Community Connections Innovation Schools and Youth

MakeX gives kids a unique chance to tinker, lead and learn

photo by Palo Alto Pulse

Maker spaces‘ seem to be everywhere these days, as ‘tinkering’ takes off in Silicon Valley and across the country. But while schools and youth centers are investing in 3-D printers, laser cutters and other tools of the maker movement, one element is often missing in these spaces: youth leadership.

That’s why Palo Alto’s MakeX is so unique: it’s the only maker space in the country that is run by kids, for kids.

looks like fun! Photo credit: Make X

looks like fun! Photo credit: Make X

Kids drop in to create and hang out

MakeX operates in a cluttered space in Cubberly Community Center that is perfect for the creative, open-ended projects that kids pursue there. MakeX is open on Friday afternoons from 4:15-6pm, and on Saturdays from 11am-2pm. All local middle and high school students are welcome to drop in any time, no reservation needed. Younger children can come with a parent.

photo credit: Make X

photo credit: Make X

During a visit to MakeX on a recent Saturday, we observed while a 13-year old named Dean received guidance from MakeX mentorGreg Xie about how to cut and build a skateboard he is making for the Connections program at JLS.

Sparking creativity and big ideas

“I used to come here with my Dad when I was younger, but now I come on my own,” Dean said. “All these tools are really expensive, but at MakeX you can just use them to build stuff. I want to start my own skateboard company and I’m doing all the research I need about custom decks here.”

Free for all and no membership required

That’s another thing unique about MakeX: it’s free for kids to use, with no fees for drop in or membership. Other local maker spaces charge up to $1000 a year for access.

Jevan, Greg and Dean at Make X. Photo credit: Palo Alto Pulse

Jevan, Greg and Dean at MakeX. Photo credit: Palo Alto Pulse

Teen mentors teach, lead and manage the space

The core of MakeX is its 20 youth mentors, who go through training to teach others how to use the machines and tools, and serve as the leadership team for the space. The MakeX  youth mentors also work together to manage the budget that MakeX receives from the City of Palo Alto.

Many of the MakeX youth mentors are on the robotics teams at Gunn, Paly or other local high schools, while others are just into making stuff for fun.

photo credit: Make X

photo credit: Make X

“People think that teens are reckless and can’t be trusted with these big machines, but MakeX shows that perception is not correct,” said Jevan Yu, a mentor who spends almost weekend at the space helping encourage other kids to build and explore.

Working to attract more girls and reach out to the community

MakeX has tools and machines, but one thing it doesn’t have a lot of is girls. That’s why the MakeX mentors are working hard to bring more girls into the space and to show them how cool tinkering can be.  They held a special girls workshop in September, and are reaching out to Castilleja and other places where girls congregate to spread the word.

MakeX has conducted special maker demos at Paly High School for DreamCatchers, a program that provides tutoring and support for students at Jordan, JLS and Terman who need extra help reaching grade level standards. They hope to encourage more DreamCatchers kids to come to MakeX and catch the tinkering bug.

Girls loved the special girls' maker day at Make X in September. Photo credit: Make X

Girls loved the special girls’ maker day at MakeX in September. Photo credit: MakeX

MakeX mentors were also involved in D Farm’s ‘Design Daze’ challenge, where kids worked together in teams to build a solution for a real world challenge.

“We’ve attended the FabLearn Conference at Stanford and we’ve got a vision for where we’d like to take MakeX,” Jevan said. “Someday it would be fun to have a mobile van where kids could learn how to make stuff. MakeX is a work in progress, but we’re showing that students can handle the responsibility of running something on our own.”

How to visit Make X and learn more
photo credit: Palo Alto Pulse

photo credit: Palo Alto Pulse

About the author

Victoria Thorp

Victoria Thorp

Victoria is the founder and editor of Palo Alto Pulse and has lived in Palo Alto since 2007. Victoria's diverse professional background includes working as the editor of GreatSchools.org , as a senior writer for KIPP and Teach for America, and as a radio producer for City Visions on KALW (91.7FM San Francisco). She is a graduate of Leadership Palo Alto and a member of the Palo Alto Partners in Education Advisory Board.

She has a BA in English from Tufts University and Masters in Education and Secondary Teaching Credential in English from UCLA.