Finding Starter Projects (Part 2: project databases)

Finding Starter Projects (Part 2: project databases)

If you’ve ever tried looking for a good source for classroom lesson plans or project workshop guides, you know there are a LOT of choices. Sometimes there seem to be as many project lists and databases as there are project-based learning enthusiasts out there!

We’ve asked teachers where they go to get ideas of what to make in the classroom, and they shared with us a few of their favorite resources. In this post we share databases, and in the next one we share a few of our favorite sites that have more carefully curated sets of projects rather than an open, community-built repository.

Instructables, of course!

Instructablesinstructables is a clear favorite for many teachers who are looking for something pretty specific. I doubt there are any Make: readers unfamiliar with it, and our list would be incomplete without it. Born of necessity in 2005, when its founders wanted a way to document and share designs for kite-surfing, now it’s a rich resource about how to do just about everything, with nearly 150,000 projects included. Just a note of warning, though: we have overheard our teachers cautioning one another on the feasibility of some projects; since the projects aren’t often tested by second and third parties, it’s worth it to read any user comments attached to the project, and then try it out on your own first to work out any bugs in the step-by-step. (Actually, that’s a good habit for any project before you introduce to your students!) Look for the monthly contests to motivate your students to document their own clever hacks. And don’t forget to check out Instructables special teacher area, and helpful groupings like Workshop for Young Engineers

Make It @ Your Librarymakeit contains over 200 projects from Instructables that have been chosen by a team of librarians with a future of library-based makerspaces in mind. Teachers and librarians alike will appreciate the search criteria on the side: ages of kids under or over 10, or adults; categories and tags; roughly what kind of space and tools the activity requires (can you easily set it up in a room you use temporarily? does it make a huge mess?) I liked the site’s cheerful introduction: “Maker projects don’t need to be the result of thousands of dollars of space renovation, equipment or special staffing. The projects on this site, powered by Instructables and vetted by librarians, are a great way to begin. Happy creating!”

Nice Metadata!

HowtoSmileHowtosmile was built by some of our friends in the museum education world who have informal educators in mind, those “teaching school-aged kids in non-classroom settings.” That said, this is a goldmine of activities, all with a lot of good metadata attached to them. Besides basics like categories and subjects, keywords, estimated materials cost, age range, and language, the database also allows contributors to identify skills the learners need to be able to do to do the activity and what learning styles it supports. Cleverly, the time required gets broken down into two types: preparation (i.e. a teacher’s time) and learning (student time).

OER CommonsOER pulls together Open Education Resources (OER), i.e. teaching and learning materials freely available for everyone to use. It points to and characterizes tens of thousands full courses, modules, syllabi, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources hosted in digital media collections around the world. Because this database’s focus is on shareability, each record also defines the resource’s conditions of use, from “No Strings Attached” to “Read the Fine Print.” You can also search by media format, including Braille/BNF and eBooks. Our friends at ISKME regularly hold workshops at, before, or after our Maker Faires to encourage teachers to add more maker-related content to the site.

RAFTraft has over 700 activity sheets that, while all authored by RAFT staff rather than a larger community, are searchable by grade level, subject area, and content standard you want to cover. You can also limit your search to those newly added or updated or that have video demos, pictures or kits. All are based on readily-available, low-cost materials such as cardboard tubes, bottle caps, old CD’s, etc. While you’re on their site, check out the range of materials that RAFT diverts from the waste stream into sensible educational uses. Check the list from the Reusable Resources Association to see if your community has a similar resource for reusing manufacturers’ castoffs.

All Things Are PBL!

The Buck Institute for Education serves as a clearinghouse for lesson plans in project-based learning (PBL) from a couple dozen other sources: Envision Schools, ePals Global Community, Expeditionary Learning, Explorer Elementary, Granbury ISD, High Tech High, iEARN, Mathalicious, NASA, National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, New Tech Network, NextLesson, North Lawndale College Prep, Ohio Resource Center, Once Upon a School, PBE & PBG Units, PBLU, PBWorks, Project H, The Nature Conservancy, Virtual Schoolhouse, and the West Virginia Department of Education. Teachers can also restrict their searches by keyword or math / English language arts Common Core alignment by grade level.


pinterestFinally, Pinterest has yielded a great deal of inspiration for our teacher-makers. As with Instructables, you’ve probably encountered Pinterest in your search results when you’ve been looking for something very specific. But it is browsable too. Many teachers are pinning profusely, using the platform to brainstorm class projects. The page Teachers on Pinterest serves as a clearinghouse for teacher ideas. Look around for boards you like. We recommend the Edutopia board, for example.


What did we miss? Tell us!

While a couple of teachers also directed us to ePals and Better Lesson , we didn’t find it easy to locate maker-friendly projects in those two resources. Let us know if you do! And, as we said at the start, there are hundreds of resources out there, so let us know if we’re missing any other searchable databases. Don’t forget that our next post will include links to more neatly defined and planned “curriculum” sets, like Engineering is Elementary, the Exploratorium Tinkering Studio, PBS Design Squad, Howtoons, Makey Makey, Spark Truck, Nerdy Derby, and lots more.

What’s your favorite database for making projects? Add to our list by commenting below.


Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

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.

View more articles by Michelle "Binka" Hlubinka


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