Open Connections

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Open Connections and the Makerspace Movement

Open Connections and the Makerspace Movement: Shared Philosophies on Learning and Human Nature


Would you like to create a custom t-shirt, build a 3D topographical map from wood, design a bumper sticker, construct an off-the-wall musical instrument, make an interactive stuffed animal, or customize a robot? All this and so much more is possible in OC’s new makerspace.


However, even with these examples, some of you might still be thinking, “These are interesting projects…but what exactly is a makerspace?” A great question, so let me explain. First, let’s look back. Two of the last three years my colleague Mike and I spent Mondays working with a group of OC teens at NextFab in South Philadelphia. NextFab describes itself as, “a network of collaborative makerspaces for creators of any skill level or interest.” Those Mondays provided the teens, Mike, and me with training and ample time to use a variety of machines. Our two years there culminated with the design and fabrication of the Open Connections sign at the top of the driveway. The experience also left us wanting to bring the makerspace experience to OC.


Our idea became a reality this past year we when we received a generous grant from the Crystal Trust Foundation that funded the creation of our own makerspace. Makerspaces have become very popular with many schools, libraries, and community centers looking to create some form of one. While there is no single definition for a makerspace, one that I particularly like is: a makerspace is a physical space in which people with shared interests, especially in computing or technology, can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge. Many see this as a partial return to the DIY (do-it-yourself) era when the magazine Popular Mechanics was treasured and Radio Shack stores were goldmines.


Our makerspace houses a variety of diverse technological equipment and materials. We currently have laser engraver/ cutters, a 3D printer, Lego Mindstorms, programmable microcontrollers, a printer/cutter, a heat press, sewing machines, and Makey Makeys (see the sidebar for descriptions of these equipment/materials). I’ve been drawn to makerspaces for as long as I have known of their existence, and I believe that part of the reason is that these spaces remind me of Open Connections in that they value selfdirection, creativity, freedom, ownership, natural learning, collaboration, and real-work.


A makerspace is a place of possibility and FREEDOM that can bring out the CREATIVITY in all of us. It offers handson learning with a variety of machines and materials that allow the user a degree of freedom that is limited only by his or her imagination. A makerspace provides REAL-WORK opportunities as makers work on projects that are meaningful to them whether they aim to solve a problem, put a smile on someone’s face, or express themselves. This high level of OWNERSHIP can translate into the grit necessary to work through the inevitable challenges that arise with any new creation.


The culture of a makerspace values and nurtures COLLABORATION. This culture recognizes that all of us have different areas of interest and expertise and at any given moment each of us can play the role of the facilitator. This “we-are-all-in-this-together” expectation provides a rich collaborative environment that doesn’t solely rely on the knowledge and vision of any single person.


A makerspace nurtures NATURAL LEARNING. There is no need for grades in a makerspace where each project is unique. Many projects will require academic skills from the fields of science, math and logic, and all projects will provide opportunities to develop real-life skills of time management, problem-solving, and flexible thinking. In the end though, “success” will be determined by the young person, through his or her own process of reflection and evaluation.


I am looking forward to sharing this new resource with all of you. I am excited to see what the young people create and, more importantly, the learning that naturally occurs along the way.

Equipment List

  • Makerbot 3D Printer: Our 3D printer creates a three-dimensional object from a computer sketch by extruding plastic onto a base. The base moves down in small increments as the object is built up through layer upon layer of extruded plastic.
  • Epilog Laser Engraver/Cutter and a Glowforge Laser Engraver/Cutter: These machines use a laser beam to etch and/or cut through a material. These machines can work with a variety of materials including paper, cardboard, wood, acrylic, and leather. Many thanks to Drexel University for the donation of the Epilog Laser Engraver/Cutter.
  • Roland Printer/Cutter: This machine prints in full color and can cut complex shapes on a variety of media. This machine can be used to create stickers, t-shirt graphics, large format posters, signs, banners, decals, and more.
  • Arduinos and Microbits: These are programmable microcontrollers that can be used to read inputs (status of a button, lighting level, pressure, temperature), analyze the incoming information, and take an action (make a noise, turn on a motor, light an led, close a relay).
  • Lego MindstormsⓇ: This material allows young people to use Lego bricks to create their own robot that is capable of sensing and responding to the world around them.
  • Makey Makey: A Makey Makey is an electronic invention tool that allows users to connect everyday objects to computer programs.
  • Supplies: Additionally, our makerspace includes a variety of additional materials and equipment that can inspire a youth, including glue guns, a heat press, sensors, motors, recyclables, art supplies, paper, markers, and much, much more.