Have Stuff, Need Stuff?

As we continue to test ideas around up-cycling, we have folks offering to give us material and run across others who can make use of what we have.  To date we’ve gathered and distributed equipment for tear-down activities, parts salvaged from that equipment, and everything from postage stamps (cancelled) to plywood (new).

We don’t want to be the warehouse for everything that might come and go.  Since it gives us a better view into what schools can make use of, we are more than happy to facilitate an exchange.

If you need materials for a project or have something a school might use, let us know.

    Collab Lab 16: Recap & Notes

    First, a bit of background…

    In our conversations around makerspaces over the past year and half, we’ve heard several concerns around the cost of materials for student projects, and the effort involved to secure material donations.

    Schools need material for student projects but:

    • They have limited budgets
    • It’s time consuming to track down potential donors
    • They can’t always find donors for what they need

    There are a parallel set of concerns on the industry side. Companies are willing to donate material for use in schools but:

    • They don’t know always know what is useful
    • They don’t know who needs it
    • They don’t have a simple means to do so

    We started exploring a model for getting excess material from industry available for use in area schools last January when we partnered with Betty Brinn to sponsor a challenge through The Commons.  That work continued over the summer and fall as we experimented with pulling equipment from Gooodwill’s E-Cycling stream for tear down events to recover useful parts.

    The challenge of getting excess materials to educators has been addressed in the Bay Area through a non-profit called the Resources Area For Teaching (RAFT).  While they do a great job at pulling material in and packaging it up, the relationships that develop with donor companies are with RAFT.  Given all the efforts we see to help schools develop relationships with area firms and career based learning experiences (CBLEs), we see that as the wrong model for Milwaukee.

    We’d like to see schools use up-cycling as another point of engagement with the companies around them.  The idea is to develop a network exchange model, where participants have access to materials their counterparts are able to pull in. That network could include not just K12 schools, but libraries, museums, and other organizations who can provide or use up-cycled materials for student projects.

    In a network model, we need a way to create a view of inventory that is spread across nodes.  It turns out that a couple of the leading thinkers on network resource planning live in western Wisconsin. They have developed an open source platform that facilitates the kind of network we envision.  We’ve paired them up with a team of MSOE students who are working to tailor the application to see how it would work for us.  We’re starting with the simple stuff– let me see who is in the network, and what is available.

    The model we proposed looks like this:

    • Non-Profit consortium
    • Supported by membership fees
    • Members issued credits used to purchase material
    • Members set pricing (in credits) for material/services they offer
    • Consortium sets membership fees/credit pricing
    • Supported by open source NRP platform

    And now, the recap…

    Up-cycling discussion at Collab Lab 16During Collab Lab 16, we walked participants through our model and had them beat up the idea in both small group discussions and a sharing out of key points to all participants.

    Participants listed the following as key questions/concerns for each player in the model:


    • Liability for downstream use
    • Transportation/Logisticcs
    • Visibility of need — how do we know who needs what?
    • Impact on student learning

    Aggregators/Distributors of Donated Material

    • Liabilty
    • Compensation
    • Sustainable model
    • Space limitations within schools


    • Getting the right stuff
    • Equitable cost structure
    • Ensuring equal access
    • Growing the network/community collaboration (share recipes)

    We then prompted the discussion groups to think through experiments that could help validate potential solutions to these concerns.  That generated:

    • A commitment from Digital Bridges to provide laptops for a tear down event at one of the schools participating, and to document the lessons learned from the process.
    • Involve students in understanding how to acquire donated material by having them explore potential relationships with area firms.
    • Start the network, learn and grow:
      • Start with a simple catalog
      • Let participants work out transportation of materials
      • Skip the distributor role for now
      • 4 column spreadsheet for catalog
      • Promotion to potential network nodes
      • Communicate to actual users.
      • Next Steps

    Quick & Dirty Has/Wants Directory

    We like the idea of prototyping with a shared spreadsheet that can serve as a directory of folks at schools and other organizations that have material or skills that may be useful to others, or have something they are looking for and could use help finding it.   Here it is: https://tinyurl.com/y7uas8h3

    Feel free to add/edit/share.  We added attendees from schools as editors, but the link is set to view only for everyone else.  If you’d like access, let us know.

    School/Donor Interviews

    We also want a better understanding of how schools work with companies who make material donations on an ongoing basis.  If you have a such a relationship, we’d like to sit down with you and your contact at the company to walk through your current process, talk through what works, and what gets in the way, and what would help make the process better.  If you’d like to bring along a student who is, or would like to be involved in the process, we’d more than welcome that.  We have time to schedule six of these discussions between now and the first week of March.  If you’d like to be included, let us know.


      Thanks again to The Commons for providing the space, and to everyone who joined us for the insight they brought to the discussion.  We had several folks from outside of K12 join us (thank you). For those who asked how you could find them, here you go:

      Rachel Arbit — Senior Director of Programs, SHARP Literacy

      Ben Dembroski — Open Lab Manager, MIAD

      Kelly Ellis — CEO, Einstein Project

      Jeff Hanson — Executive Director, Digital Bridge

      Lisa Perkins — Re-Creation Station

      Owen Raisch — Associate Director, Student Run Business Program, Marquette University




      Laying the groundwork for Forensic Illustration

      Sometimes things just seem to fall into place

      Over the summer we took a group of makers from area schools, Betty Brinn, and MIAD down to Goodwill’s E-Cycling facility for a tour of the facility and to do a bit of shopping.  After seeing the kind of material that comes through the E-Cycling program, we sat down with their folks to talk through the types of equipment that would have parts that could be useful to makers.  It didn’t take much time for Goodwill to set aside a pallet full of material for us to play with.

      In August we held a pallet party at MIAD for a small group of educators and students to take apart equipment (typewriters, sewing machines, DVD players, old phones, etc.) that had come through Goodwill’s E-Cycling program.  The goal was to find the parts that would be useful in school makerspaces and return the un-used material to Goodwill’s recycling stream.  At the time, Ben Dembroski, our host at MIAD, suggested that it would interesting to see if we could engage Milwaukee area students to document how to take different pieces of equipment apart and where the useful parts are.

      In September we took the equipment we had left to Maker Faire where we were mobbed for three days by kids wanting to take stuff apart. A number of educators who stopped by the booth asked if we could do something like this at their school.

      In October we connected with Sharp Literacy, a local non-profit that uses the visual arts to build literacy and math skills.  Some of the schools Sharp is working in are looking at ways to incorporate makerspace activity.  They were intrigued by the idea of having students take apart equipment and illustrate it’s function within the device. AKA Forensic Illustration, AKA the first installment of Ben’s student-produced guide for how to take things apart.

      We brought everyone together over lunch at MIAD and hatched a plan. We  bring the equipment, MIAD provides student interns to help coach tear-down and illustration work, Sharp Literacy opens time in their program for the effort and works with the students to guide the process. We hope to cap off the project with a tour of at MIAD where students can show off their work. Useful parts can stay at the school or go to another school that can use them; the rest get recycled.

      Last Tuesday we went out to Thurston Woods where students took apart DVD drives, a circular saw, printer, keyboard, camera, and a few other odds and ends in our collection.  Today we were out at Browning Elementary to do more of the same.  We were thrilled to see the students dive in and work together with little more instruction than “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey”.

      We knew from our experience at Maker Faire that students can get deeply engaged taking things apart.  Our goal for these two sessions was to get a sense of the time required to take apart different pieces of equipment, and what the students found most interesting.  We’ll use what we’ve learned so far to craft the approach we take when we kick off the forensic illustration project next semester.





      Makerspace Challenge: Pitch Night

      Makerspace ChallengeTuesday was pitch night at 88.9 for The Commons. The Betty Brinn/Learn Deep team shared their vision of CSA-farm-box meets up-cycling. The solution looks to offer schools a subscription service that delivers a mystery box of materials for use in a makerspace on a monthly basis.  Great idea, go team!

      We have an idea on how to make this happen in Milwaukee. If you’re interested, let us know.


        Makerspace Challenge: Thinking Through a Solution

        Last night at The Commons, the Betty Brinn/Learn Deep team pinned down a persona for their beachhead customer– now known as “Steve” who manages the makerspace for an area school. The key problems faced by Steve:

        • “I don’t always know where to go to get the materials I need.”
        • “It takes a lot of time to track down where to find supplies (if I don’t already know where to get them).”
        • “I have to pick up everything myself.”
        • “I have to do this for all of the teachers that want to use my makerspace.”
        • “At times, I want to be inspired by the material (so I don’t know what I want until I can see and touch it)”.

        The team was able to use that set of problems to filter the ideas generated last week to just those that addressed these key issues.  It also led to the creation of a second persona — “Orlando”, who has excess material, but also,his own problems to solve:

        • “I have usable stuff that now costs me money to dispose of”
        • “I don’t know who would want what I hope to get rid of”
        • “I don’t like the fact that my scrap ends up in a landfill”
        • “I worry about liability issues if others come on-site to sift through my scrap to take what is of use to them.”

        This week’s work:  Confirm the assumptions about the problems faced by Orlando, and clarify the vision for a potential solution– what’s the minimum viable product, and what might it look like when fully realized?


        Makerspace Challenge: Peer and Mentor Reviews

        Our makerspace challenge team gets input from mentors

        Our makerspace challenge team got a chance to share what they’ve learned to date with their mentors and peers from NML’s team. The team is working to understand the types of materials used within school based makerspaces, how that varies by grade level and where schools run into issues. By Next Tuesday they need to have a firm grasp on their initial target customer and the problem(s) they hope to solve.

        Makerspace Challenge: First Session for our Team

        Last night at Ward 4 The Commons revealed the teams for each of this semester’s challenges. After a getting-to-know-each-other exercise that involved great lengths of yarn and a couple of well placed metaphors, the teams got to work. Joost, Mike Cook and I walked our team through the challenge to find a sustainable way excess materials from area firms could be made available for Betty Brinn’s maker initiatives and the makerspaces/FabLabs within area schools. The team’s work for this week is to look at how other organizations have solved the problem.

        Meet the Team

        Back row:Ryan Dickson (Cardinal Stritch), Gabe Wichser (Carroll University),
        Jason Hart (DevCodeCamp)

        Front row: Taylor Waite (Cardinal Stritch), Jedidiah Hersey (UWM),
        Holly Hamm (UW- Washington County), Isioma Okoro-Osademe (Marquette)

        Photos: Robert Colletta Photography

        Makerspace entrepreneur challenge at The Commons

        LD partners with Betty Brinn Children’s Museum.

        In other metro areas around the country, non-profit organizations have formed to address this challenge. They solicit donations of excess materials from area firms and make them available to educators at low cost.  Better known among these are RAFT, with locations in California and Colorado, and the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse.

        Teachers attending our monthly Collab Labs expressed concerns about the cost of materials. That got us wondering what options we have in Milwaukee for an organization doing something similar.  We brought the idea for a corporate challenge to The Commons (who provides space for our Collab Labs in Ward 4 and helps facilitate our break out groups). They agreed that this would make an interesting challenge for students. So earlier this month we got the green light to pursue that with a team in this semester’s cohort.

        We partnered with Betty Brinn Children’s Museum to formulate this challenge over the past weeks.  We are challenging a team to create a pitch for a sustainable startup to provide surplus materials to the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum’s Maker Initiative as well as area school’s maker programs. We spent Sunday afternoon at Ward 4 with Carrie Wettstein and Mike Cook from Betty Brinn to introduce our challenge and meet prospective team members.

        The project will kick off on the 21st when team rosters are announced.  Our team will work with Mike Cook and the makers at Betty Brinn to understand their needs. Joost and I will serve as the team’s coaches through the process. We’ll help connect them with area schools creating or running makerspaces/FabLabs so they can understand the K12 perspective as well.

        We are thrilled to have the opportunity (Thanks, Joe!) and look forward to the work.  We’ll keep you posted on the team’s progress and opportunities to see what they come up with.

        2023-24 Collab Labs

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