Mapping New Makers’ Learning Paths

Mapping New Makers’ Learning Paths

hcircuit_pub850A few years ago I was at an Open Make at the Lawrence Hall of Science, and as I listened to Garratt Gallagher of what was then called Hacker Scouts (since renamed Curiosity Hacked), a slide popped up of something I’d been imagining in my own head for months: a map of the terrain of making. He called it the Hackerling Circuit, and you can see it, right. I loved the clever landscape, built of rivers of melted solder or thread and resistors as landmarks.

I later sketched a more elaborate map for Maker Camp, below, to show how our six weeks of camp would build an imaginary campground of magical new experiences.


Click to view larger version
Click to view larger version


I hope to fully realize a full-color drawing of this happy land stretching from Inspiration Point down though the Raspberry Pi Patch and past the Infinity Pool beyond The Dougherty Dale, as a way to represent to new makers that the world of making is full of exciting new pockets of adventure to explore.

Many students are packing up for a hike through this terrain right now. As hundreds of educators head into a new year in which they have resolved to get their kids making more, we thought it would be helpful to share some of the insights we’ve gained from other teachers who have started clubs and makerspaces in their schools about how to think about the structure of a course in making.

We go into a lot more detail in the Makerspace Playbook, available for free download on If you are interested in making with students, definitely go get your copy of the Makerspace Playbook there now.

Making is not easily defined, and so teaching a class in making is no simple task! Many teachers have gotten started with simple circuits or with basic construction, and then moved through other kinds of related making. Here’s one way to think about how you can hop from one kind of making to another.

Click for a larger view
Click for a larger view


Linger in each topic as long as you, the class, or the individual student would like. For example, start in the bright green box in the lower left by making LED throwies and paper circuits, then build slightly more complex circuits. Run power through a motor or a buzzer. Explore switches. Use an offset weight on your motor to create a scribblebot or other simple artbot, then make the transition into robotics and programming. Or, alternatively, if you added a buzzer to your circuits after the LED projects, introduce the idea of sound circuits, and from there you can do some circuit bending with hacked toys. Or from sound circuits, you could build musical instruments. Wander around this map as you or your students’ interests dictate.

Another way to think about building a maker class is to introduce your kids to the materials of making, with each session focusing on a new one to explore in a new way. You could easily construct a series of a dozen explorations around these 12 materials and objects: wood, cardboard, paper, fabric, metal, plastics, glue, inks/dyes/paint, LEDs, motors, sound, microcontrollers.

Other teachers focus on one skill at a time, spending a session or several weeks on each before moving on. Consider a path that allows your students or club members to sample from this delicious smorgasbord: woodworking; soldering / welding; sewing by hand and machine; knitting/crochet/knots; molding and casting; and interaction design. Add your own favorite skills to the list!

Whatever the series of projects your class or club will undertake, we’ve identified many general skills we expect many new makers exercise (or acquire!) while making. These include:

  • safety
  • measuring
  • design
  • construction
  • troubleshooting
  • testing
  • using instruments (like multimeters)
  • choosing the right tool
  • programming
  • mapping
  • tracking
  • reading schematics
  • following patterns
  • sketching
  • documentation
  • writing
  • observation (as in when they are reverse-engineering)
  • deconstruction
  • repair

There are as many ways to conceptualize the connections between the different interconnected domains of making as there are Makers. If you are teaching a maker class or advising a maker club, we’d love to see and hear how you think about giving your kids a sampling of many different kinds of making. Please share in the comments below or by emailing us at

Next, we’ll begin a series in which we’ll share the resources where you can find the projects that fall into all these buckets. Stay tuned!

0 thoughts on “Mapping New Makers’ Learning Paths

  1. Terre Tulsiak says:

    The issue with getting buy-in from schools usually comes from ‘liability’ issues-real or imagined.

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Michelle, or Binka, makes . While at Maker Media, she oversaw publications, outreach, and programming for kids, families, and schools. Before joining Maker Media in 2007, she worked at the Exploratorium, in Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, and as a curriculum designer for various publishers and educational researchers. When she’s not supporting future makers, including her two young sons, Binka does some making of her own, most often as a visual artist.

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