The Why, What, & How of Makerspaces

*Note- this post was originally published in the fall newsletter of the Delaware Valley Region-Pennsylvania Association of Supervision & Curriculum. The full newsletter can be found at: bit.ly/DVRPASCDFall2016

Why:

What if the first question you were asked every day at school was ‘what will you make today?’ How would you respond? Makerspaces provide both students and teachers with opportunities to make what they imagine. They allow teachers to introduce students to the growth mindset of ‘making’ and to develop students’ skills for both digital and physical content creation. Students are able to explore STEM and literacy concepts through hands-on projects while developing skills in the areas of innovation, collaboration, and creativity.

From a curriculum or school district standpoint, the opportunity to design a makerspace is an opportunity to design a new way in which teachers approach their craft. It is an opportunity for that third grade social studies unit on immigration to shift from students finding facts about a country to asking the question ‘How might we learn from others?’ With this as the starting point, and a bit of background knowledge on immigration, students could then head down a path of inquiry, asking questions like:

  • How might we meet the needs of __(person)__?
  • Could we redesign his/her immigration route?
  • Could we design an object/tool that would have helped them in their journey?
  • What might we create that would help them once they arrive(d) in Philadelphia?

Similarly, a second grade unit studying fairy tales could shift from reading and writing fairy tales to students asking questions like:

  • How might we design a better house for the three pigs?
  • Could we come up with a different way for Jack to get to the top of the beanstalk?

Makerspaces provide teachers with the possibility of shifting their thinking from writing lesson plans and unit outlines, to designing learning experiences for their students; all the while covering the same core content and standards.

What:

So, what is a makerspace? The term, though becoming widely used in education, often proves difficult to define. There is no recipe or list of essential elements that a space must have to gain the title of ‘makerspace.’ No two makerspaces are the same. It’s also important to note that ‘makerspace’ is not a verb. It’s not something you do but rather a learning environment that encourages tinkering and exploration. It doesn’t need to be shiny, new, and filled with the latest tech gadgets. It can be any place where the maker mindset unfolds, expands, and grows. Where students and teachers are inspired to create and share ideas with tools that can range anywhere from cardboard and art supplies to 3D printers and laser cutters.

How:

The task of building a makerspace and integrating it into your classroom or school may seem overwhelming. Since no two makerspaces are the same, the process for creating them is not necessarily linear. Laura Flemming in her book, Worlds of Making, identifies a cyclical process for planning a makerspace, the start of which is being able to understand your learners. Allowing for student voice and input while planning your space is critical. From there, it’s helpful to assess existing curricula and programs within your school community and see if they might benefit or be enhanced by having access to such a space. It can also be helpful to consider global trends and best practices and to develop themes within your space. Themes can range from building, creating, and coding, at the elementary level to topics like engineering, bioethics, physics, and blogging at the high school level. Regardless of the age of your students, having a mix of both fixed and flexible centers or stations based on your theme(s) can be a great way to start to introduce students and teachers to the space.  Once you’ve considered the needs of your learners and curriculum, it becomes time to order equipment and materials. Starting small, with perhaps one theme or area of focus, can be helpful. This way, students and teachers can begin to explore and play in a way that is not daunting or overwhelming. As you continue on your makerspace journey, it’s important to keep checking in with your learners (both teachers and students) and asking them the question of, “what will you make today?”

Links to additional makerspace resources can be found at: bit.ly/MakerspacesMatter Be sure to save the date and join us at our spring event, April 20th at Cabrini University, for conversations on promoting student creativity and engagement through design thinking and maker education.

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