The Maker's 3

When creating a maker challenge for students, it’s difficult to know what to include for materials and tools. If too much is given, it dilutes the problem-solving aspect of the challenge. On the other hand, if you don’t give them at least the necessary minimum for building, you might not get the outcome you hope for, or worse, run the risk of losing them altogether along with their enthusiasm for the challenge. So what is the minimum? What is the magical number that will give you the best outcome for a great learning experience? Unfortunately, there is no such thing. Every challenge is different, and therefore not easily determined. But there is one rule that can help anyone guide them in the right direction when creating a challenge; a rule I call, The Maker’s 3.

The Maker’s 3 is a set of principles for making that establishes the minimum any challenge needs for success. Simply put, it’s the three categories (hence the 3) that are the bare necessities for making. It states that at least one from each of the following categories is needed to make something.


This is main building material, whether its wood, fabric, cardboard, paper, or a recyclable material. This is what the end product will be entirely, or largely, made of.


This is how the product will be jointed together. Connectors include nails, screws, glues, tape, thread, clips, or even staples.


Of course in order to put the building material and connector together, you need a tool. This category includes tools from hammers and screwdrivers, to staplers and sewing needles. In short, its anything that allows you to specifically add a “connector,” and/or also cut the main building material as well. In many cases your hands serve as the tool, because it can apply a connector to a building material. ex - tape and straws

So, what does this look like in a making challenge? Let’s use an example. If you were having students prototype a new type of wallet and you gave them card stock to do it, that would be the main building material. If you gave them masking tape as well, that would be the connector. Finally, the last category, tool,” would be occupied with a pair of scissors, that would be used for cutting the card stock and tape.

Of course, The Maker’s 3, identifies a minimum of at least 1 item for each category, but you take it from there. Add more to each after that if needed. So in the example above, I would add plastic sheets to the card stock, staples to the tape, and a stapler to the scissors. That is how you can start scaling a challenge upwards. Start with The Maker’s 3, then add to each of the categories, keeping in mind how the designers can use each of them and how it can benefit the final outcome.

Challenges offer students and young designers an opportunity to problem solve and stretch their designing muscles. However, I must admit, putting them together is sometimes a challenge in itself. The Maker’s 3 makes the task a little easier by providing a framework from which anyone can work within and a base from which you can scale upward.

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Rick Funes

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