How to Run a Maker Madness Tourney at Your School by @AnnemarieCat

This is a guest-post written by a middle school teacher in my district, Annemarie Catalano. This year has been a big push to create a “maker culture” within our district. One of the ways we wanted to help bring this culture into the fabric of our learning was to create a Maker Madness Tournament. The teachers at Centennial School District did a fantastic job in making this idea come to life. 

We held our first ever Maker Madness Tournament this past April (it ended with the Global Day of Design on May 2nd) with students in grades K-8 competing in grade level design challenges!

Annemarie Catalano, Mike Edney, Andy Doster and the rest of Log College Middle School were one of our schools that ran the Maker Madness Tourney. Below is Annemarie’s detailed step-by-step guide on how to run your own Maker Madness Tourney, I hope you enjoy her breakdown of this event!

The Makerspace movement has been steadfastly gaining traction in education, and rightly so; what better way to incite creativity, encourage inventiveness, and just generally let kids have fun than by giving them Things and asking them to Make Something?

One great way to introduce the concept of making to your school is through a Maker Madness Tournament.  This structured, guided, tiered competition gives faculty and students some great exposure to what it means to be a Maker while cashing in on the inherent joy that children find in some friendly competition!

The Step-by-Step Guide to Running Your Maker Madness Tourney

STEP 1: Develop a timeline!  

In order for all the stakeholders to feel as though they have time to buy in and get excited, you’ll need to give your faculty time to review the concept, peruse the material, maybe even do a little making themselves!  Think about how long it will take to: facilitate an introduction to the activity, provide time for students to create, play, and build, and run the actual competition.  

Timeline for Maker Madness

STEP 2: Decide how your competition will be structured, and organize your materials in a way that is comprehensive and easy to understand.  

Create a digital guide that outlines the overall process and then breaks down the specific grade level challenges, including suggested supplies and the procedure for the competitions.  This will provide your teachers with the tools they need to support their kiddos throughout the process. If you’re doing different challenges for specific grade levels, ensure teachers have access to their specific materials and instructions list (for example, these resources for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades). Give teachers ‘suggested supplies!’ lists to hang in their classroom, and provide a STEM Student Notebook (hard copy or digital, depending on your school’s access) to give students a place to record their ideas, sketch design concepts, and organize their challenge plan. 

Details for Each Maker Madness Challenge

STEP 3: Once you’ve decided on the challenges for each grade level and have compiled a meaningful guide, provide some professional development time for teachers in those grade levels to play around with the concepts!  

Asking 8th graders to build mousetrap cars?  Let your eighth-grade teachers make their own! Challenging seventh-grade students to launch marshmallows?  Provide some supplies and see what your teachers can come up with!  It’s a lot easier to guide your students in making if one embraces the art of making him or herself, and providing teachers with that opportunity is beneficial to the process.  

STEP 4: One of the most important aspects of running a successful Maker Madness Tournament is selling the concept to your students!  

You’re going to get questions like, “Why do we have to do this?!  Are we getting a grade?  What’s this for?!” so be prepared!  If you outline the design thinking process for your students, and can make connections with design thinking and curricular content, your student buy-in will increase.  

The LAUNCH Cycle by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani

Want to know the best way to get students excited?  Facilitate with joy!  Whether your teachers throw down the gauntlet and challenge their students with their own designs or offer up fun incentives, if your teachers are excited about the creativity and innovation inherent in the process, the students will be too!  

Maker Madness Fun!

STEP 5: It’s time to Make!  

Within assigned classrooms and with chosen partners or groups, students should be given ample time to explore, research, and play.  It’s important for teachers to encourage this: students aren’t limited to a certain section of the library or a prescribed list of websites.  Google away!  Use Youtube, be creative with search terms, encourage students to use their devices (or provide them if you aren’t in a 1:1 or BYOD school!) to help guide their design process.  Depending on the level of students present, teachers may want to have some videos on hand to demonstrate how others have completed the challenge – provide a curated list of these, should teachers want to access them.  

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STEP 6: Before the actual competitions begin, give your students time to practice!  

An important part of the design loop is testing, reevaluating, and redesigning, so make sure students have time to test and improve their design.  Organizing practice runs before the class competitions can be helpful, because students might even be able to learn from one another as they observe one another’s designs.  

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STEP 7: Make sure students understand what the expectations are for the competition, and ensure everyone is competing with the same standards outlined in the packet.  

Use tape to mark starting lines, ensure that measurements are consistent across classrooms, and provide standard targets and ample space for launching!  

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Some Tips: Expect questions; be prepared for a little discomfort, but help your faculty embrace it! It’s ok to ask students to create a concept that involves the principles of physics WITHOUT teaching them those principles; they’ll figure out how to make things go without the technical instruction!


  • Instructions for the individual challenges
  • Suggested Supply lists
  • Guide for determining winners
  • Targets

Maker Madness FAQ

What background knowledge do I need to have to facilitate this activity?

Nothing!  The beauty of activities like this is that while there may be scientific properties at play, students don’t need to have a functional knowledge of those properties to create and have fun!  When explaining the activity, simply telling students “your job is to use (x, y, and z) to make something that (flies, travels fast, shoots, etc.)”

What sort of instructions do I have to have available to the students?

Very little!  This isn’t a “how-to” step by step task; students are deciding what they’ll do and how they’ll do it.  Encourage students to go on youtube, do research, google the heck out of the concept, and see what others have done to be successful.  Students should then use that research to fuel their own design.  

What do I say when my students ask why we have to do this?

It’s a challenging and creative task that will help them practice design thinking, which is a really neat way of solving problems in any class or subject area.  This activity gives students a chance to, instead of taking a test, filling in bubbles or reading a book, use their hands and brains to make something really cool and try and make it better than their in their class and in other rooms.   

What about supplies?  What if my students don’t bring any in?

You probably already have plenty of supplies in your classroom that can be used for this.  Rubberbands, extra paper, paper clips….there are many things that can be used to create, but we should also encourage students to bring things in from home as well.  The school store sells some of these supplies at a discounted rate, but feel free to peruse your own home and see if there’s anything you’d like to make available to your homeroom.  Hopefully, though, if we approach this with a positive and exciting attitude, students will provide many different items to use for the challenge.  

Interested in running a Maker Madness Tourney at your school? Start it out right with the FREE Design Your Own Rollercoaster Project I’ve shared below. Enter your email to get instant access!

FREE Roller Coaster Project

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Karen OBrien says:

    I am an instructional aid in Centennial at Davis. I wish I was involved with a class that was participating in Makerspace. I really have not been following it much but now I really would like to be involved. I feel I could assist the teacher and students in their quest. How could I help promoting this activity at my school? How can I support teachers and students in this activity? I would ask that as you promote Makerspace encourage teachers and admin. to use Instructional Aids as intentional resources.

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