Did anyone else resolve to make more in 2017? At a loss for new ways to encourage your students to tinker, create, and build?

Whether maker education is old hat or brand new, we could all use inspiration as school starts up again and the weather traps everyone inside. We’ve rounded-up some creative projects—from makers near and far—to try in 2017.

  1. Use Digital Technology to Solve Problems

Educators at the Brookwood School in Manchester, Mass. came up with a unique system to make better use of their school’s 3D printer. It’s one that boosts students’ problem-solving skills, stretches the limits of the technology, and provides practical help to the whole school community. Staff submit requests to a “problem bank.” The young designers come up with solutions to their problems.

Some teachers simply request 3D-printed board game pieces to finish incomplete sets. An art teacher asked students to design clips to mount together mirrors for self-portrait-making. The school’s innovation coordinator challenged the students to create a helicopter-like object that could be used to demonstrate flight. The young designers can see the real-world applications of the skills they are learning—and often benefit from the work themselves. It’s easy to imagine a scaled-up version of the problem-bank project, where students connect with neighbors or city officials to learn about and address problems facing their community. 

  1. Teach the Diverse Cultural History of Making

Maker education can empower young people to explore their own cultural identities and learn about their peers’ backgrounds. On the MakerEd blog, neuroscientist Dorothy Jones-Davis writes that making was a daily experience throughout her working-class childhood, and one that connected her to her predecessors. At home, Jones-Davis didn’t often have new toys, but she learned to fix up old bikes and electronics, and sew new clothes. At Native American summer camp, she enjoyed making traditional cornhusk dolls and woven blankets. “At a young age my dad imparted that as countless generations of our people, black and brown, made—everything from quilts, to buildings, to inventions that changed our world—so we continue this honorable tradition,” she writes.

With glaring gaps in the racial and gender makeup in tech world, it’s important to remember that the history of making is a diverse one. Learners who feel like outsiders in the maker movement might be surprised to learn that many classic projects have roots in their own cultures. Take a cue from our local Assemble’s upcoming day camp “Who Made That: African American Scientist Discovery Camp.” Kids ages 8-10 can spend Martin Luther King Jr. Day learning about black inventors—like Garrett Morgan who, 100 years ago, created the first automated traffic signal (the precursor to the traffic light), gas masks, and the ziz-zag sewing machine stitch.

  1. Design ‘Smart’ Clothing

There are some timeless holiday classroom crafts. Decorated shoeboxes for handmade Valentine’s Day cards. Handprint turkeys with feathers glued on sloppily to mark Thanksgiving. What’s the 21st century maker version of celebratory crafting? Stanford’s FabLearn Fellows include some ideas in their “Meaningful Making: Projects and Inspirations for Fab Labs + Makerspaces,” an extensive guide. There’s a technological take on the “ugly Christmas sweater” trend. One of the fellows worked with high school engineering students to create sweaters that not only looked bad, but also lit up, made music, or were edible. The project was the culmination of a semester spent studying conductivity, programming, LEDs, and laser-cutting, and students proudly wore their successes on their sleeves—literally. For younger kids, another fellow recommends 3D-printing monster-shaped candy molds for Halloween.

  1. Build a Telegraph

Passing notes in class is typically frowned upon. Middle school teacher and FabLearn Fellow Heather Allen Pang actually encourages her history students to send messages from one side of the classroom to the other—but they have to build a good old-fashioned telegraph in order to do so. In the FabLearn guide, Pang writes about her own experience learning to build the machine, and gives advice to other educators trying the activity in their classrooms. For makers who are more attached to their modern-day communication technologies, the guide also suggests designing wooden or edible cell phone cases. Those would pair nicely with the emoji pillows a group of middle school students from Environmental Charter School sewed with Assemble.