Starting a Maker Club

A reflection on the past two months spent developing a Maker Club at SMD Boarding School in Kathmandu. How we chose the club name and logo, defined membership, and trained student leaders.

  • Sangay Bhuti, grade 9: “I feel very proud of myself that I grabbed this opportunity. I’m learning a lot from Harry and Tashi, and I am very thankful to them. I know more about electronics, programming, and designing. I was suprised to see and learn how the lights work in my first class.”
  • Lhakpa Dolma, grade 9: “Every Saturday, I get to learn new things about electronics. I have learned about lighting a bulb, turning on a buzzer and connecting circuits in parallel and series. My confidence has increased in developing technologies. This class truly inpired me to be creative and artistic.”
  • Tsering Dolkar, grade 7: “It teaches me about electronics and how it functions. This class has not only improved my confidence, it has also developed my life skills. This gives me courage to face the difficulties in electronics.”

Comments from Himalayan Makers Guild members on their experience with the club so far, published in the September issue of The Thrangu Express student newsletter.

When I started doing hands-on electronics and programming activities with the students at Shree Mangal Dvip Boarding School (SMD) in August, my strategy was to just get something started and make adjustments as I went along. Together with Tashi Choeden, a recent graduate from SMD, I began by making a simple LED light circuit with the students. We chose to run the activities on Saturday during the students’ free time. In the first few weeks attendance fluctuated between 20 and 75 students, and we split the students up into four 1-hour sessions to accommodate those numbers. The limitations of completely open attendance quickly became clear. Irregular attendance would limit the complexity of the topics we could explore, cause unequal distribution of class size between the four sessions, and make it difficult to prepare the right amount of materials.

Since then, we’ve formalized the activities under the banner of a “school club” which gives us a platform to rally the students around and help build their ownership of the initiative. This involved three parts:

  1. Club identity: choose a club name and logo that the students would be proud of.
  2. Membership: focus the club around students who showed interest and would commit to participating every week.
  3. Student leaders: select and train student leaders to help with both the day-to-day operation of the club and its sustainability.

In this post I also discuss how we host the club in a space-limited setting, and some issues to address moving forward.

1. Building a Club Identity

Tashi Choeden and I discussed a few possible names for the club, and the students voted on which one they liked the most. They chose to name the club the Himalayan Makers Guild (HMG).

  • H: Most of the boarding students at SMD come from remote villages in the Himalayas
  • M: A maker is someone with a passion for creating new things, learning, and sharing
  • G: Guilds were traditionally associations of artisans or tradesmen, and in modern gaming culture a guild is a group of people with common goals or interests
name voting results

The results of our club-name poll. 69 students voted.

After choosing the name, we set out to design a logo for the club. We wanted to incorporate imagery related to programming or electronics together with something representative of the school. We chose to use a shape similar to the logo of the Kagyu Monlam—a common symbol for the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism practiced at SMD—and drew it in the style of a printed-circuit-board trace. In the interest of time, we paid $21 USD to have it drawn-up and revised on fiverr, an online service marketplace.

The progression of our logo design.

2. Defining Club Membership

We opened membership to all students from grades 4-9. Grade 4 is a good lower-bound in terms of maturity and English language ability, and the eldest students (grade 10) are asked to focus solely on their studies, making grade 9 the upper bound. We defined five membership expectations:

  1. Attend every activity, or notify a club leader 1 day in advance if you will be absent
  2. Do any tasks that are assigned as homework
  3. Arrive on time to your assigned session
  4. Present your ideas to the group in English
  5. Be respectful of the ideas and opinions of others

All 63 club members signed and dated their agreement to these expectations. The consequence of breaking the agreement was made clear: members have two strikes, then they’ll be given one more chance to show their commitment to the club by performing some task of our choosing. If they choose not to do that task, they forfeit their membership and can reapply at a later date. The goal of these expectations is to ensure the students’ commitment and give them the sense of becoming a part of something official. To that end, we also gave each member a Himalayan Makers Guild folder to act as a sort of membership card where they can keep their activity handouts.

3. Selecting and Training Student Leaders

Club sustainability has been a focus since day one. Carefully documenting the activities is one facet of this ongoing effort. However the most important factor for the future of the Himalayan Makers Guild will be student leadership here at the school. We decided to create leadership positions that would involve extra responsibility in organizing and running the club, as well as early training in the activities to enable the leaders to give feedback, ask questions, and be well equipped to help their peers during the Saturday sessions. The day after the students signed their membership agreements, we opened applications for Team Leader positions. We defined three additional expectations for them, beyond those of normal club members:

  1. Take attendance, help organize students, and help answer student questions.
  2. Participate in a weekly activity preview and training; give feedback on the activity and ask questions.
  3. Be involved in planning the future of the club and its activities, including helping with management and administration.

The positions were open to all club members, and we asked them to answer two questions in the application form:

  1. In your own words, what is the goal of the Himalayan Makers Guild, and how can you help reach that goal as a Team Leader?
  2. What are your strengths that will help you be a good Team Leader?

The purpose of the questions was primarily to limit the applicants to those who would go to the effort of answering them. We made our decisions based on a mix of their abilities, demonstrated dedication to the club, and their potential for personal growth through the leadership opportunity. It was difficult to choose. We had 20 students apply, 10 boys and 10 girls1. We were actually only planning to select 8 students, two for each session, but we ended up with 11.

School photos of each of the Team Leaders.

Prior to selecting the leaders, we had divided up the students into four sessions according to grade so we could accommodate differences in ability between the age groups. We changed our approach after selecting the student leaders, redistributing the groups to be a mix of classes. Our reasoning is that together with the help of the student leaders, students who are excelling will be able to support those in the group who are having a hard time, regardless of their age. We tried to pair older and younger student leaders for each group, as well as having a mix of genders. The new groups, their leaders, and the session start times were posted as a notice on the school bulletin board.

 Leader NameGradeGender Leader NameGradeGender
Group A   Group B   
 Tsering Diki4Female Dorje Sherpa5Male
 Ko Sonam7Male Pasang Tsomo6Female
 Pema Dekyi9Female Nima Palmo9Female
Group C   Group D   
 Karma Youden4Female Pasang Lhamo6Female
 Karma Nyima9Male Tenzin Norbu7Male
     Tsewang Gyalzen7Male

We’ve done one activity since selecting the Team Leaders and it went very well. On the Thursday before the activity, we met with the leaders. We reviewed what their position means, and reminded them that their job is to represent the best interests of all the club members. After explaining the new group structure, we asked them to pay special attention to the younger kids to make sure they’re understanding the material as well as the older kids and getting any extra support they may need. We also talked about how to answer questions by helping their peers reach their own conclusions, rather than just telling them the answer or immediately showing them how to do something.

The leaders really stepped up to the plate to help out their group-mates during Activity 7, having already gone through it and asked questions during the Thursday preview. Their help with organizing the students and taking attendance helped things move smoothly. It was great to see the older leaders mentoring the younger leaders, and those leaders in-turn helping out the younger students.

Makerspace in a Box

Space is a big constraint at SMD school. We get around this by using an empty classroom or the computer lab for the activities, but we still need a place to store and organize all of our parts and tools. The solution is a crude Makerspace-In-A-Box. We’ve managed to fit many of the goodies you’d hope to find at a Makerspace into two aluminum boxes that we can secure with padlocks and store next to our desks in the school office. Before each activity we transfer the things we need from the boxes to the classroom. All of our parts and tools as of 2017-10-09 are listed in this spreadsheet (or as .xlsx).

Moving Forward


Although each activity has been documented, we haven’t established a workflow for the students themselves make changes or additions. The students here don’t have regular access to computers, so making the documents available on a cloud-drive for collaboration isn’t a feasible option. The solution will most likely combine hard-copy markup, with one person responsible for updating the digital copies at regular intervals.

Onboarding and Team Management

The procedure for bringing on new club members still needs to be setup. Our initial thought was to do this every two months. We would like the Team Leaders to do introductory activities with the new members, so they have a comparable background to the existing members and will be able to comfortably participate in the subsequent activities. The issue of changing Team Leaders will also need to be addressed in the coming months.

Resources and Funding

Transparency is a key tenet of the Himalayan Makers Guild, and Maker culture in general. All cashflow for the club has been documented and is publicly available here (or as .xlsx). The club has been funded by private donations and a sponsorship generously provided by the UBC Faculty of Applied Science. The funding of the club is something we’ve told the members about, however the ongoing financial demands of the club will need to be addressed. We hope to continue to find interested donors, and perhaps a few key sponsors willing to make an ongoing contribution. Funds management is a responsibility that we will discuss in greater detail with the Team Leaders, and eventually transfer to them entirely.

  1. SMD has a nearly equal gender distribution among boarding students, with 175 boys and 174 girls. The gender distribution among the Himalayan Makers Guild members is 25 boys and 37 girls (40%:60%).