Starting a Makerspace? Your Beginner’s Guide
Last updated on September 11th, 2021
Around the globe, an increasing number of educators are launching School Makerspaces. Based upon the Maker Movement, a technological and creative revolution that emphasizes active learning.
If your facility is interested in launching a Makerspace, we have a few tips and suggestions to help guide yours through the process. What makes the maker movement exciting is that making is about celebrating creativity by learning how to do new things through hands-on, human interaction and experimental play.
According to the Makerspace Playbook, makers believe “if you can imagine it, you can make it.” While makers aren’t typically in it for the money, the movement is neither definitively for profit nor anti-commercial. But one thing everyone can agree on is that makers have a hands-on DIY attitude built on a foundation of curiosity and creativity.
What makers need is a place to turn their ideas into actual stuff: A Makerspace, where individuals or students can gather to “create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of materials,” according to Renovated Learning.
While the Makerspace is easy to define, it’s a little trickier to describe because they can take on a wide variety of different forms— they may be hosted in public libraries or at a non-profit corporation, while others may live at universities or elementary schools.
What to Consider When Starting A Makerspace
The thought of starting a Makerspace can be daunting. You’ve read about Makerspaces and have seen examples of their potential to be a fantastic learning resource for your school and community, but now, you want to create your own, so where do you start?
Starting a Makerspace is a process involving multiple factors--finding the right space, getting students and faculty involved, as well identifying leaders and mentors to take charge. In this blog, we identify and address the most important tips to consider when starting a Makerspace.
1) Get up to speed on the latest Makerspace trends and guidelines
It’s wise to kick off your school Makerspace journey by learning all you can about the current state of the Maker Movement. By doing this, you can better determine what the ideal space for hosting your Makerspace would be and what materials and tools you may want to acquire that would best suit your budget and students’ needs. Along with doing research, there are countless Making clubs and organizations out there that provide guidelines, resources and networking opportunities to help new Makers get started.
Along with the greater Making community, Maker Media, a global media platform that publishes Make Magazine and produces the Maker Faire, has already generated a considerably large body of content, specifically to new help new Makers with a DIY mindset get the ball rolling.
2) Find the right space:
Every Makerspace is unique in the sense that each has unique design elements, resources, and tools that reflect the community it serves. When choosing a location for a school or community center Makerspace, it’s not necessary to dedicate its use to just one particular group or class.
Instead, it’s best to approach the process of choosing a Makerspace location from a multipurpose perspective. That is, “multiple teachers and multiple classes could use the space: a physics class might use the space for a unit, an after-school robotics team might build there.” When starting a Makerspace, you should ask yourself, who will be using this space? What type of area would best suit their needs? What is the purpose of this space?
The Makerspace Playbook imagines a variety of uses for school Makerspaces:
Classroom for physics and robotics class.
Specially designed elective classes.
An interdisciplinary tool and materials resource used by many different teachers and classes.
Fellow teachers going there on their own in their prep periods to build teaching materials and demos.
Community/neighborhood after-hours access.
A “Maker Club” meetup space.
The truth is, you can set up a Makerspace almost anywhere, even temporarily after school in the library or cafeteria. Many schools are re-purposing existing spaces that are neglected or underused by the community. Re-purposing an existing space is a low-cost way to open the door to exciting new learning opportunities for students.
For example an outdated computer lab with clunky desktop computers could be transformed into a Makerspace by replacing old computers with tablets or laptops along with different making tools and fabrication materials. Recently, Ryan Park Elementary School of Indiana did just that and enjoyed results that surpassed their initial expectations. With a new and fully stocked Makerspace realized, both students and faculty are taking full advantage.
Designing a new School Makerspace or 21st Century Learning Environment?
3) Get the right tools and materials
After you’ve locked down the perfect space, the next step is outfitting it with the tools, equipment, and materials your students need to start making and completing their projects.
One thing that the Makerspace Playbook makes clear right-off-the-bat is that, when it comes to the ideal tools and materials for a Makerspace, there is no perfect list.
A Makerspace doesn’t necessarily have to be complex in nature or feature expensive high-tech gadgets like 3D printers or tablets. Legos, blocks, duct tape and cardboard will suffice. More important than tools or equipment is an adherence to the overall ethos of Making, which embraces experimentation and creative learning.
Alluding to the uniqueness of Makerspaces, the playbook notes that “equipment lists are as individual as the space and its members.” While there are plenty of suggestions out there provided by the Making community, ultimately, it’s up to you to find the right tools and materials for students and faculty.
Regardless the defined purpose of your Makerspace, it’s best to start off by acquiring tools and materials for general use, rather than task-specific use such as metalworking or woodworking.
As the Makerspace Playbook notes, “there’s nothing lonelier than a big expensive tool lying unused because nobody knows how to use it.” Set your Makerspace in motion by starting with straightforward and affordable tools ahead of advanced and costly ones.
To brainstorm and come up with more ideas, consider taking a look at the High School Makerspace Tools and Materials Guide, created by Makerspace.com. Inside, you’ll find lists of recommended and suggested tools for all different types of Makerspace specializations including Electronics, Textiles, 3D Printing, Computers and General Purpose applications.
4) Provide Training and Support
Makerspace education is redefining both the way students learn and the way teachers instruct. For students to get the most out of the experience, a new kind of teacher is required. That being said, Making celebrates hands-on and learn-as-you-go education, so specialized training isn't necessarily needed to guide instruction in a Makerspace classroom.
The Makerspace Playbook sheds light on this:
Nobody who uses the space needs to be an expert, not even the teacher. The most important thing is to have a passion for and a curiosity about making in many different forms. Once you establish safety and basic competency, members can teach themselves what they need to know. We find that projects that a member is passionate about are one of the best motivators for learning.
Makerspace learning presents an opportunity to run classrooms differently. One useful way to think about a Makerspace instruction is to think of it as a sort of project management role. Makerspace projects are typically larger in scale and require teams to work together to accomplish a mutually agreed upon goal. In the design industry, Project Managers supervise teams and oversee a project’s “plans, risks, schedules, budget and conflicts” (Makerspace, 17).
Additionally, Project Managers “provide feedback on the quality of work done by their team.” An instructor’s purpose in a school makerspace is less about leading students or explicitly telling them what to do, and more about assisting them in their endeavors and aiming their efforts towards the general goal of innovation.
Furniture that Facilitates Making
When choosing your school Makerspace furniture, keep in mind the overall importance of community and collaboration in Making culture.
The design of your space should reflect an inclusive attitude and welcome everyone — including students with a broad range of abilities, backgrounds, skill levels, learning styles, ages, and characteristics.
Makerspaces foster innovation, so it is important that “individuals of all backgrounds and abilities can actively contribute to the [creative] design process,” according to a recent research article published by the University of Washington. The study advocates for a “participatory design where individuals of diverse backgrounds bring their unique experiences and perspectives to the design process.”
Tables, chairs, and other furniture in Makerspaces is typically mobile and readily moveable, “creating a flexible and accessible environment,” according to the research article. It’s a good idea to offer a variety of options regarding seating and tables— vary table heights and workspace surfaces to accommodate a broad range of physical student needs.
Smith System offers many tables and chairs with adjustable heights and optional casters that can be easily locked or unlocked. Along with desks, tables and chairs, it’s important to have easily accessible storage for projects and supplies. From laptops to Legos, Smith System offers storage solutions perfect for School Makerspace supplies and materials.
Here are some of our mobile furnishings and storage solutions recommended for School Makerspaces:
Interchange® Squiggle Tables: These tables have a curvilinear shape and can be grouped together to create collaborative pods. Also, they are a fantastic alternative to large rectangular tables and can save space.
Cascade® Mega Cabinet: Students in a Makerspace will inevitably need a place to store their projects between class periods. Along with that, instructors need somewhere to store class materials and tools while not in use. Smith System’s line of Cascade® Cabinets run from small to large and are available with either tote trays or shelves. They can be fitted with an array of different options to suit the vision of your school Makerspace.
Everything Cart: Smith System’s Everything Cart is designed for maximum versatility. Offering two shelves divided into six bins each. From markers and Legos to soldering irons and 3D printing materials, the Everything Cart can hold just about anything you might need for your makerspace. With dual-wheeled casters that won’t shimmy like single wheels, the cart can easily be moved to wherever the action is in your Makerspace.
Double Oval Café Table (with power): With a design borrowed from the tables in coffee shops, the Oval Double Café Table is intended to promote casual, unforced interaction among students in social learning situations.
Along with a suitable design for Makerspace learning, our Oval Café Table offers the option of integrated power and USB connectivity, conveniently located. If you plan on outfitting your Makerspace with laptops, this table may be particularly useful as a way of preventing students from crowding around wall-based outlets to power up.
Large Planner® Table: This large rectangular table provides ample space for nearly any Makerspace project. To encourage creative thinking and innovation, it is beneficial to have enough room to spread out project materials and work comfortably. Along with having enough space to work, durability is essential when it comes to Makerspace furniture.
The Large Planner® Table combines maximum strength, stability, and durability to handle even the most demanding projects.
Starting a Makerspace: It’s All About the Experience
The beauty of Making and creating your Makerspace is that there is no definitively right or wrong way to approach it. Making culture emphasizes the importance of the creative experience. Our hope is that this blog post provided some guidance to those interested in starting a Makerspace.
While starting a Makerspace may seem like a daunting task, you can rest easy knowing that Making culture encourages you to approach it in your way, be creative, take risks, and not be afraid to fail throughout the process. By trying different things, you can narrow down what does and doesn’t work regarding design elements, instruction styles, tools, and materials. Through this process of experimentation, you’ll be able to refine your Makerspace from every angle until it becomes the successful innovation generating machine it’s supposed to be.
- Graves, Colleen. "Starting a Makerspace from Scratch." Edutopia. 16 July 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
- Hughes, Matthew. "Starting a Makerspace on a Budget? Here’s The Equipment You’ll Need." MakeUseOf. 18 June 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
- "High School Makerspace Tools & Materials." Makerspace.com. Apr. 2012. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
- "Makerspace Playbook School Edition." Makerspace.com. Mar. 2013. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
- Thomas, Parker. "6 Things to Consider Before Starting a Makerspace (EdSurge News)." EdSurge. 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
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