Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Turning Voice Recordings into Sound Wave Art and QR Codes

As many of you know, this past year I lost my father and my kids lost their grandfather. It has been an ongoing struggle for us, especially as the holidays and birthdays approach. So I have been trying to figure out ways to help us all through this year of firsts, which is why I learned about soundwave art.

There are programs out there that can take voice messages and show you what they look like in soundwave form and many people are turning those into works of art. You can even turn it into a tattoo and there are scanners that will scan the tattoo and you can hear the message!

You can also turn a voice mail or recording into a QR code and when you scan the QR code, you can hear the message. Many online artists are turning these into works of art. The canvas will show the soundwave and also have a QR code on the art so you can scan it and hear what the message says. So with Thing 2’s birthday coming up, I decided to see if I could do this and I made a postcard (I blocked out parts of it for privacy and to keep it special for her):

Though I looked for how to do this as a way to help us remember someone we have loved and lost, it does not have to be about that. You can do this for any one and for any occasion. The creative possibilities are limitless. So let me tell you how you can turn a voice mail or voice recording into art.

Step 1: Turn Your Recording into a Soundwave

I did a lot of searching to try and figure out a good way to turn my voicemail into a recording. There are a lot of options out there and good instructions and walk throughs. I used a program called Audacity on my laptop. I recorded on my laptop and played the voicemail on my phone. I then took a screen shot of the soundwave and pasted it into Microsoft Publisher, where I could clean it up and save it as either a .PNG or a .JPG. This was actually a pretty quick process.

Here’s a walk through that helped get me started: https://midnightmusic.com.au/2018/12/how-to-make-your-own-soundwave-art/

Step 2: Turn Your Recording into a QR Code

Again, there are a lot of options out there for this. I ended up purchasing an app called Cloud QR for $3.99 and I don’t know if this was the best choice, but it was the one that I saw talked about the most and worked in the way I needed it to. To do this part, I played the voicemail on my computer while recording it on the Cloud QR generator on my phone. Once the QR code was generated I then screenshot it and emailed it to myself. I could then put it in Microsoft Publisher to clean it up and save it as either a .PNG or a .JPG.

Here’s a walk through that helped me get started: https://brownbagteacher.com/making-audio-qr-codes-step-by-step/

Step 3: Turning Your Soundwave and QR Code into Art

Because I knew I wanted to send Thing 2 a card in the mail, I decided to make a postcard. I did this in Canva because they have really good – and easy to use – postcard templates. I quickly and easily loaded up both the soundwave and QR code art and made my postcard. I then printed it out and verified that the QR code worked the way that I wanted it to and it did!

There are no limits to the types of art being produced out there using soundwave art. I can’t help but the way it could be used to decorate tween and teen rooms, send mail to loved ones, create unique canvases and more. And I was able to teach myself how to do it and create my postcard in 2 hours! And it only cost me $4.00 for the app.

I highly recommend using this in your programming, classroom and makerspaces. The possibilities are limitless.

Rethinking 3D Printing in the Library, it’s not as complicated as you might think

When we first put together the Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (Ohio), we thought a lot about 3D Printers. At that time, we decided that for our staff and our space and our budget, the correct answer was no. It was a question we revisited a lot in the four years that I managed that space and the answer we kept coming back to was no. And although I am no longer working in that position, I imagine if I still was the answer would still be no for a variety of very legitimate reasons.

However, this summer I have been working a lot with and thinking a lot about 3D printers. This new revelation has occurred for a variety of reasons. One, I now work at the Central Library of the Fort Worth Public Library and they have a 3D printer out and open to the public at all times that the library is open. Two, I sent Thing 2 – who is 10-years-old – to 3D printing camp at the local schools – and she rocked it!

Our local school system offered a variety of STEAM Camps this summer and my child has attended four: 3D printing camp, rocket camp, art camp and baking camp. She enjoyed each and every one of them, though if you are familiar with my space loving kid you will not be surprised to learn that she adored rocket camp the most. But I was most surprised to see her engaging with 3D printing camp. And yes, she is now asking for a 3D printer. No, it’s not really in our personal budget.

3D printing camp used Thingaverse, which is a free 3D printing program. It’s the same program that we use here at my library. My child is 10 and she was able to easily upload and print this super cool shark below.

The shark was a pre-loaded design but they were required to manipulate it in some way so that they could learn how to use the software. That’s why you see the star on this shark’s head, she added it in her attempt to learn how to use the design software. She then designed a 3D keychain with her name on it and a balloon car, which they used to do balloon car races on the last day of camp. All of this took place in the course of 3 hours a day over a 4 day period. So in just 12 hours she was pretty comfortable designing and using a 3D printer. As I watched her design I realized that a lot of tweens and teens today are already using a variety of skills that relate directly to this, including designing PowerPoint presentations.

But what about 3D printers in the library?

At the library, our printer is always out and open to the public. It’s also always free. It’s by the staffed desk in our teen room, though anyone of any age can use it. The set up includes the printer itself, a laptop and a brief but simple instruction sheet. There is staff nearby to help users get started and to help send the final print job to the printer. The staff will also look at the print time before sending the job and tries to keep all print jobs to around 30 minutes so that there isn’t a long wait for the next patron. There is no sign up sheet or waiting list, it’s just first come, first served. There is also a small gallery of 3D printed objects kept out as examples for the patrons.

This works surprisingly well. Patrons are always impressed and interested. I have seen a lot of patrons of all ages have a great time. On occasion, someone walks in with a specific need or a design that they have created – patrons can bring in their own designs and print them – and the machine is in use and they either have to wait or come back another time. But on the whole, this approach works surprisingly well and it’s both satisfying and easy.

Staff even have used the machine to print replacement pieces for the various games that are available on the gaming shelves in the Teen Scene or items for an upcoming storytime or program. It’s a pretty useful tool and investment.

Here’s a look at some of my favorite projects:

And here’s a 3D printed model of the library at which I work:

Two of the biggest hurdles I often hear about 3D printing in the library is ease of use and budgets. I’ve changed my mind about ease of use after watching my own child engage with a 3D printer and watching patrons use ours in the library. Yes, more complicated designs or creating a design from scratch requires a higher level of skill, but there are a lot of free, already created designs out there for use.

As for budgets, a good printer that holds up to a lot of public use is not an inexpensive investment and there is the ongoing cost of replacement filament. Cost is a genuine hurdle and I can see how it could prevent many libraries from having one. Cost is what is preventing my newly excited tween from having her own 3D printer. Of all the issues I hear librarians discussing, this is indeed the most realistic and potentially hardest to overcome. The initial investment can be mitigated through things like grants, but keeping up with the need for filament can be costly.

The other hurdles I often hear discussed involve the implementation, the how, when, where and why of who gets to use the 3D printer. It turns out, just having one out and open to the public with no sign ups or complications can and does work. A lot of people simply enjoy seeing the printer in action and gaining an understanding of what one is and how exactly it works. I know that for me, when I first started reading about 3D printers I couldn’t even fathom what it meant or how one worked. Seeing it in action made a world of difference to me in my understanding of what this tool was and what it is capable of.

If you have the space and budget, I recommend investing in a 3D printer. You don’t even necessarily always have to out and available to the public if you have space or staffing issues, just having one around for programming is a good investment. Each library is different and there are always logistics to work out, but some good policies, procedures and guidelines goes a long way to addressing these issues and concerns.

As a librarian for 26 years, I have found that I often change my mind about various topics as I gain new information and experience. 3D printing is yet another topic that I have changed my mind about. I’ve gone from a not to a yes as I have seen it in action and it’s pretty cool. And as always, providing access and educational opportunities to patrons is the goal, and providing access to a 3D printer definitely fits within those goals.

Slime, slime, and more slime

Thing 2, a slime connoisseur

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the library…

Like many things (Minecraft, anyone?) slime seemed at first to be a passing phase. But no, it just keeps coming back around. So here I am with my two fail safe slime recipes. The secret to slime success is in how you add the activator – A LITTLE AT A TIME. Please learn from my mistakes, and always add whatever activator you use sparingly, stir a lot, and then add more if needed.

The secret of how to get the teens to add activator sparingly, well, that took some time and trials. My go to method is to put out the plastic toy pipettes from the children’s science set, but you can also buy cheap plastic pipettes from many online retailers. If you put out a bowl of activator without an obvious way to pour it, no spoons, and plastic pipettes, they seem to get the idea.

The secret slime weapon! You can buy pipettes like these on Amazon

No-Fail Sparkle Slime

So first, lets do no-fail sparkle slime! For this recipe you will need: clear glue, water, food coloring, glitter, and liquid starch.

Start by adding equal parts clear glue and water to a bowl (I usually limit the kids to half a cup of each, because the resulting slime will fit in a sandwich bag.) Stir these until they are completely combined, then add food coloring and glitter as desired, stir to combine. Then, slowly, with the pipettes, add one squirt of liquid starch at a time, stir, and evaluate. Continue to add liquid starch, one squirt at a time, stirring completely, until the mixture achieves the desired consistency. Take out of the bowl and play!

The Teen making slime

Foam Slime

Next up – foam slime! For this recipe you will need: regular school glue, shaving cream, food coloring, and borax solution.

First you need to create the borax solution. To do this, pour boiling water into a bowl, add borax one spoonful at a time, and stir to dissolve. Continue to add spoonfuls of borax until it will no longer absorb into the water. You will have some borax settled into the bottom of the bowl, but never fear! Leave the bowl to cool for a couple of hours, and the rest or the dregs should absorb into the water.

When it’s time to make the slime, add half a cup of glue and 2 cups of shaving cream to a bowl. Stir gently to incorporate the glue into the shaving cream without deflating the shaving cream. When the mixture is completely combined, add food coloring as desired and mix. This is where the regular glue comes into play. You can use clear glue, but the color won’t be as vibrant as with the regular school glue. Next, add the borax solution, one squirt at a time, stirring after every addition, until the slime reaches the desired consistency.

A word about desired consistency – this may be different for each individual. I’ve had some teens who prefer their slime to be drippy and gooey, and some who prefer theirs to be almost solid. In general, you are looking for an oozy but not sticky consistency that is easy to stretch and play with without it sticking to your hands. The more you make slime the more you will begin to recognize this in the bowl, but sometimes you just have to take it out and play with it to be sure.

Do you have a favorite slime recipe? Be sure to chime in in the comments.

A Tale of Three Printers, portable photo printers that is (Tech Review)


Doing both makerspace and outreach events, I have found it helpful to have a portable photo printer available. This allows you to work with teens and instantly print photos while eliminating the need for traditional printers, wires, Internet access and the constant rearranging of printing tray sizes. The advantage is that you are not tied down to a large printer that plugs in to a wall and requires access to the Internet. You can do photo booths, quick photo based crafts (including buttons!), and so much more with a portable photo printer. Fear not, there are many portable photo printers to choose from and today I’m going to talk about three of them. Each devise has their advantages and disadvantages and having tried them all, I break it down for you. The three devices I will be reviewing today include the Fuji Instax Square 10 photo printer, the Polaroid Zip Pocket Printer and the Canon Selphy 1300.

The Fuji Instax Square 10 Printer


As some of you may have figured out, I am currently obsessed with instant photography. I started with the Instax Mini 9 (which I recommend) and started exploring the square format because I liked the size and look of the film. It turns out, there is a Square printer that you can purchase for roughly $160.00. And yes, this is not in-expensive. And to top it off, then you have to buy new film pretty frequently and it all starts to add up. Instant photography is not a cheap interest by any means.

But before you dismiss this printer right out of hand because of the cost (and cost concerns are legitimate, especially for a library), let me tell you one thing that rocks about the Square printer: you can print right from your mobile device. This means that you can create the photos that you want using any app on your phone and print it and still get the instant photography look. It takes a lot of the guess work out of instant photography and gives you so much control and creative license. Many people invested in instant photography consider it cheating, and in many ways it is, but with the film being so expensive it’s nice to have an idea that your photo is going to look good before you print it.


This photo printer has a rechargeable battery that makes it completely portable without cords and you connect wirelessly with its built in wifi directly to the printer. That means if you have properly charged everything up, you can print using only your wireless device and this printer with no cords for a period of time. It gets a 10 out of 10 for portability. And it’s fairly easy to use. It’s biggest drawback is, of course, the price. Pictures can cost anywhere from $1.00 to $1.50 depending on where you get your film and how much you pay.

  • Portable: Yes
  • Wireless: Yes
  • Requires a free printing app and a mobile device
  • Cost: $160 for the printer, about $1.00 a picture

Polaroid Zink Mobile Printer


This mobile printer also connects wirelessly to your mobile device so again, you can create photos using any app of your choice and print them in a size that is very similar to the Fuji Instax Mini film size, which is 2 x 3 inches. When I asked The Teen which of the three printers she preferred she said this one because she liked the size of the film the best. I should note here that you can get an Instax Mini Film printer that works similarly to the Square printer mentioned above, but in terms of printing cost this printer is more cost effective. The printer itself costs around $95.00 and the film is around $10.00 for 20 prints, or .50 cents a print.

Of all the three portable printers I have tried, this one had the worst quality printing. The colors were off and the pictures just didn’t have that depth and snap to them compared to pictures produced by the other two printers. So it’s less expensive, but it’s also not as good of quality.


I also had the most connectivity issues with this printer. You connect to it wirelessly with its own mechanism, which means you can use it in a park or at a school you are visiting, but I had to reconnect with it more than I did the other printers.

  • Portable: Yes
  • Wireless: Yes
  • Requires a free printing app and mobile device
  • Cost: $96.00 for the printer, about $0.50 a picture

Canon Selphy 1300

printing7The Canon Selphy 1300 is a slightly less portable printer that has its own wifi connection and prints onto a more standard size film paper. You must use Selphy paper for this printer and each bundle of paper that you purchase comes with its own ink cartridges because yes, you have to change (though it is quick and easy) ink cartridges. Paper bundles range in size and price but you can get a 216 sheet bundle for $68.00, which makes this the most affordable printing device at roughly .32 cents a picture.

As I mentioned, the Selphy is slighlty less portable simply because it is bigger in size and has a few more elements. You can still connect to it wirelessly, but it doesn’t fit in the palm of your hand like the other two printers do. You can, however, buy a handy carrying case designed specifically for it.


The quality of the pictures, however, far surpasses the printing quality of the other two printers. And it gives you the most creativity and adaptability because you can print any size picture up to a 4×6, which is the size of the paper. I use this device with an app called Print to Size and you can even print multiple pictures on one page and cut them down to size. So a little more work is involved, but if you want a square size with a white border like the Square printer, you can do that. And if you want the small size of the Polaroid Zip printer or the Instax Mini, you can also do that. There is so much more versatility with this printer once you figure out how to get multiple photos on a page.

  • Portable: Yes
  • Wireless: Yes
  • Requires a mobile device; a free printing app is not required (you can print directly without an app), but it is recommended to get more versatility in your designs
  • Cost: $160 for the printer, about $0.34 a picture

Final Thoughts

I highly recommend the Selphy printer as it has the most functionality, the most adaptability and it has the best quality photos. There is an optional battery pack that you can purchase and it has it’s own built in wifi for connectivity, so it is truly portable though it is biggest in size. The cost and quality make this the optimal purchase.

If true instant photography is what you are looking for, the Fuji Instax Square printer is a costly but high quality tool that is truly portable and fun. I plan on using this one for a long time, though sparingly.

I gave the Polaroid Zink printer to The Teen because she seemed to like it but it was the lowest quality in terms of printing. The cost and portability are there, I just was the least satisfied with the prints.

Depending on your needs, there is a portable printer out there for you. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, I recommend the Canon Selphy 1300.

DIY Neon Signs

Sometimes, in order to find new activities to do with teens, I buy kits and try and find ways to adapt them to do in the library with teens. For Christmas, I bought each of the girls this DIY Neon Sign kit because it was cool, but also because I thought it would make a cool Teen MakerSpace activity. All the supplies can be bought individually to do as an activity, but the El wire needed is kind of pricey. So I would recommend doing this as a group activity to make signs to decorate a teen space as opposed to having each teen make an individual neon sign to take home, depending on your budget.

The inspiration kit

The inspiration kit


Cost for an individual sign: Approximately $5.00

Step 1: Creating Your Template

Using your paper and marker, write out the word or saying you want your sign to say. For a library teen space, I recommend something like “Books” or “Read”. For a Teen MakerSpace, you could go with something like “Make” or “Idea Lab”.

You want to write crisp and legibly and – most importantly – in cursive because you need all of the letters to connect.


This will be your template.

Step 2: Making Your Wire Word

You now want to use the template to bend your wire into the word you are trying to make. I found this worked better with two people and two sets of hands. The pliers will also help. When you are done bending your wire into your word, you can also use the pliers to close the gaps on some of the letters, like the end of the letter P and the curve in the letter C below.


Step 3: Making the El Wire Word

You will then take the El wire and bend it to form into the wire word you made in step 2. At this point, you will have the metal wire which is guiding you in making the word out of the El wire.


Step 4: Attaching the Two Words

We attached our El wire to the wire word using zip ties. After you attach the El wire and the guide wire, you can snip the zip tie ends and you really don’t see them. Other sites recommend joining the two with a hot glue gun.

Finished DIY Neon Sign


The finished product is really pretty cool. If I had to do it again, I might use a painted piece of wood or canvas as a background for my sign. I will say bending the wire to make some of the letters was hard and I have not been satisfied with the letter “a” in the middle of the word space. Once you have the El wire, depending on how you attach the two wires together, you can actually take your project apart and make new words.

Here are some additional tutorials to help you . . .

Rookie DIY Neon Sign Instructions


The Cart is the Thing: Making a Magnetic Mobile MakerSpace Wall When You’re Short on Space


I spend a lot of time visiting other libraries and talking to my fellow librarians. I like to see what other libraries are doing and find new and creative ways to provide services, organize spaces, decorate, merchandise and more. I recently was visiting a smaller branch where the librarian was talking about how they wanted to do a wide variety of things but they just didn’t have the space. And I had one of those light bulb moments.

In a previous library position, I had a mobile MakerSpace cart that I kept in a storage closet and rolled into the one and only meeting room for weekly maker activities. The trick was, I would still need space to spread out and allow participants to make. This branch does not have that luxury. So I suggested a Lego wall, but a brief look around the room revealed that there was zero wall space. So what, I thought, about a Lego wall cart?


You would need a slender, metal booktruck cart with complete or fuller walls on the backside. Put strong – super strong – magnets on the back side of green Lego building plates. I would use E600 glue and give it a few days to dry. You then can put the magnetic Lego plates on the back of the booktruck cart with a small box of Legos on the shelves. Place the “Lego wall” at the end of the shelf and presto – you have a mobile Lego wall. I know that this idea will work because before we built our own Lego wall at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, we made a magnetic Lego wall on the side of one of the metal tool chests we had in the Teen Makerspace. The bonus is that a book cart is slender and takes up a little space as conceivably possible while still providing libraries with a way to get patrons making.


But since we’re using magnets and our Lego plates are easily removable, we don’t have to limit ourselves to Lego walls. You can put out Magnatiles, magnetic poetry kits, Tumble Trax marble mazes, and more. Basically, whatever you can stick a magnet on and stick to a wall, you can stick onto the back of a book truck cart as long as you have enough backspace to do so. You’ll want to always be aware of safety issues, like choking hazards and location, and make sure you are using strong enough magnets to support the weight of the item you want to stick to the “wall”.

MakerSpace: Taking Bristlebots on the Road or, How I keep re-defining and re-purposing a simple Bristlebot activity to get teens making


The best part about working with teens, but also sometimes the hardest, is that every few years you get a whole new crop of teens to work with. This means that you can repeat programs, expanding on what you learned the first time(s) you did a program. With a new set of a teens an older program can be new again! So I recently repeated a Bristlebot program incorporating what I’ve learned along the way and it was an awesome experience for all.






Many of your tweens and teens will be very familiar with Hexbug Nano. These are small bugs that you can buy in the toy department of most stores and they are an example of a simple robot that works using a vibrating motor. This is essentially what you are making. Hexbug Nano also sells a variety of “battle ground” kits, for a large sum of money, but you can get kits to make their own using Legos, old scraps of cardboard, or whatever else you have on hand. They can race their bristlebots, set up a thematic environment, or build a maze and see if their bristlebot can make it all the way through.


To Make Your Bristlebot

  1. Use the large wire cutters to cut the head off of a toothbrush
  2. Use the scissors to cut a foam adhesive square down to size
  3. You will use a foam adhesive square to attach a battery to the toothbrush head. You will use a second foam adhesive square to attach the vibrating motor to the battery. So you’ve just made a toothbrush-battery-vibrating motor sandwich. Use the small wire strippers to strip the ends of both lead lines on the vibrating motor so that you have enough exposed wire to conduct a current. You will make sure that one wire is firmly attached to the battery and the other is firmly attached to the vibrating motor. Tuck it under the foam squares to hold it in place. Note, there is no on/off switch for this simple vibrating robot, when the wires are attached correctly it just starts moving and a shaking.

They have really good instructions with pictures at Instructables

Talking Points


If you purchase the battery pack that I referred to in the supplies, you will see that it comes with batteries in a variety of sizes. This is a unique twist because the size of your battery matters; it creates the energy you need to move your bristlebot and the size of the battery impacts whether or not a toothbrush will move. Think about a car. Smaller cars have smaller engines and bigger cars need bigger engines to get them moving. This is true when making something with a simple battery and vibrating motor as well. The size of your battery and motor will impact what size you can create your small robot. Part of making and inventing involves trial and error; challenging teens to use other objects to make different types of robots using the same mechanism challenges them to consider how much energy is needed to make an object move depending on its size and weight.


After your participants make a bristlebot, have them try again using Legos. You can use the same vibrating motor mechanism to make small Lego cars and have them move. But the size of your car will definitely matter. Almost every teen will start by building a car that is way too big to be moved by the motor. The challenge then becomes, how do you build a small enough car that your “engine” can get it to move?

What else can you make move using a small vibrating motor? Many of the teens suggested you could buy packs of plastic cockroaches and make them move for the most ultimate prank.


Another interesting thing the teens learned and taught me is that the size and shape of the toothbrush matters. One teen discovered that if she left more of the handle on the toothbrush, it changed the dynamics of the toothbrush. If it was too short, the bristlebot was more likely to spin. Whereas if you left more of the handle on, it was more likely to move in a forwards or backwards direction. Trial and error conducted by a curious teen helped us to gain valuable insight. If you give teen participants the time and space to explore, independent learning happens and it’s literally like magic.

Bristlebot Kits as Outreach Tools


At a conference I attended, a vendor of maker toys was distributing small plastic resealable bags that contained the 4 components you need to make a bristlebot with a small business card that had instructions on one side and vendor information on the other. This is a genius outreach idea that libraries can take and hand out at school visits or other outreach events. Or, put a card in each kit that says “Bring this kit into the Teen Makerspace and our staff will help you turn it into a robot!” Each bristlebot kit would cost roughly $1.50 to $2.00 and you could make your own business cards pretty easily in house using cardstock, Publisher, and a printer. You could also pre-make kits to hand out at a program if you don’t want to give people wire strippers and cutters.

Will a small vibrating motor make a roach move? Teens suggest the ultimate prank!

Will a small vibrating motor make a roach move? Teens suggest the ultimate prank!

I have a small, easy carry to box with all the bristlebot supplies I need (minus the Legos) for a quick and easy program that I can take anywhere and with a moments notice. Stripped down to nothing but the bristlebot, it’s still an enjoyable program with a wide range of possibilities.

This is the third time I have done a bristlebots program and it’s quick, easy and yet a source of limitless fun and learning. I have yet to do this program and not have teens get really invested in seeing what they can create and how they can (or can’t) make it move.

MakerSpace: Finding Inspiration in Places Other than Pinterest


If you’re like me, every once in a while you need some inspiration for your next makerspace or program idea. In the year 2018 it seems like our first impulse is to go to Pinterest, which is a great resource that can in fact be inspiring. It is not, however, the only and it is not always the best resource. I know, it feels like heresy to say it out loud. Today I’m going to share with you some other resources I have found that I use regularly. I invite you to share some of your favorite non-Pinterest resources with me in the comments below as a little inspiration never hurts.

The Pinback Button Making Community on Facebook


If you look, there are a lot of special interest community groups on Facebook that can inspire you. There are plenty of librarian centered ones, but I have found some real treasures of information and resources looking outside of librarianship. As you may have heard me mention, the button maker is a popular makerspace item for teens. I enjoy the button maker so much that I have a personal 1.25 inch machine at home. It turns out, there are a lot of things you can do with a button maker besides making buttons. You can make ear rings, pendants, key fobs and more. I get a lot of design and product ideas from The Pinback Button Making Community on Facebook.

Silhouette Cameo Project Inspiration


The Silhouette Cameo is another makerspace tool that has limitless possibilities. My knowledge of what you can do with a Silhouette Cameo is always expanding and morphing. If you search on Facebook, you will find a wide variety of Silhouette Cameo groups that you can join for design and project inspiration ideas. The best part of joining one of these groups is that you can ask specific questions and get answers from others who are trying to do the same things that you are. It’s not just about inspiration, it’s help from experienced users who can answer questions like how can I do x, y or z or why is my machine doing this or what is the best type of vinyl to use and why. I love being involved in a group that can inspire, support and trouble shoot.

Maker Maven

17-2 0084 Maker Maven - Logo Designs FINAL

Maker Maven is a STEAM related business that is, in fact, trying to sell you their products, but along the way they share free ideas. You can sign up for their email newsletter and those ideas comes right into your inbox. I have purchased some of their kits and they are good, but the newsletter itself is invaluable. I like having ideas coming straight into my mailbox.



Tinkercrate is a STEM subscription box that will send boxes with actual blue prints right to your home or library. It’s not cheap, but everything you need is right there in the box and if you like the activity you can usually buy the elements in bulk for cheaper online. If you have a makerspace, you can take the box right into the space and have the tweens and teens do the unboxing and have them give you immediate feedback on the activity.

Speaking of Kits . . .


I often buy make and craft kits and take them home or to the makerspace to try the activity out, reverse engineer it or find ways to adapt it to create a new makerspace activity or station. Not every kit I buy turns into a successful makerspace activity, but they are often a good source of inspiration. Because I have kids in the tween and teen age, I will admit that we sometimes buy kits with our own money that we try at home on the weekends, but I’ve also had my library or primary fund source buy the kits as well if we’re using them in the makerspace. You can usually find affordable and fun kits at Target, Michaels and online. I use the kits to teach inspire creativity, teach me how to do an activity, and then I find more affordable ways to adapt them to larger groups and with a library budget.

There are lots of great makerspace and programming ideas out there. These are just a few of the ones that I use and recommend. So what’s on your list?

MakerSpace: Instax Mini Fun


I have had an Instax Mini camera sitting in my house for some time, but Thing 2 (now a Tween, how did that happen?) recently discovered it and fell in love. She started asking me to go on walks with her and now we go on nightly walks and take pictures. And because she has spent some time in the Teen MakerSpace at my library she knows all about photo booths, so she asked me to help her make one and some props so that she could have her friends over and take pictures of them. And as always happens, this got me started thinking about all of the ways we could use the Instax Mini in teen programming.


Thing 2 taking some pics with her Instax Mini


The Instax Mini is an instant camera that produces pictures on the spot. The camera itself can be purchased for around 55 to 65 dollars. It comes in 3 sizes, the 7s, the 8 and the 9. If you can, I recommend purchasing the 9 because it comes with a close up lens. You can purchase a close up lens for the other editions, but you might as well buy the 9 which comes with the lens. The Instax mini is fun and instant, but it doesn’t have a lot of versatility in terms of things like shudder speed, focus and flash. In fact, the flash always goes off and it is recommended that to avoid over exposure in some situations you may want to cover the flash with electrical tape. There are some user guides out there and I recommend taking a look at them.

The Ultimate Fuji Instax Camera Comparison – Photography Concentrate

The Key Differences Between the Instax Mini 9 and Mini 8

Using your Instax Mini 8 | Some Tips & Tricks – Heidi Swapp

Let Your Creativity Show in an Instax! · Lomography

If you buy the film in bulk each pictures costs an average of anywhere between 60 and 65 cents. Be careful when buying the film, because it can go as high as $1.00 a picture. You can buy film with a plain white border or buy film with decorative borders. Fuji even occasionally releases specialty film, like Alice in Wonderland or Lilo and Stitch. You can buy sticker frames or acrylic frames for your pictures, put them into photo albums, or make a variety of cool crafts with them. You can even buy small scrapbooking stickers and decorate the border yourself.


This is a Instax pic with a pre-purchased sticker frame. Teens can make their own frames using scrapbook paper or patterned vinyl. Cut it by hand using a stencil or using a cutter like the Silhouette Cameo.

I’ve already made one crafty display for my pictures and Thing 2 is working on one of her one that will take up a large chunk of one wall. In fact, I started a Pinterest board of Instax Mini ideas that I’m planning on trying to implement in a makerspace.



A co-worker and I recently did our final outside outreach event of the season and we made an “I Love My Library” sign and used the Instax Mini camera to take pictures that we gave to attendees to take home and remember the library. Kids were amazed by the instant photo and their parents were excited to have a blast from the past.

Some ideas I have include:

For Teen Read Week: Have teens create a tripdic (a series of 3 pictures) that relate somehow to their favorite book. Display the pictures and see if other teens can guess what book it is. This can be set up as a bulletin board or display wall and be an interactive promotion.

For Banned Books Week: Set up a jail cell or photo booth and take pictures of teens with their favorite “banned” books. Again, this would make a fun display.

Let teens take a picture or series of pictures and decorate or display them. They can create frames, wall art, magnet frames and more. In fact, we have a Silhouette cameo and you can purchase magnet sheets that can be cut with the Silhouette Cameo. Cut out frames, then cut out a piece of vinyl to decorate the frame, and you have a great fridge or locker craft.

MakerSpace: DIY Games


We host a monthly teen videogaming program at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County and we recently bought a Nintendo Switch to add to our array of video gaming equipment. I’ll talk more about the Switch soon, but as a new system it isn’t cheap and the games that you can buy for it aren’t cheap either. But we now have 3 video game systems and even with this number of systems and controllers, some teens still find themselves waiting for their turn to play and as you can imagine, waiting is boring. The fundamental drawback to teen videogaming in the library is the cost of the equipment and the wait in between times you get to play.

Our teens have asked for board games to play while waiting, but a large number of the games they have requested are expensive and they often don’t accommodate a lot of players, which would mean we would be spending a couple hundred dollars on board games. I know that lots of public libraries have board games and use them in their programming, but this hasn’t been something that our administration has wanted to invest in because of the cost and issues of lost pieces, etc. Plus, we are currently investing a lot of money into our Teen MakerSpace. But we have an excellent Teen MakerSpace so I thought, let’s address this teen request and get teens involved in making. My grand idea: we could combine the two and help teens create their own games to play. Thus, we started working with teens on DIY Games.diygames8Here are five ways that you can encourage teens to create and make their own games.

1. Coding

scratch scratch2LEGO Computer Coding STEM Activities for Kids

Code Your Own Games!: 20 Games to Create with Scratch

Whether you are using a PC, a laptop or a tablet, a lot of coding apps use the idea of game creation as a learning basis. Scratch is a free program from MIT that encourages game coding. And as you can imagine, there are lots of coding and gaming books out there to help teens to get started and thinking about game creation. This is, of course, the most difficult and challenging level of gaming. It’s not just thinking about the game design and play, but you have to learn the fundamentals of coding to get your game created. You can also use popular games like Crossy Road, Roblox and Minecraft that your teens are already playing to learn more about coding and game creation.

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2. Bloxels

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Bloxels – Build Your Own Video Games

Bloxels is a kit you can purchase that is designed specifically to be used with a tablet to create your own video games. You use little blocks  to create characters and layouts on a grid base and then upload them to create a gameboard. It’s similar to the idea of making a stop motion animation video by capturing a lot of pictures.

3. Build Your Own Pinball Machine


There are a lot of ways that you can build your own pinball machine. I have a kit at home that we purchased for our girls and we have had a lot of fun with it. We also worked some on building a pinball machine from scratch using random materials. It was a teen who initially came to us and wanted to build a pinball machine and got us onto the idea, but that teen eventually lost interest in the project because building one from scratch is a longer, time consuming process.

How to Build an Arduino Pinball Machine: 15 Steps (with Pictures)

MAKERBALL – The DIY Pinball Machine Kit by MAKE & PLAY

Raspberry Pi-Powered Pinball Machine | Make: – Make Magazine

PinBox 3000: Unbox Your Imagination! | DIY Cardboard Pinball Machine

How to make a Pinball Machine with Cardboard at Home – YouTube

4. Dry Erase Game Board and Cards

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You can buy a dry erase game board and playing cards off of Amazon and let teens create their own board games. We used Sculpey clay to make dice and you could use the same medium to make playing pieces if you found that you needed them. Dry erase is a great medium because if you find something isn’t working out, you can just erase it and start over again.

5. Legos


You can build a variety of games using Legos. Chess and checkerboards are the easiest and most popular. Also, Lego minifigs make excellent game pieces if you are making your own games. Trying to build your own Lego mazes is also a fun challenge.

Make Your Own LEGO© Board Game – What Do We Do All Day

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Easy DIY Checkers Homemade LEGO Checker Board Game

If you look online, there are no shortage of ways that you can get teens thinking about creating their own games and they can be high or low tech, or some combination of the two. For example, have an empty Altoid tin laying around, you can modify it to make a travel game. You can turn popular board games into live action versions like Candy Land, Hungry Hungry Hippo or Monopoly. TLTs own Heather Booth taught me how to host a live Angry Birds game, which I have done multiple times to great success. Mental Floss has an article which shares 26 life size versions of popular board games. If you have technology on hand, like LittleBits, Arduino or Raspberry Pi, you can have teens use those tools to make their own games. And if you and your teens needing even more guidance, you can purchase one of many kits easily online.


CARNIVAL GAMES littleBits Design Challenge

Years ago as I majored in Youth Ministry, I had to take an entire class on games. That’s right, I took an entire class devoted to learning about, playing and designing games as part of my youth ministry major. If you have ever been to a Christian youth group in the 90s, you would know that there was a lot of emphasis put on games and ice breakers as part of the youth group experience. If you were born after the nineties, congratulations you’re not as old as I am. Group games are a huge area of focus in youth ministry, or at least it was in the 90s. Christian publishers publish entire books on great games for tweens and teens, and these were in fact some of my text books. For the record, these books are also good for game ideas in general, they don’t all have a distinctly Christian focus, they’re often just games for the sake of playing games. One of our assignments for this class was to create our own game from scratch. For the sake of this assigment, our game had to have an underlying purpose – what message were we trying to teach with the game? – but the actual assignment was to create a game. At the time, I thought it was an absurd assignment because they had made me purchase books and books of games and icebreakers. Why did I need to create my own games when there are books of them available? Little did I know at the time, but a lot of my professional career would be about trying to design or adapt games to make engaging teen programs. I do it for the library and not a church, but it turns out I would use that class a lot in life. And now not only am I designing them, but I’m giving teens the tools and resources and am asking them to make their own.

DIY games are a fun and entertaining ways to get teens making and in the end, they have a game designed by them to play with their friends. All in all, it doesn’t suck.