Ideas for planning large-scale maker workshops

This Friday (February 20th) the MakerBus will be helping Brescia College with their “Just Own It” conference. During this one-day event Brescia will welcome 300 high school girls from London and the surrounding area for an active learning workshop encouraging young women to consider becoming entrepreneurs.

The MakerBus was invited by Brescia to design one of their breakout sessions. This is the third time we’ve been invited to plan a large-scale workshop. Large scale workshops introduce a lot of variables and challenges that smaller scale workshops don’t – in the post we’ll share some of our tips for planning and executing a large scale workshop.

Mo People Mo Money

One of the biggest challenges with planning a large scale workshop is cost. The more people required more materials, and therefore, more money. Luckily in London we have several great options for finding low-cost maker materials.

  1. ElElSu – Electrical & Electronic Supply Inc. is London’s best source for all things electrical and electronic. From LEDs, to batteries, to capacitors, to Arduinos, ElElSu has pretty much anything a maker could want at a reasonable price. Richard, the owner of the store, is always more than happy to help answer questions and give guidance for projects. If we need to acquire a large number of electronic supplies, this is always our first stop.
  2. Lens Mills – Lens Mills is craft paradise. From cloth, to kitchen supplies, to clothing, Lens Mills is an extremely affordable place to find large quantity of supplies. For nearly any maker project, Lens Mills is the place to go.
  3. Forest City Surplus – Like Lens Mills, Forest City Surplus is a treasure trove of maker supplies. Where else can you find 88 cent laser pointers, fire wire cables, and army uniforms?
  4. The Great Outdoors – London isn’t called the Forest City for nothing. Sometimes useful maker supplies can be found in your own backyard. Last year for the Forest of Reading, we showed students how to make weather stations using pinecones. Huge thanks to Fred Cahill for foraging 1000 pinecones for us!

Sometimes an event is so large that you need to look online for the best price. Last year for Western Fair we prepared for a 5000 person workshop. We searched high and low for the best online prices for LEDs, batteries, and rare earth magnets. Here are our favourite online sources for maker supplies:

  1. AliExpress/Alibaba – this Chinese retailer is the largest online retailer in the world (larger than Amazon and eBay). If you need to order 10,000 rare earth magnets without breaking the bank, this is where would go.
  2. – The name tells you everything you need to know. This website sells low-cost batteries. While they don’t deliver into Canada, it’s easier than you think to explain to a border guard why you’re bringing 5000 3 volt batteries into the country.
  3. eBay – eBay can also be a great place to order bulk maker supplies. While you sometimes have to search for a deal, it can definitely be worth it.

Embrace the chaos

Once hundreds of people are involved in a workshop, it’s time to stop worrying about perfection. We find that the best way to plan a successful large-scale workshop is to embrace the chaos. Try to plan activities that are easy to grasp and can be worked on in a number of different ways.

For our upcoming Brescia workshop, for example, we’ve planned a rapid prototyping activity in which the girls will have to invent a prototype. The activity has three rules: the prototype must involve a working LED; it must try to solve a problem; it must be designed collaboratively. Each team will be given a box of supplies and a brief tutorial showing possible ways to create a working circuit to light the LED. After that they have an hour to rapidly prototype a product.

By creating an open activity, we embrace the participant’s creative energy and embrace the chaos of creative construction. In this activity, we place the emphasis on the creative act, not the final product. The girls are instructed that it doesn’t really matter how their final product turns out, what really matters is that they use their creative energies to try to come up with an original solution to an existing problem.

We’re looking forward to our workshop at Brescia. Sometime next week we’ll post our reflections on the event and share ideas for how we might improve upon it in the future.

Just Own It PPT

What experiences do you have planning and running larger scale workshops? If you have ideas for tips to share, we’d love to hear them!

The MakerBus


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