsNew day, new adventure!  Today we visited Samuel Marsden Collegiate School in Karori for an after-school mini-Maker Party with Year 6, 7, & 8 students.

The girls were tasked with creating simple circuits using wire, 3 volt batteries, and LEDs.  They were then able to decorate them into bracelets using beads and pipe cleaners.

CpllaborationThere were challenges ahead as the girls had to determine the polarity of the LED so they could place it correctly in their circuit.   The act of getting the LED to stay firmly attached to their wire was also a difficult process, but the girls pushed through and they all went home with working circuits.

There’s still some work to be done, when asked what I could do differently as an instructor, the girls unanimously agreed that I could make it easier and give them the answer of how to painlessly attach the LED to the wire.  I understand where they are coming from, but part of the process of making is to discover these things on your own, to become innovators.  That said, there was still quite a bit of innovation taking place.  Some of the girls decided that they would prefer tiaras to bracelets, so they remixed the project to include a headband made out of pipe cleaners, upon which they attached their circuit.

I really hope that we are able to return soon, as we ran out of time and actually had a second project planned.  Not going to give away too much, but this particular project will force the girls to get out of their comfort zones and begin thinking in fresh, new ways.  Life doesn’t always give you all the answers and neither does making!

This workshop was sponsored through the Wellington Makerspace and made possible due to the hard work of Philippa Antipas.