Starting a Club

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. As with other parts of this site, we are constantly trying to refine and improve the material we provide. Please click the "Contact us" link in the side bar, or add comments to this page if you have insights and experience to share.

Recruiting Young Makers

In recruiting Young Makers and Mentors in the beginning (Spring 2010), we relied on our personal networks. We 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, to manage. The most important thing is to pick a size that is most comfortable for you. Last year we 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.

Recruiting Mentors

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.

Club Identity

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 (this site is currently hosted there). When your site is created, click the "Contact us" link in the side bar to let us know the address. We'll link to it on the "Affiliated clubs" page.

A simple bare bones example of a site is the one for the Central Marin Young Makers Club.

Guidelines for Getting from December to Maker Faire in May (General Timeline Overview)

The dynamic and progress of each team will likely vary considerably, but here is a rough idea of what to shoot for between December and Maker Faire.

December: Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. Idea generation starts. See Finding a project vision for some thoughts on how to get going.

January: Recruiting winds down, project teams begin to form. Idea generation continues. You may need to schedule one or more meetings to facilitate this. The entire club should plan on attending all Open Make sessions at the Exploratorium. Open Make sessions are another opportunity to meet with your club each month.

February: Project teams formed. Idea generation continues for some teams, others will move into design and prototyping phases. Attend the Open Make sessions. Each team should be prepared to talk about their current project vision to other teams meeting at the museum. This is the first of the "round robin" plussing sessions. Start to schedule build times in the shop. Last year, one club generally met on Saturday mornings from 10am-1pm, but do whatever works for you and your club. Early in the season we'd meet only one or twice a month for build sessions. We 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.

March: Design, prototyping, construction. Attend Open Make. Teams should be prepared to talk about their project status, problems they've solved, challenges they've run into, etc. Build times in your shop as necessary.

April: Same as March. Attend Open Make. Most teams should be in late stage prototyping or the build stage by now. Build times in your shop as necessary. 

May: Maker Faire in the third or fourth week of May!