After reading Mapping Sam by Joyce Hesselberth my students work on a STEM mapping activity. The story will appeal to students that wonder what cats are doing while their humans are asleep.

Have you ever wondered where your cat goes when you are sleeping? Every night after Sam’s family goes to bed, Sam explores her neighborhood. Through Sam’s escapades, the reader is introduced to 10 different types of maps including botanical diagrams, a cutaway map, and a map of the stars. We learn maps can show us directions, streets, and countries. In addition, they can show us what we can’t see with just our eyes such as things at the bottom of the pond or in space. 

Student Activity:

Now that you have read Mapping Sam it’s time to work on some mapping activities. 


  • First, ask your parents if you can watch the following 2 videos. They explain how a compass works and how to use a compass. 



  • Work on the compass rose page.
  • Work on the map of the United States page.
  • Take a look at the map key page. 
  • You are now ready to work on the Mapping Sam’s Route page. 


  • Ask your parents if you can take a walk. Bring your notebook, a pencil, and your compass with you. Read page 7 before you go.
  • Using your notes make a map of your neighborhood and make sure your map has a key.


A Compass Activity


This is a compass rose. A compass rose is a symbol that helps you read a map. The arrows on the compass rose point to the four main directions, North, South, East & West.


  1. N stands for  ______________________________


  1. E stands for  ______________________________


  1. S stands for  ______________________________


  1. W stands for  ______________________________


Your Neighborhood

Take a walk:

  • Take a walk around your neighborhood. 
  • Use the compass and determine which way is North. 
  • Write down details in your notebook that you want to add to your map. 


Compass Directions:


N – Never (North)

E – Eat (East)

S – Soggy (South)

W- Waffles (Waffles) 

Using your compass directions make a map of your neighborhood. Make sure and add important features like roads, your house, your school, and the park. 

Teacher information:

This activity is part of our take-home STEM kits that are based on children’s books. Students check these kits out of our library. Inside the bag are the book Mapping Sam, a small notebook, and a compass. When the student is done reading the book and doing the activity they send the book and the compass back to school but they keep the notebook.

Helpful Videos that can be shared with students.


These links are through Safelink, so they don’t show commercials. (How does a compass work?) (How to use a compass.)


Additional Information:

If you would like a PDF of this activity that includes compass worksheets please check out  my teacher-pay-teacher link



After reading Oliver Jeffers The Great Paper Caper my students spend some time doing a STEM paper airplane activity. The Great Paper Caper is a perfect book to have in your Makerspace. Something strange is happening in the forest. The animals are concerned because someone has been cutting down all the trees. After a careful investigation, bear confesses he is the culprit. Bear has been cutting down the trees to make paper airplanes. He wants to win the annual paper airplane contest. The animals help bear with his paper airplane and bear in turn learns about taking care of the forest and recycling.

Questions to Ask Your Students

Have you ever flown a paper airplane? Sometimes it flies straight up, does a loopy-loop, flips over, and dives straight into the ground. Other times it loops and twists through the air and then lands soft as a feather. 

  • What keeps a paper airplane in the air?
  • How can you keep your paper airplane in the air longer?
  • Can you control its loops or turns?
  • Would it help to fly your airplane on a windy day?
  • What can you learn about real airplanes from building paper airplanes?

Making Paper Airplanes

To get started you only need a sheet of copy paper. The following list is things you can use to possibly alter or improve your paper airplane. 

  • Clear tape 
  • A stapler 
  • Paper clips 
  • A ruler 
  • Thicker paper such as construction or cardstock


Step 1:

Start with an 8 1/2 x 11” piece of paper and fold in half lengthwise (like a hot dog bun.)

Fold the paper in half.

Step 2:

Fold the corners down. They will make a point.

Fold corners into a point.

Step 3:

Starting from the point, take one side and fold it in. Do the same on the opposite side. 

Step 4:

Fold your airplane in half lengthwise (like a hot dog bun.)

Step 5:

Starting at the point fold down the wing. Flip your plane and fold down the wing on the other side.

Step 6:

Your plane is ready to fly!

Student Follow-up

After my students have had a chance to make their paper airplanes and test out different designs. I have them fill out a STEM follow-up paper. This is a basic step that will help them when they need to fill out lab report forms in the upper grades. If you would like a copy of this you can check out my Teacherspayteachers account

Teacher Information 

The Great Paper Caper is part of my take-home STEM projects that I let students check out of the library. When students check out this book I also send home Folding Paper Airplanes with STEM For Beginners to Experts by Marie Buckingham and copy paper. I put everything in a bag with a letter. When they are finished with the books they return the bag with both books to the library. I started these check-outs during COVID, but I will be continuing to let students check out our STEM books during our regular school year.

A Fun STEM book.
A take-home STEM bag.

I send home the following letter in the STEM bag. 


Dear ___________ student, 


You have checked a book that is part of our Storybook STEM collection. In addition to The Great Paper Caper book inside the bag is Folding Paper Airplanes with STEM and paper for you to make paper airplanes. When you are done reading the book and making the paper airplanes, please put both books back in the bag, but you can keep the paper. 


Have fun, 


Mrs. R

Finishing UP a STEM Paper Airplane Activity 

Students love to make paper airplanes. I provide them with the instructions for one airplane, and from there they redesign and make their own airplanes. If you are doing this STEM project in person the students love to turn this into a contest. I have set up hula hoops to have them maneuver their planes through and they have flown them both inside and outside.  I have also put tape marks or chalk on the ground and we measured to see whose plane flies the farthest. STEM paper airplanes are a fun activity for the end of the school year when you might be out of resources, because the students only need a piece of paper to participate. 


Magnolia Mudd and The Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe 

After reading Magnolia Mudd and The Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe my students do a STEM launcher activity, Magnolia Mudd loves to create and design things and Fridays are her favorite day of the week because she gets to invent things with her Uncle Jamie Mudd. Her uncle is a rocket scientist and their motto is “Mudd Power.” One Friday Jamie tells Magnolia that he is getting married and they would like her to be involved in the wedding. She doesn’t want to wear a frilly flower girl dress so she uses her inventiveness to come up with another way to be involved in the wedding.

Magnolia is a clever, determined main character, and students will feel inspired to invent their own creations after seeing Magnolia’s determined attempts to invent a way into her uncle’s wedding in a way that feels true to who she is. Magnolia makes mistakes along the way and is a great model for discussing growth mindset, and will appeal to student makers and inventors.

Making a Launcher With Students


Building a Launcher:

After trying many different ideas, Magnolia finally decided to make a confetti launcher for her Uncle’s wedding. Today after reading Magnolia Mudd we are going to make a pom-pom launcher. 




  • 6 small popsicle sticks 
  • 3 heavy-duty rubber bands
  • 1 plastic spoon 
  • Pom-poms


Optional Supplies:


  • 1 additional popsicle stick
  • 1 cap from a water bottle 
  • A hot glue gun 


Instructions for Launcher


  1. Stack 5 popsicle sticks on top of each other. The sticks should all lay flat on top of each other (like a hot dog bun.)
  2. Use a rubber band and wrap it around one end of the popsicle sticks. You will need to keep twisting and wrapping the rubber band until it is tight. 
  3. Do the exact same thing to the other side. When you’re finished your stack of popsicle sticks will be secure on both ends. 
  4. Slide one stick in between the 2 bottom sticks. The one that you just slid in should look like a diving board. 
  5. Rest your spoon on the top stick and line it up with your diving board stick. 
  6. With a rubber band secure the end of the spoon to the small end of the stick. (see picture below.)
  7. Put your pom-pom on the spoon and use your finger to push down on the spoon and launch your pom-pom. 
The completed launcher.

Optional Instructions:


Follow the instructions for the launcher, but don’t use the plastic spoon. Instead of a spoon use another popsicle stick in its place. Secure the bottom and top sticks with a rubber band at the end. Your launcher will look just like the picture except instead of a spoon your top piece will be another popsicle stick. Using a hot glue gun carefully glue the water bottle cap to the end of the top popsicle stick. Make sure that you glue the flat side of the cap to the stick. After the glue has cooled you are ready to try your launcher. 

Revise and Redesign


Now that you have made a launcher you can revise and redesign like Magnolia Mudd did in the story and see what works best. You can try some of the following ideas or come up with your own. 


  • Try larger popsicle sticks 
  • If you used the hot glue gun, try using a large-cap instead of a small one. 
  • What happens if your stack of popsicle sticks is smaller or larger?
  • Try launching something heavier than a pom-pom. You might try small erasers or marshmallows. 
  • You can decorate your launcher with markers or paint. 
  • Try putting tape around the sticks. Does it help your launcher?
  • Place a piece of tape on the floor and see who can launch their object the farthest. 
  • Do heavier or lighter things fly the farthest? 


Teacher Information

I normally make launchers (catapults) with my students in person in our Makerspace. We make them without the spoons. If I’m making them with a younger grade I pre-glue the caps onto the popsicle sticks before we start the project. My 3rd- 5th graders use the hot glue gun to adhere the caps to the sticks. This is one of my students’ favorite projects because after we all have our launchers made I give them mini-marshmallows and we have a marshmallow war.

This year because of COVID I am sending home STEM projects with picture books. I changed the instructions to a plastic spoon because I don’t know if students will have a glue gun at home and I want to be able to send home everything a student will need to successfully complete the project. 3rd-5th graders should be able to complete the launcher independently. Younger students might need help securing the rubber bands on the ends. When I’ve done this in big groups, generally there will be at least one student that can help me with the students that are struggling.



After reading Iggy Peck Architect by Andrea Beaty my students participated in a STEM building activity. They used toothpicks and Play-Doh to make structures. Iggy Peck is an imaginative boy that loves to build. Second grade was almost ruined for him when his teacher refuses to let Iggy build because of the fears she developed in elementary school. Iggy, however, gets his time to shine and show off his ingenuity when his teacher has a near disaster on a class field trip. Luckily, Iggy saves the day and he grows up to be a famous architect. This book supports the creative ideas that students come up with in Makerspace and therefore lends itself to STEM activities.  

STEM Building Activity

Building Towers:


After hearing the story of Iggy Peck I have my students do a STEM building activity. There are many ways to do this. If students are in our Makerspace Lab I let them make towers or bridges with all the supplies I have in our Makerspace such as clothespins, popsicle sticks, cardboard, yarn, toilet paper tubes, masking tape, and hot glue. For this project, I’m sending home a packet with the students when they check out Iggy Peck Architect. They will make their towers at home. I encourage them to take a picture of their finished project and email it to me. When they are finished with the book they will return the book to the library, but they will keep the supplies.

Supplies For A Take Home STEM Kit:

  • A small Ziplock bag
  • A small container of Play-Doh 
  • 20 toothpicks 
Play-Doh & Toothpicks
The STEM kit is ready to go home.

Build A Tower 

In the story, Iggy Peck built towers out of things he found including stinky diapers. Luckily, I didn’t send home any diapers just Play-Doh and toothpicks. The Students’ challenge is to see what they can build with just these two things.

A tower built with toothpicks & Play-Doh.

Information For Your Students

I send home the following information with my students.

  • Be careful with your Play-Doh. 
  • Pick a good place to make your tower. 
  • Don’t make your tower on the carpet. 
  • Open your Play-Doh and pinch off a small piece. Roll your small piece of Play-Doh into a little ball. Use the little balls as the anchors or as a base for your tower. 
  • Use your imagination and see what kind of tower your can make. 
  • When you have a tower you love ask your parents if you can take a picture of it and email it to me. 
  • If you want to reuse the Play-Doh, disassemble your tower and put the Play-Doh back in its container. It will dry out if it isn’t sealed. 
  • Have fun.
  • Fill out the tower building follow-up paper.
  • Return the book back to the library and check out another book.

Tower Building Follow-Up


Make A Paper-copter: A STEM Activity 

After I read the book How Do Helicopters Work?  by Jennifer Boothroyd I had my students make a paper-copter as a STEM activity. The book is a non-fiction easy reader book that gives your students the facts about how helicopters work. Readers can learn about how helicopters get in the air and how they steer and land. The text also covers information such as how helicopters can hover, how pilots control helicopters and fun facts such as helicopters are multi-directional. The pages are full color, with images, large font, and sidebars. The Accelerated book level is a 2.9, however, both younger and older readers interested in flying will like this book.

Supplies Needed:

  • 1 copy of the paper-copter pattern for each student.
  • Scissors
  • Paperclips

Teacher Prep:

  • Make a copy of the paper-copter pattern for each student on regular copy paper. 


How to Make: 

To assemble the paper-copter cut on the solid lines and fold on the dotted lines. When folding, section A should fold forward and section B should fold backward to make blades. Sections C and D will fold towards each other. After C and D are folded experiment with folding up the tail to different lengths and slide paper clip on the tail. (See picture below.)

Flying Your Paper-copter

  • The goal is to keep your paper-copter in the air for as long as you can. 
  • Try standing on your playground equipment and drop your paper-copter. 
  • Drop it at least 3 times and observe what happens.  

Redesign Your Paper-copter 

Now have your students redesign their paper-copter. Ask them to think about what they observed when they dropped it. How well did their paper-copter work? What changes can they make in the design to make their paper-copter stay in the air longer? 

Have your students draw their new design and then make a new paper-copter. 

Extra Credit:

For students that need a little extra, I have them answer the following questions.

  • What changes did you observe when you redesigned your paper-copter.
  • What caused your paper-copter to stay in the air? 

Try your design with different types of paper. Does printer paper work better than construction paper?

Wrapping It Up: 

Once students get the hang of folding their paper-copters they can make their own designs and they don’t need a pattern. The measurements are flexible and they just need to try and see what works. I’ve used this STEM activity in a whole-class setting, but I’ve also sent home the instructions, the pattern, and paper clips and had students make them at home. If you need the printed instructions or a pdf of the pattern check out my teacher pays teacher site. This activity is part of a series of STEM activities that I do with students that are based on children’s picture books. 


Memoirs of a Parrot

Birdcage Activity 



Picture Book Stem

Memoirs of a Parrot birdcage activity is perfect for picture book STEM. After hearing the story students can use a variety of supplies to build the parrot a new birdcage.  

A Quick Book Review 

  Memoirs of a Parrot by Devin Scillian is a hilarious journey of friendship and understanding through new forms of communication. Brock is a very stubborn parrot that lives at Wilber’s Pet Store until one day Todd purchases him and brings him home. Brock and Todd do not understand each other and they speak different languages. The one thing Brock does like is toasting his crackers in a toaster, until one day he almost catches the house on fire. The near-disaster brings Brock and Todd together and they learn to communicate and enjoy each other’s company.


Building a Birdcage – A STEM Project

When Brock started a fire with his cracker in the toaster he could have burned down Todd’s house, however, Todd saved him. Imagine if Brock’s birdcage was damaged. After reading the book aloud and discussing I asked the students, “how can you build him a new cage with the supplies provided?”  I let them know that they could use other supplies that were not sitting out. I told them to use their imagination and think about what Brock would like. Depending on how many students you have this project can be done independently or in a small group. We have a Makerspace room that I can do projects with students and they have free reign of supplies there, however, during COVID I also made kits to send home to the students. Their kits had the basic supplies, but I didn’t send home tape or glue. 


A disposable bowl

2 coffee filters 

2 rubber bands

10 small popsicle sticks



Beads  (they glued these on to decorate their cage)

Small piece of Cardboard 

Masking Tape 

Supplies to make a birdcage.

Getting Started

I always have the students do a rough sketch of their plans. Their birdcage might turn out completely different than their original plan and that is okay, but I like them to have a starting point. If they are working in a group after they sketch out their plans I have them collaborate with their group partners.  

Makerspace Rules

  • No Running.
  • Do not touch the end of the hot glue gun.
  • If you need help ask.
  • No drawing or making weapons of any kind. (even Perler beads or 3D prints)
  • Don’t annoy Mrs. Rheingans (lol)

At the beginning of the school year, we go over the rules for Makerspace and how to handle the equipment properly. For 2nd – 5th grade I let them use low temp glue guns and I let 4th and 5th graders use cardboard cutting tools. 


There is no Right or Wrong Way 

As with a lot of STEM projects, there is no right or wrong way for the students to build their birdcages. The best part of STEM projects is they provide students a place to make mistakes. In our current testing culture, students are afraid to make mistakes. Another benefit is they are able to try things and then come up with a better plan. After all the birdcages are done I have the student or groups fill out a paper that states what worked, what didn’t work, and what they learned. If time allows I think it’s important that every student or group gets a chance to share their work with the whole class. Sharing their project and listening to their fellow students talk about theirs might help them develop better ideas or a new way of doing things. 

Wrapping Up

Sharing the birdcages might be the end of the project for some schools, however, if you have access to a 3D printer you can take it farther. Our students will use theMorphi App or Tinkercad to design their own parrots and then we will 3D print them in the Makerspace Lab. I never know what part of the lesson a student might connect with and that’s the beauty of STEM projects. 

Additional Information:

I have created a PDF of the Memoirs of a Parrot birdcage activity. This pdf includes a supply list, instructions, and worksheets. If you would like a copy please visit my TPT store.


The Curious Garden 

Sunflower Planting Activity

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

The Curious Garden sunflower planting activity would make a great Spring or Earth Day Activity. After reading The Curious Garden by Peter Brown I did a sunflower planting activity with a second-grade class.  The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is a hopeful story with beautiful illustrations. Liam is a boy that likes to be outside, but his town is dreary and gray without plants or trees. On one of his walks, Liam discovers the remnants of a garden along an old abandoned railroad track. Liam takes it upon himself to care for the garden and eventually it begins to flourish and grow. People in the town notice the work that Liam is doing and it inspires them to start to take care of the ever-spreading garden. As a result of all the hard work, the town becomes a better place where adults and children enjoy being outside. The environmental theme in the story lends itself to a planting/Earth Day Activity.

Supplies Needed:

  • Peat pellets (1 for each student)
  • 2 Sunflower seeds for planting (we’re using Mammoth)
  • Large Dixie cup or small container (1 for each student)
  • Water (warm works best, but cold will work too)
  • A toothpick or pencil (1 for each student) 
  • A copy of The Curious Garden

The Preparations

I am the librarian/makerspace coordinator so in order to make things run smoother I made a kit for each student in the class. Inside of a resealable sandwich bag, I put a Dixie cup, a peat pellet, 2 seeds, and a toothpick. I gave all the kits to the classroom teacher and because we did this project during COVID and we are on a hybrid schedule some of the kits got sent home during material exchange day and some stayed in the classroom. For this second-grade class I read to them on Fridays so I let all the students know that they should hold on to their kits until it was library day. 

Getting Started

On our Friday library day, I connected with the class via Zoom, some of the students were at home and some were in the classroom. When I do this project another year I will just do it in person with the students in their classroom or we’ll do it all together in our  Makerspace room. Because I tried the project first ahead of time I learned that the peat pellets take longer to expand if the students use cold water. Instead of reading the book first, we jumped right into the project. 

Step 1:

  • Place the peat pellet in the cup. 
  • Add enough water to cover the pellet. (Warm water helps the soil rehydrate quicker, but if you are at school and only have access to cold water it just takes longer. 
  • Read The Curious Garden while you are waiting for the soil to rehydrate. 


Waiting for the peat pellet to rehydrate.

Step 2: 

  • The pellet should rehydrate in 5-10 mins.
  • Carefully lift out the expanded peat pellet and sit on a desk. 
  • Pour any extra water out of the cup. 
  • Using a toothpick or pencil make a small well for the seeds. Place 2 seeds in the well and push the soil back over the top of the seeds. 
Planting the sunflower seed in the peat pellet.

Step 3: 

  • Place your pellet back in your cup. 
  • Students can take home their seeds in the Dixie Cup.
  • At home place the cup in a warm location, but not in the sun. 
  • Check on your seed every day. Some seeds sprout in as little as 2 days. The soil should feel damp. Only water your pellet if the soil seems dried out. 
Planted and ready to go home.

Step 4: 

  • Once the seeds have sprouted move the cup to a sunny location. 
  • Water as needed. 
  • If more than one seed is growing in a pellet, simply pinch off the other plant so you only have one healthy plant per peat pellet. 
A seed after just 2 days.

Step 5: 

  • When the plant has sprouted over the cup it is probably time to replant the sprout into the soil. 
  • Find a perfect place in your yard or a large pot with soil and dig a hole as deep as your peat pellet. You can leave the netting on the peat pot and place the whole pellet in the hole. Cover with soil and water. 
  • Continue to check your plant to see if it needs water, but be careful to not overwater. 
  • Keep checking on your plant to see your flower bloom. 
My seed after 3 days.

Final Thoughts

We planted Mammoth Sunflower Seeds from Raw Earth Color and according to their website, Mammoth Sunflowers can grow as big as 12 feet tall. I chose Mammoth because I thought it would be fun for the students to have a flower taller than them. I doubled checked the Farmer’s Almanac and they say that it should take between 80 -95 days for the flowers to bloom. With sunflowers, it’s important not to overwater. They are actually drought tolerant and have adapted to growing with little water because they were originally found on the prairies in the midwest.

*If you would like a pdf of the instructions, a supply list, and worksheets please visit my TPT store. 


Collaborative String Art in a Makerspace

Our Makerspace is a very busy place during student recess and their lunch breaks and I try to offer a combination of both group and individual projects and collaborative string art is the perfect project. Our Makerspace Lab and library are connected and students looking for quiet can go to the library and read. Mini-string projects have made a resurgence and I’ve seen pictures of finished projects all overPinterest. I decided that we should make a big collaborative string art project. After wandering around the hardware store I bought a 24″ x 24 “Mason Board. I chose that size because it was already pre-cut. At home, I used some leftover teal spray paint to spray the entire board. At school, I drew a large heart on a piece of brown craft paper and taped the craft paper onto the board. I used regular nails that I found in my garage and starting at the bottom tip of the heart I hammered the nails in. There’s no need to measure the distance between the nails I just eyeballed the spacing and I was careful to not hammer all the way through the board. 

Hammering the nails into the collaborative string art.

Setting up the String Art

I borrowed an easel from a teacher and I propped the board with the heart up. The easel allowed the string to hang down and made it easier for the students to manipulate the string. I added a sign that said the following:   

A few guidelines for collaborative string art.


A student unwound a skein of thin cotton yarn and rolled it into one large ball. I then tied the end to a nail in the bottom of the heart and put the ball of yarn inside a large container. Keeping the yarn in a container helps keep the yarn from rolling away. 

Collaborative Work

Of course, students noticed the easel right away. One by one they all wanted to take a turn. Without adding much instruction other than the above sign I let them get to work. Students would ask me for a turn and I would tell them that they needed to work it out amongst themselves. A few times a day when the students were in class I would use my hand to push the sting down closer to the base of the nails. This made more room for students to add the string to the project. 

The beginning of our collaborative string art project.

Finishing the String Art

It took the students about a week and a half to finish the heart. When there was no room to add any more string to the heart I tied the end of the string to a nail and it was finished. I was not sure what I was going to do with the finished project. A few months after the students finished the heart the principal and I decided to move our library. We were able to double the space of our library. In our new space, we had plenty of room to hang up our artwork. I hammered a picture hanging hook into the back of the mason board and our Collaborative String Art Heart is now proudly hanging on the wall in our library. 

Everyone wanted a turn at the collaborative string art.
Starting our collaborative string art.
The sewing table.

Sewing in Makerspace

We are teaching our students to sew in Makerspace. Our school is a public elementary school with around 500 students in grades Tk – 5th. Students use our lab during recess, lunch, and sometimes during class time. One of the first pieces of equipment that I purchased was a sewing machine.

What I ordered:

  1. A Brother sewing machine from Amazon for about $180
  2. A pack of different colored spools of thread. 
  3. A pin cushion and straight pins.
  4. Extra bobbins
  5. 2 Pairs of regular fabric scissors and one pair of pinking shears.
  6. An iron
  7. An ironing pad that lays flat on a counter.


Fabric for Sewing

We started with lots of left-over fabric that I had at home. After students brought home things that they had sewn or parents saw pictures on social media of what we were doing they offered to send in fabric donations. We now have plenty of fabric to choose from. 

Teaching Students to Sew

I’m not a great seamstress, but I can sew straight lines and I know how to thread the sewing machine and rethread the bobbin. My main goal was to teach our students basic sewing skills and I came up with a project to do that.

Learning the basics of sewing.
Teaching Students to Sew in Makerspace

First Sewing Project

Our first project was fabric bookmarks. I let the students choose one cotton fabric and one piece of felt. At first, I would cut the fabric to size and then have them cut along the edges with pinking shears. Because they used the shears we didn’t have to worry about the seams fraying. They lined up the cotton fabric in the middle of their felt fabric and added a straight pin to keep it together. 

An Embroidered Bookmark
A student learned to sew An embroidered bookmark.

Learning to Sew

Once they have their project ready I sit down at the sewing machine with them. If it is their first time sewing I give them a brief explanation of how the machine works. When they are ready I help them line up their project and help them get the hang of how to use the pedal and how to guide their fabric through without pushing. When students are just learning we keep the sewing machine at the slowest speed. The bookmarks are a perfect first project because the felt keeps the fabric from moving and because the bookmarks are a rectangle the students only have to sew straight lines. After the two fabrics are sewn together I let them choose a few specialty embroidery stitches to add to the middle. They love this part and it helps to make everyone’s bookmarks unique. When they are done with the embroidery they pick out a ribbon for the top and I help them sew it on. 

Students Learn to Sew a Pillow After They Finish a Bookmark

After students have used the sewing machine to make a bookmark I let them make a pillow. They first pick out their fabric and then decide what size they want to make. If their fabric needs ironing I generally do it. I have a few 5th graders that I let iron. After they cut out their fabric they use a few pins to keep the fabric together. Usually, if they are sewing a pillow, they are more comfortable with the sewing machine and I can just be in the area, but I don’t have to sit with them. Using straight lines they sew the sides leaving one side unsewn. After sewing, they turn the fabric with the right sides out. They use stuffing to fill the pillow. We cheat to sew up the 4th side. I use the iron to fold down the seams and then they use the sewing machine to sew a straight line on the right sides of the fabric. This is easier for the students and allows us to speed up the whole sewing process.

A pillow in progress.
Sewing a pillow in Makerspace.

Sewing on Their Own

Students that have made bookmarks and pillows move on to make other things on their own. They ask me for help when they need it, but they have the freedom to be creative. They have made a lot of purses and bookbags. Sometimes they make patterns out of paper first and sometimes they just cut their fabric. Lots of times they make a project and during the process, they figure out a better way of doing something so they make another one. 

Cutting, sewing & the finished product.
Cutting, sewing & the finished product.
The finished purse.
The finished purse.
Sewing a strap for a purse.
Sewing a strap for a purse.


What Students Are Learning From Sewing

Learning to sew is an amazing skill for our elementary school students to have. So many students have told me that their grandma or mom has a sewing machine, but the students are not allowed to use it. At the basic level, they are learning a skill that will last them a lifetime and on a much bigger level, they are learning how to develop an idea from a concept to an actual product. They are learning how to follow rules about safety and respect in both the machinery and our space. The list of what they are learning from sewing is ongoing and it is definitely one of their favorite things to do in Makerspace. 

Answers to Questions

  1. Am I a great seamstress? No, not even close. I can do the basics. If I run into a problem that I can’t figure out I Google it or watch a YouTube video.
  2. How do I control who gets to sew? At the beginning of the year, I start with the 3rd-5th graders. Once I have a few students that are proficient I open it up to younger students. We have a sign-up sheet next to the sewing machine and they add their names to the list. I usually have a few students that already have their projects cut out and are waiting to sew. 
  3. Has anyone ever got hurt? No. Knock on wood we haven’t had any sewing accidents. 
  4. Do the students know how to thread the needle and rethread the bobbin? Not really. I have had a few older students that can do it, but for the most part, if a needle becomes unthreaded they yell for me to help them. 
  5. Do only girls sew? NO. It is probably 60% girls and 40% boys ratio. I had one boy that loved it so much he asked for and received a sewing machine for Christmas.
  6. Do I change the bobbin thread and thread for each project? No, I don’t have time for that. I try to use neutral colors of thread. They get what they get.
  7. Where do you get the stuffing for the pillows? We sell pencils in the library for 50 cents. I use the profit from the pencils to buy the stuffing using a 50% off coupon from Michales or Joanne’s Fabric. 


Kindergarten Love Bugs made with Morphi.


  A New 3D Printer…

Our students are embracing learning 3D printing in Makerspace. We are a public elementary school with just over 500 students in grades Tk – 5th grade. A few years ago our district bought each school a 3D printer. Our printer was in the library, but it is now permanently housed in our Makerspace Lab

Our new 3D printer by Craftbot.
3D Printing in Makerspace

Getting Started With 3D Printing…

There is a learning curve for 3D printing, but once you get past that the possibilities are endless. We received our printer late in the school year, so the first year we just printed projects that were already preloaded on the flash drive that came with the printer. It was enough to build excitement in our students and it became the norm to have students just standing in front of the printer watching an object build. We printed countless whistles and other little trinkets. 

One of the many whistles we printed.
A 3D printed whistle.

Learning To Design For The 3D Printer 

The next school year I came back ready to dive into 3D printing. I read a how-to book and felt like I had a basic understanding of how it worked. A fellow colleague had already been using a 3D printer in her classroom. She told me about a program that allows the youngest of students to design an object to be printed on a 3D printer. The program is called Morphi. I was able to have our tech department install this app on our 2 iPads.

Morphi For 3D Printing

Morphi enables even our youngest students to design and make 3D models. Using Morphi students can use their fingers to draw on the screen and when their design is complete it can be turned into a 3D rendering with the click of one button. Older students use the drawing feature, but they also use symmetry and revolving lines to design with. The erase and resizing tools are both easy to use and intuitive. Morphi has continued to grow. Students are now able to explore augmented and virtual reality through their app. When students have completed their project they email it to me.

Students working on snowflakes using the Symmetry tool in Morphi.
Students working on snowflakes using the Symmetry tool in Morphi.

3D Printing Book Report Characters

I have a 1st-grade teacher that sends a few students a week to the Makerspace lab to make something to enhance their book reports. These are usually students that are ahead in class and they could benefit from extra enrichment. These students bring a book report form and work on it while they are waiting for an iPad to open up. When it’s their turn with the iPad they use Morphi to pick a character, an object, or a scene that they would like to bring to life. After they are done designing I show them a ruler and let them decide what size their project should be. When I return the 3D project to their teacher they are always excited to show their fellow students what they made. I also have teachers that will schedule a time for their entire class to work on a project. A 1st-grader bringing his book report character to life.

A 1st-grader bringing his book report character to life with 3D printing in Makerspace.

Class Reports

One 3rd grade class did a project on animal adaptations. First, they had to write the report, then they drew it, then they made a model out of recycled materials, and lastly, they used Morphi to design a 3D model of their animal. They were able to display all of their work at our Open House. 

A 3rd grade project.
A 3rd-grade project.


In our Makerspace lab, we only have 2 iPads and we use them to control many things. Because there is usually a long list to use the iPads some of our older students have learned to use Tinkercad. Tinkercad is a free online program that students can use to design and model in 3D. Our students use Google SS0 (single sign-on.) They are able to use their SSO for Tinkercad as well. This allows them to work on projects both at school and at home. We held an introduction to Tinkercad class in the lab for students that were interested. At school, our students are using Tinkercad on our desktops. Tinkercad has plenty of how-to videos and tutorials that students can follow along with. The projects that they are building tend to be larger and more elaborate than the ones they build on Morphi, but that is probably because the students using Tinkercad are older. 


Thingiverse is a website that is dedicated to sharing user-created files. Open-source projects are available for downloading, modifying, and printing from their website. They also have an education section with projects that are easy to follow along with. There have been times when a teacher has asked me for a 3D model and instead of spending hours designing it I look on Thingiverse. After I find what I’m looking for I download the files and then print them out. Students enjoy browsing Thingiverse. It gives them ideas and helps them see what is possible in the world of 3D printing. 

USB Flash Drives

The most efficient way I found to get student’s projects from their Tinkercad accounts to me is with a flash drive. Students first log in to their Tinkercad account. When they are finished designing they make sure to change the name of their project to include their name, for example, Sam’s helicopter. Tinkercad automatically names and saves projects, however, it puts random titles. It is important for me to know who made the project in case I have problems printing. After the name is correct the student gets a flash drive (I have 10 flash drives hanging in the lab for their use) and exports their work to a folder on the drive that is labeled lunch 3D. The student then hangs the flash drive on a hook by my computer. 


Regardless of what program students use to design their 3D projects before I can be print them the projects need to be sliced. Slicing software is basically a program that tells your 3D printer how to print the project. The printer needs to know how to layout the project and how many layers the project will have. Each 3D printer will tell you what slicing program to use. I have our slicing program installed on my computer. At this time I am the only one that slices in our lab. My computer displays on a large screen, so if I’m working on slicing while students are in the lab they like to watch. In the program, you can also resize the project if that wasn’t done prior. During slicing is when you can add supports or rafts to the projects to help ensure a quality print. 

Getting Ready to 3D Print 

When I have time to sit down at my computer I go through emails and plug in each flash drive. I look at each project and determine if it has already been resized. I resize the projects from Morphi for our younger students. Our students in the 3rd – 5th grade know how to resize. I have two flash drives that I only use for completed projects. Each drive has folders labeled with either teacher’s names or lunch 3D. I found out the hard way it is easier to be organized and put projects in folders.


When the projects are loaded on the flash drive I plug them into the printer and start printing. As soon as I start a project the student’s name will show on the screen. I use a Sharpie to write their name on a piece of blue painter’s tape. I stick the piece of tape to the printer. When the project is done I stick the piece of tape on the completed project and continue on with the same process for the next print. If I’m printing projects for an entire class sometimes they look very similar. I use the painter’s tape, but I also print out a class roster and mark off their name as I go. This helps me stay on track. In addition to the Makerspace, I am also running the library and I’m constantly distracted or running off in another direction. 

A class projects of butterflies.
A class project of butterflies.

Maintaining the 3D Printer

Every 3D printer is a little bit different. Before using the printer it needs to be leveled. Ours has instructions for leveling on the menu. Once your printer is leveled and if you are not moving it you should rarely have to level it again. The one in our lab has a heated bed. This helps projects to stick to the bed while being printed. I have not had to use hair spray or another adhesive. I do use rubbing alcohol on the bed and on the nozzle that the PLA comes out of. The nozzle has become clogged a few times. I have been able to use an acupuncture needle to push the clog through. 

Final Thoughts 

By providing our students with the tools and the means to 3D print we are expanding their worlds. If they can imagine it, they can make it. Their enthusiasm for printing is contagious. I see 3D printing engaging even the most reluctant learners. 3D printing also gives students the opportunity to fail. Not every project prints properly. These mistakes give students a chance to sit down correct the problem and try again. In our Makerspace lab, we are helping students learn skills that they can build upon throughout their school years and beyond. The possibilities of what they can do with these skills are endless.

A failed print.
A failed print.

Answer to Question (That Adults Ask Me)

  1. How did you learn how to use the 3D printer? I read a basic book and then I just jumped right in. I am not an expert and I’m constantly learning new things and I ask for help when I need it. Morphi is amazing and I have worked with them on a few projects. I reach out to them when I have questions. I also ask our technical department in our district if I’m stuck on something. Google is a great resource for answers as well. One of my greatest sources of help is our students. There are always a few 4th or 5th graders that know way more than I do. I have found they flourish in the role of being an expert. They are more than happy to help me or fellow students. 
  2. When do the students have access to 3D printing? Our lab is open during our student’s recess and lunchtime. They have access to iPads and desktops during these times. In addition, teachers will either schedule time for their entire class to work on projects or send individual students to the lab during their free time. 
  3. Do I only work in the Makerspace lab? In addition to running the Makerspace lab, I am also the librarian. We have a very busy library with class visits and student check-outs. Running both is a juggling act, but it’s never boring and my days fly by.

Supply questions for 3D Printing 

  1. Are the supplies expensive for the 3D printer? We buy PLA from Amazon. It is about $20 a spool. Our printer prints non-stop and we used 8 spools of PLA during this school year. When we first started we only used 2 spools for the whole year. 
  2. Do you use other colors of PLA? We now only buy and use white PLA. I don’t have the time to switch back and forth between colors. I chose white because the students can use Sharpies, markers, or paints to decorate their prints.


  1. 3D projects displayed at Open House.
    3D projects displayed at Open House.