When I first heard about makerspaces, I wondered what was so unique about such spaces and what differentiated them from a classroom with materials for projects, the room I use as an office and keep all my art, tech, and office supplies, or even the garage or shed that my husband keeps all his tools and gear for various things. As I’ve learned more about makerspaces, I’ve realized that all these places (and many more) CAN be makerspaces and probably are often used that way from time to time.
In a school makerspace, the actual space and tools (or supplies and resources) are just part of the equation; so what is the pedagogy behind a maker space in schools and how does that benefit students?
“Diversity and cross-pollination of activities are critical to the design, making and exploration process, and they are what set makerspaces and STEAM labs apart from single-use spaces” (Cooper, 2013, para 2). The school makerspace is a constructionist place for students to give life, shape, function, and purpose to their ideas; they utilize knowledge, skills, and tools from a wide range of content areas and experiences. If I had to introduce a school makerspace to students, I would probably tell them that it is a place for them to make things that test their ideas, find answers, solve problems, and discover new ways of doing something. “The maker education approach to learning is highly individual yet lives within certain boundaries. It recognizes that no two students will learn the same concepts at the same rate. It even recognizes that some peripheral concepts may not be learned by all students. Yet students faced with a common challenge to design their own unique solutions will naturally come to some common understanding” (Kurti, Kurti, & Fleming, 2014, para 4).
What does this mean for the teacher utilizing a makerspace with their students? What should their approach be, in supporting students to learn by making? The design, function, and use of the makerspace reflects the pedagogy being used by the teacher. The makerspace should be designated, available, and stocked with tools and resources that students can access. For now let’s operate on the definition that a makerspace could be “a physical location where people gather to share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, and build” (Educause, 2013, para 5).
The makerspace in a school could be in the library, a designated room, or part of a classroom. Setting aside a dedicated makerspace in a school, demonstrates for students that using this area for creating, making, tinkering, and exploring is a valued practice that is available for them.
Teachers can also communicate to students that the purpose of this space IS to “mess around” with materials to make their ideas come to life. Students will benefit from experimenting and trying new things without the pressure of getting it right the first time.
Teachers can support students in accepting risks, failure, mistakes, redos, and multiple attempts or iterations as an important part of their process. Students will benefit from seeing “failed” attempts as an acceptable and necessary aspect of learning and not an indication of their abilities or worth as a maker.
By giving students ownership over the space and their work, teachers can enable students to feel comfortable entering and tinkering, even if they don’t have a “worthy” project yet. The worst thing would be to have a “gatekeeper” who monitors and only allows students to access the makerspace if they can demonstrate that they have a worthwhile reason to be there. Access and ownership over this space is important so that students can feel freedom to be creative and innovative in the makerspace. For some students, they will need to be inspired by what is available as they begin to take on the identity and practice of a maker.
The TMI – Think, Make, and Improve design model (Martinez & Stager, 2013) is a good format to use when introducing students to the makerspace; it’s a simple model that encourages flexibility, collaboration, and reflection while still propelling students forward in their projects. When students feel “stuck” in their process, they can step back and consider the design model and regroup their efforts. For students who are hesitant or resistant to making, creating, and tinkering, this simple process will help them to work through each stage as they gain familiarity and confidence in becoming a maker.
THINK – Students begin by thinking through the problem, project or challenge that they have been presented; this incorporates many pre-planning activities that teacher commonly ask of students – brainstorming, predicting, designing, researching, etc.
MAKE – Students then put their thinking into making; depending on what their project is, this is the heart of their work and the practical and exploratory application of their ideas generated during the first stage.
IMPROVE – Students will constantly be analyzing their product or project as they are making and other students might also come up with ways to improve on their original designs. Martinez and Stager (2013) break down this stage to two eventualities – will students decide to fix their product if it’s not working properly or when they are “done”, will they decide to make it better? In this way, they will circle back to thinking about these improvements and the project evolves or shifts.
Encouraging a growth mindset might be one of the most important strategies for a teacher in using a makerspace with students. The teacher must encourage students to build on what they know and to be open to new ideas, approaches, concepts, and experiences. When students (and teachers) can let go of their assumptions and pre-conceived ideas, they make room for new knowledge, perspectives, and experiences to be built. With the flexible nature of makerspaces, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – learning by making must be meaningful for students. They can certainly succeed at recreating project templates within a specified amount of time, but that defeats the purpose of a makerspace. Students must be personally invested in the process and products of their learning by making, and should be given an authentic audience with which to share their work. A significant outcome of becoming a maker is discovering that you have valuable ideas, insights, and contributions that benefit others!
Cooper, J. (2013, September 30). Designing a school makerspace. www.edutopia.org. [Web log]. Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/designing-a-school-makerspace-jennifer-cooper
Educause. (2013, April 9). 7 things you should know about makerspaces. Educause Learning Initiative (ELI), Educause.edu. Retrieved from: https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7095.pdf
Kurti, R.S., Kurti, D.L., & Fleming, L. (June 2014). The Philosophy of Educational Makerspaces; Part 1 of Making an Educational Makerspace. Teacher Librarian: The Journal for School Library Professionals. Retrieved from: http://www.teacherlibrarian.com/2014/06/18/educational-makerspaces/
Martinez, S. L. and Stager, G. S. (2013). Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Torrance: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.