The thought of getting a club started can be daunting. Finding a shop facility, recruiting young makers, recruiting mentors, dealing with liability, etc. Here are a few thoughts intended to help you navigate through the issues. A much more thorough and complete guide to getting a club up and running is available in the Maker Club Playbook. Once you have decided to create a club, tell the world about it by registering it on our Affiliated Clubs page.
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Recruiting Young Makers
In recruiting Young Makers and Mentors the past several years we have relied heavily on our personal networks. We have reached out to friends that we thought might be interested in participating, and at work we found interest groups of parents and Makers that turned out to supply a number of participants. You could also consider basing a club at your school, a local after-school program, a scout troop, or a church. We found it helpful to ask every applicant to the program to write a short paragraph about why they wanted to be in the program, what kinds of things they made, or what they’d like to make.
Next, there’s the question of how big to make the club. Too few members can lead to a lack of energy, dropping the club below “critical mass”. Too many members can be difficult, and potentially dangerous in a shop environment. The most important thing is to pick a size that is most comfortable for you. In past years we’ve had good luck with a group of about 5 Young Makers plus mentors, but you may want to start off smaller this year to test things out.
As we’ve conceived this program, we think it works best with youth ages 12-18, and that the members within a single Club would all be within a few years of one another in age.
You’re looking for different kinds of Mentors: there are those whose curiosity, sense of adventure, project management skills, and positive attitude can help carry young people through the difficulties of a project toward a successful completion (or at least a valiant effort!) Then there are those who have extensive skills in lots of kinds of making, or a deep expertise in one kind of making. Sometimes you can find both modes of mentoring in the same person. You probably need the first kind of Mentor as you start the club, and you’ll probably need to match the Young Makers with the expert-at-making Mentors as they progress in their projects.
If you’re an experienced Maker and have lots of Maker friends, you already have a source of Mentors. Other places to look for mentors are neighbors who are handy with tools. Don’t forget to think about retired men and women who might be looking for ways to give back to the community, and they often have significant hands-on experience. (Funny story — we recently pulled an engine out of a old Ford Mustang. We’d never done anything like that before, and the only people we could find that had done this before were our retired neighbors. On the day we got the engine out, we had just about every older man in the neighborhood offering opinions. We all had a blast.)
If you’re having trouble finding mentors, let us know. We may be able to help.
Assigning Mentors to projects
A project team might consist of a single Young Maker who wants to work alone, or a group of Young Makers who may decide to work together. We feel that both models are fine as long as every project team has a Mentor clearly assigned to them. This designated Mentor is the first point of contact for the team.
One of the trickiest bits is figuring out how to assign mentors to project teams. Is it best to pick project teams, then find mentors to fit? Or, is it best to find mentors, then pair them to teams? A combination of the two? Unfortunately, we don’t really have a good answer. However, with your help we hope to gain much more experience on this topic this year. Our best advice at this point, especially since time is short this year, to recruit mentors and Young Makers in parallel, then do your best. Finding mentors that are flexible will be key. Mentors don’t need to possess all the skills and knowledge that might be needed to complete a project — they just need to be willing to try to find those who do.
Finding a shop and a Shop Host
We’re using “shop” to really mean “fabrication facility”. For engineering-oriented projects, an appropriate fabrication facility would be a traditional wood or metal shop. However, for more craft-oriented projects, an appropriate facility could consist of a sewing machine, a quilt frame, and so forth.
If you already have a shop in your own garage, or have access to a shop at work, you’ve got a great head start. If you don’t have access to a shop, consider asking a neighbor or co-worked that might have one.
You don’t necessarily need a fully equipped shop. You may be surprised at how many projects can be completed with a few hand tools, along with some simple power tools such as an electric drill, jig saw, and circular saw.
During the course of a project you may find that tools are needed that you don’t have access too. When things like this occur, we hope to use the broader Young Maker community to help. Consider posting a request for the tool to the Young Makers Google Group. If that doesn’t work, contact us and we’ll see if we can help you find the tool.
One advantage of a club is the opportunity to create a shared identity. Such things as adopting a mascot, designing a logo, having T-shirts made, having a website, and picking a fun name can all help to create a sense of shared identity. In true Young Maker spirit, ask one of your Young Makers to create the logo, and perhaps even manage the website.
Set up a club website
We strongly encourage all clubs to create a website.
A website is a great tool to use to connect to your club members, as well as connecting to other clubs, and the greater community of Young Maker supporters that we’re trying to build. You can use it to document projects hosted out of your club, to recruit new members, and to maintain a schedule of build sessions.
Feel free to use whatever tools and platforms you’re already familiar with. Google sites is an easy to use free service. When your site is created, tell the world about it by completing the Affiliated Club application to be listed on the Affilated Clubs page.
A simple bare bones example of a site is the one for the Central Marin Young Makers Club (Tony’s club).
Guidelines for getting from January to Maker Faire in May (2013 timeline)
These guidelines are for those participating in the Bay Area 2013 season.
The dynamic and progress of each team will likely vary considerably, but here is a rough idea of what to shoot for between January and Maker Faire.
January meeting at your regional hub: Kickoff, get your creative juices flowing. Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting for your club. After the meeting start brainstorming project ideas, make lists of all the ideas you can think of, make sketches of the most promising ones. See Finding a project vision for some additional thoughts on how to get going. You’ll likely need to schedule additional club meetings between the January and February meetings at your hub. Tony’s club generally meets on Saturday mornings from 10am-1pm, but do whatever works for you and your club. Early in the season his club meets only once or twice a month for build sessions. They gradually met more often as Maker Faire approached. The number and duration of build sessions will depend on the progress and scope of the projects in your club.
February meeting: Share your sketches and project ideas at the plussing session. After the meeting, start narrowing down your ideas and start making prototypes of the one or two that you’re most excited about.
March meeting: Share your prototypes, etc. at the plussing session. After the meeting you should shoot to have settled on a project vision, and start working out the design for the various parts. Begin fabrication if possible. Schedule build times in your shop as necessary. Start thinking about how you want to explain your project to the public at Maker Faire. That is, what story do you want to tell?
April meeting: Share what you have completed at the plussing session. Practice your story. After the meeting is the big push to the finish line. Complete construction and testing. Prepare any other posters, etc. of your project for exhibition at Maker Faire.
May 18&19: Showtime!