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Making Makerspaces Happen in Education

By Craig Perrier

It is often stated that education moves in cycles by supporting new initiatives that are really renamed older practices. This claim to recycling has some merit to it. But, just like history, practices in education never really fully repeat themselves. Take, for example, the current attention to the “Makerspace” in education phenomenon. At its essence, this approach emphasizes a constructionist approach to teaching and learning -both literally and cognitively. Think DIY projects in the classroom!

With this in mind, we can gaze backward at your own schooling for this type of education. Images of “shop class” or vocational education will certainly manifest. But Makerspace education is not a simple redux of “hands on” learning. In turn, understanding the nuances of the contemporary makerspace mindset will empower you to support schools with their own shift towards this model.

makerspace

First, having a functional definition is key. I like these two because they identify the physical and mental aspects of Makerspaces.

1. “Makerspaces provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they deeply engage in science, engineering and tinkering.” Jennifer Cooper, Designing a School Makerspace (Edutopia)
2. “Makerspaces are collaborative learning environments where people come together to share materials and learn new skills… [they] are not necessarily born out of a specific set of materials or spaces, but rather a mindset of community partnership, collaboration, and creation.” Library as incubator project

Supporting these definitions, educators regularly emphasize “creativity” and make a strong case that through this approach, student engagement increases because they are posed a problem to solve. In the process questions arise and possibilities are considered. Students, facilitated by their teacher, contemplate solutions using their individual experiences and learning.

Lastly, it is important to note, that Makerspace learning differs from “doing a project” in class. Projects are more of a traditional approach, often tacked on to the end of a unit, that simply replicates what the teacher or book said. Despite a project having some form of student creation, there was no problem to be solved. Rather, the project approach framed learning as the reproduction of information.

So, what can you do to support schools with Makerspaces? Consider one or more of these areas

● The Space: Environment matters, and Makerspaces are not classrooms with rows of desks. If a makerspace is where students gather to create, invent, tinker, explore & discover, then the furniture, physical space, wiring, containers etc. must support this learning. Also, the space will vary in scope from a wing of a school, to a designated room for any teacher to use, to an area in an existing classroom.

● The Stuff: Similar to the space, what the stuff (tools and materials) will vary across schools. High end supplies like 3D printers, media equipment, and laser cutters as well as simple tools (scissors, white tables/boards, markers) will be needed. Makerspace education also promote the use of reusable materials and household items.

● The Staff: Makerspace learning will only work if educators believe in the approach and feel they have the expertise to teach this way. Providing training for K-12 teachers and administrators will be important before and during the transition. Providing on demand, in-person, and virtual options will be important as will having a partnership approach that will celebrate the achievements made by students and teachers in the school.

Makerspaces will be unique to the school cultures in which they are formed. As you approach schools to support their transition to or implementation of makerspace approaches, keep in mind the dual paths that are needed for success. Scholar Jackie Gerstein reminds us that “Makerspace is more than a space itself; it is a mindset that can and should be taught” (Gerstein, 2014). Emphasizing to schools that you are aware of the necessity for the physical and cognitive to be in synch will demonstrate both credibility and enthusiasm for Makerpsace education.

Gerstein, Jackie. “The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop.” User Generated Education. 2014.

 

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