Why and How to Create a Makerspace in Your School

  • Think about the elementary school library of your childhood: shelves, books, table, and a librarian who focused a lot of her time keeping kids quiet!

    Now, imagine if a corner of that library had been set up for the best of exploration, tinkering and discovery by you and your classmates. Instead of just bookshelves, there would be open tables and stacks of paper, cardboard, robotic construction pieces, gears and fasteners, art supplies, laptops, duct tape, green screens, 3-D printers,  and more. It’s like Lego and Erector sets on steroids, but in school. And in fact, Lego bricks and Erector sets might be included.

    Makerspaces are a growing trend in schools, places where groups of students work/play together to create whatever appeals to them. They don’t get instructions, and even when they are supervised, the teacher or librarian isn’t there to direct or intervene, but to help and guide. This is all about organic, dynamic creativity, and finding out what that produces.

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    “Though Makerspaces began outside of schools, a growing number of educators have seen the value in creating these kinds of spaces in school media centers and classrooms in recent years,” says Getting Smart, an education-focused website. “When asking students to describe their school Makerspace, the overwhelming response was “’fun!’ Educators utilizing these spaces realize that there is a tremendous amount of learning and skill-building embedded in that fun.”

    John Spencer, a teacher and the co-author of two books on innovative classroom practices, Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student, and Empower: What Happens When Students Own their Learning, spoke in 2018 with Jennifer Gonzalez of the Cult of Pedagogy website.

    “I see a Makerspace as simply a space designed and dedicated to hands-on creativity,” Spencer explains, “and the key thing there is they’re actually making something. Creativity is sometimes idea-generation, it’s sometimes problem-solving. But (in) a Makerspace, you’re actually going to create some kind of product. Now it could be a digital product. It could be a physical product. But there is an actual product, so you’re not going to, say, design an event or a service project. That’s not what a Makerspace is for.”

    Makerspaces don’t just have to be confined to the school library or media room; a corner of a classroom can be set aside for this purpose too. And many of the focus on the STEM elements of science, technology, engineering and math.

    The Department of Education’s Office of Library Services awarded a Makerspace kit to Michele Kirschenbaum, the librarian at New York’s P.S. 452. There, students used Little Bits code kits to create pyramids while learning about Egypt, and then engineering those pyramids to allow movement.

    “Kids were not only learning about construction and building and architecture, they were pulling out books to research designs, working together, discussing and learning from each other,” says Kirschenbaum. “Our library has really transformed from a quiet zone into a vibrant, creative center.”

    So why create a Makerspace, when it’s primarily about creativity and may or may not contribute directly to the goals of the classroom?

    “There was a time when you could follow the formula: Work hard at school, go to college, and climb a corporate ladder,” Spencer says. “But because of the complex global economy, because of the creative economy, the information economy, our students are going to have to navigate a maze. The ladder is now a maze. And because it’s a maze, what do they need in order to navigate that? They need to be able to engage in iterative thinking, creative thinking, critical thinking, they need to know how to pivot, how to change, how to revise, how to persevere. They need to solve complex problems. All of those are involved in that maker mindset. And so, if you can embed that maker mindset inside of the curriculum, and you tap into the standards that you’re teaching, then they’re able to develop that maker mindset. The space is just the platform that facilitates it.”

    What does a Makerspace need  in order to accomplish its mission?

    First of all, it needs to accommodate a wide range of materials and activities. You want your students to move freely between genres when they’re working, cross-pollinating freely between ideas, books, tools, construction materials, science/technology aspects, engineering and robotics, among others. Edutopia says the key to designing a Makerspace for your school is to asking the right questions:

    • What topics will be the focus of the Makerspace? Talk to your teachers – especially science, technology, math, and art – about the kinds of projects they might envision for their students if such a space were available.
    • With those answers in mind, what tools are first priority? Because the list of possibilities can be endless, divide your list into “now,” “soon,” and “later.” You’ll need appropriate storage capability, and some tools have additional requirements – safety goggles, for instance, or ventilation.
    • Which students will be using the space? Will it function for multiple ages? Who will supervise or manage the space?
    • Is there an ideal location for the Makerspace? You’ll want it centrally located and visible, with access to electricity and plumbing, and ideally in a place where the activity and noise the Makerspace generates doesn’t bother neighboring classes.

    To learn more about how to create a Makerspace (and earn three semester credits while you do), check out Implementing a Maker Space In Your School, an online, self-paced class from Dominican University of California’s Online Professional Development Program. Participants learn both the philosophical and logistical aspects of creating such a space, from the importance of implementing creativity and innovation in their classrooms to implementing such a space in their own school, working through their specific local needs and challenges.

    Makerspaces “by their very diverse and creative construct are designed to encourage unexpected outcomes,” says the course outline. And they can be designed with the intention of coordinating and including curriculum that aligns with Common Core standards (problem-solving, critical thinking, problem identification, effective communication of ideas, and evaluation and refinement of creative ideas) and International Society for Technology in Education (ITSE) standards, such as being a digital citizen, an empowered learner, an innovative designer, a knowledge constructor, a computational thinker, a creative communicator, and a global collaborator.

    To enroll in the course, visit this page and click Register. To learn more about other opportunities for professional development at Dominican University Online, click here and explore our many courses.

    Photo credit: KerKez via iStock Photo