The ideas behind a school makerspace and its benefits for students

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!

References:

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.

6 thoughts on “The ideas behind a school makerspace and its benefits for students

  1. I really like how maker spaces allow for students to discover and create. It would be a great way to integrate differentiation into the student’s lessons or projects, not force them all to do it, but have it as an option. I am teaching 4/5 grade science next year and I really want to create some sort of mini maker space since I don’t have a lot of room or money to spend and send groups back to create as other groups work on other activities. It’s a great, and pretty simple way to get the student’s minds working and creating. Too many students go home and sit in front of a screen and play video games all day and lose their imaginations (not that all video games take imagination away, I learned that last semester in Minecraft), then they get back outside and get bored within a few minutes because their creativity has gone away. I think as teachers we can really feed into their imagination and allow them to realize they can do really cool stuff they never thought they could!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I love this idea! I think this is probably the best way for me to start my classroom makerspace. I have to admit that I’m a little nervous about makerspaces because I’ve never started one. When you wrote, “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”, it really resonated with me. This statement is what I need to keep in mind for both me and my students when I implement a makerspace. I love reading your blogs because you explain things in a way that I can understand them and share with my students.

        Like

  2. As I researched, I too wondered what was so special about makerspaces. The idea that any space could turn into a makerspace is a powerful one. I think about the classrooms in my school that have been repurposed for other things. For example, one is our technology room (which simply houses the technology we take to our classrooms) that is used for our after school program. As I did my research, I thought of how that room could be turned into a makerspace room, as well. Students could spend their break, recess, and free time in this room to engage in extra learning. For students who finish early, they could be working on a project in that room. The possibilities seem endless to me. You helped open those possibilities up in my mind. 🙂

    Your comment, “The teacher must encourage students to build on what they know….” is so true, not only for makersapces but for teaching in general. Building on prior knowledge for students, gives them a foundation for learning, growing, and improvement. This will make the learning meaningful for our students.

    Like

Any thoughts, feelings, opinions, suggestions?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s