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Our Story

Bucketworks: An Early Model

Our work is informed through the practice of founding and operating our own collaborative space from 2002-2015. Bucketworks combined makerspace with co-working and collaborative space to enable independent workers and community initiatives to scale and grow. It was envisioned as a "health club for the brain," a place where technical and creative thinking could unite and people from across disciplines and walks of life could build a community together. It was an early model for what the future of education might look like, in a world where we are given the space and the resources to unleash our potential instead of having it squashed by outdated and one-size-fits-all teaching methodologies.

When Bucketworks started, it was a new idea and a new model for transforming education.  Over its 13 year history in 4 different Milwaukee locations, Bucketworks spawned dozens of new businesses, and hosted regular arts performances, community workshops, technology hack-a-thons, and professional meetups. Companies like Manpower International, GE Healthcare, and Harley Davidson used Bucketworks to develop new strategies, new products, and new organizational cultures based on collaboration and transparency, while local community organizations like Newaukee and Spreenkler were formed and incubated within its program. Its models for integrated learning methods and community engagement inspired other collaborative spaces and educational innovators throughout the United States and abroad.

School Factory 2.0: Enabling and Refining

We were thrilled when the concept of collaborative space caught on and more places like Bucketworks started popping up at an increasing rate. As a result, in 2008 we started providing fiscal sponsorship, support, and mentorship to countless other spaces around the country. 

By mid-2015, we had transferred ownership of our most recent Bucketworks location to a member and shifted to supporting other groups full time. In 2002, we saw the greatest need for new learning models. Now, we see many other groups and individuals working to develop new models and refine existing ones, and we feel the greatest need is to support and enable their work for its greatest chance of success. We also want to push forward the conversation around why integrated, hands-on learning is important and why it needs to integrate the values of inclusion, wellness, and full person development.

Sharing the Bucketworks Experience

As we refined our models for supporting others, we specifically sought to support programs and organizations that emphasize STEM/STEAM, creativity, and self/social learning -- not only because we believe in them, but also because we have real experience doing these kinds of activities ourselves and supporting others in their efforts. (Read our Who We Work With page to learn more about the specific kinds of programs we supported.)

Over the years, Bucketworks hosted a variety of creative and technical programs, workshops, and organizations, giving us direct experience with many of the kinds of activities we now support via program hosting and fiscal sponsorship. Another large chunk of our business over the past few years was providing structured group facilitation experiences and collaborative culture consulting to organizations that share our values, providing us with experience teaching and demonstrating many types of self management and social skills to groups. We also worked to apply these skills in the way we interacted with each other and manage the organization.

We loved to share our past experiences - the engagement models we developed, the activities we facilitated, what worked and what didn't. And we were constantly exploring new ways of engaging that encouraged people to unleash their creativity, communicate more honestly, know themselves more deeply, and make something great together. In our dream of the future, we would all be part of many learning communities: our jobs, our families, our community activities, and many other realms of experience, would all provide us with a deeply fulfilling experience that kept us constantly learning and helped us be our happiest, healthiest selves.

Deciding to Close

When School Factory first started providing services to other hands-on learning communities in 2008, there weren’t many other organizations serving this market. Since then, we saw the “maker movement” develop, collaborative spaces become far more common, project based learning begin to gain traction in school systems, and more organizations launch to support small non-profits in general and hands-on learning communities in particular.

While School Factory had a part to play in all these trends, we also realized it was time to take a step back and assess today’s reality. School Factory’s leadership recently conducted a careful research and analysis process to understand how the world has changed and how we can best serve the groups in our network. We concluded that other organizations now exist that are able to support our network in many of the ways that we do, and that the ecosystem will be able to accomplish more by centralizing resources in these other organizations.

You can read more about our decision to close down, the partnerships we are cultivating with other organizations, and how our mission will continue on past closure here.