Right now, there’s a buzz going around about School Makerspaces—also known as hacklabs or fablabs—at schools across the country.
Designers and educators are reimagining learning and classroom environments as innovative spaces for students to get creative and use their imaginations in hands-on learning projects, rather than consume and check out, according to a recent Edutopia article.
The School Makerspace is still a relatively new concept, which is why many students and educators still ask themselves: What are School Makerspaces and how will they impact the way we learn and teach?
What is a Makerspace?
Inspired by hacking and tinkering culture, a Makerspace is “a collaborative learning environment where students can come together to share materials and learn new skills…Makerspaces are not necessarily born out of a specific set of materials or spaces, but rather a mindset of community partnership, collaboration, and creation.”
Initially, Makerspaces emerged as a powerful learning force in the non-academic community. However, colleges, high schools, and even elementary schools were quick to recognize a powerful learning opportunity, so the trend has now spread into the academic community ranging from elementary schools to colleges.
Makerspaces focus on the development of a wide range of skills including everything from woodworking and sewing to electronics, laser cutting, and 3D printing.
It’s important to note that no two Makerspaces are the same, nor is one necessarily more valid than the next. Each is unique in some way that reflects the culture that it represents. School Makerspaces emphasize active learning and usually involve people of all ages and backgrounds.
Regarding equipment and level of technological sophistication, Makerspaces vary widely and can consist of everything from a simple cart filled with arts and crafts materials and Legos® to a high-tech lab with 3D printers, laser cutters, and hand tools.
In their book Invent to Learn, authors Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez make the valuable point that Makerspaces are not about the tools; they’re about enabling making.
“Even if you don’t have access to expensive…hardware, every classroom can become a Makerspace where kids and teachers learn together through direct experience with an assortment of high and low-tech materials,” wrote Stager and Martinez.
At the heart of the Makerspace movement is a culture of participatory learning. Makerspaces provide both students AND teachers with opportunities to exercise elements of participatory learning, which Project New Media Literacies identifies as:
• Heightened motivation and new forms of engagement through meaningful play and experimentation
• Opportunities for creating using a variety of media, tools, and practices
• Learning that feels relevant to students’ identities and interests
• Co-configured expertise where educators and students pool their skills and knowledge and sh
are in the tasks of learning and teaching
Download our Collaborative Classroom Guide.
What Makes a Maker?
As a craft, making is not geared towards a particular type of person or student–anyone can be a maker. Makers believe that if you can imagine it, you can make it. Makers seek out opportunities to do new things, especially through hands-on DIY interactions.
The only requirement for becoming a maker is that one must possess a willingness to create and the desire to capitalize on the potential of one’s imagination. And, despite the often technical nature of the equipment found in Makerspaces, a technical background is not necessary to participate.
What are the Implications for Teachers and Students?
As more schools adopt a 21st-century learning philosophy, lessons are becoming student-centric, which means students lead the way while teachers act as guides and resources, instead of lecturers. In a School Makerspace, students have the opportunity to learn the 21st-century skills of critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration and communication by inventing and creating new things together.
Student making is self-directed learning that allows students to take control of their education, design, and define projects from start to finish. While these skills have always been important for students, they have become particularly important in our information-based economy.
A Thoughtful Learning article expands upon this point:
“To hold information-age jobs, students need to be able to think deeply about issues, solve problems creatively, work in teams, communicate clearly in many media, learn ever-changing technologies and deal with a flood of information. The rapid changes in our world require students to be flexible, to take the initiative and lead when necessary, and to produce something new and useful.”
Building Your School Makerspace
Since Makerspaces accommodate for such a wide range of activities, the process of creating your own School Makerspace can be challenging. Educators and administrators simplify it by researching, brainstorming and defining their needs while also being mindful of inevitable future changes.
Perhaps, above all, Makerspaces are intended to be multi-purpose spaces, which is one possible reason why school libraries, which are already multi-purpose, have been particularly popular locations for School Makerspaces.
Along with libraries, computer labs, and media centers are also popular locations for School Makerspaces. Multiple classes and teachers may use the space throughout the course of a school day: a math class might use the space for a unit, or an after school tinkering club might build something there.
To maximize their ability to create, students need flexible large work areas, and a diverse array of tools and materials that involve arts, crafts, engineering, and technology. Additionally, to facilitate openness, creativity, collaboration and flexibility, choosing the right school Makerspace furniture is essential.
For example, uniquely shaped tables on wheels make it easy for students to collaborate with one and another and move around if necessary, especially if project materials are difficult to move on their own.
Storage for project and learning tools comes in handy too, as a making project may take multiple class periods for students to complete. Along with tables and storage solutions, comfortable seating is also beneficial because students may be sitting on stools or chairs for hours while they construct things together. Seating should be unrestricted and ergonomic to encourage active learning and movement.
What’s Next for School Makerspaces?
As School Makerspaces become more commonplace, they may venture online and share with each other from campus to campus. Connecting School Makerspaces from campus to campus could lead to joint project collaboration and, if spaces were connected virtually, anyone could participate from anywhere in the world so long as they had the right materials at their fingertips.
The Maker Movement is still relatively new and unknown, but it is likely to explode in popularity and influence as access is democratized and an increasing number of people can participate. Sooner, rather than later, there may be a Makerspace in every school, library and community center.