In the last few years, Makerspaces have become a popular venue for people to explore and create. A Makerspace is a space with various tools and materials, with the purpose for individuals to tinker, explore, and create. In schools, Makerspaces have increased in popularity, housing a variety of materials from low-tech arts and crafts to high-tech software and electronics for students to experiment with and build their own designs.
Many conferences and workshops feature a Makerspace area, giving educators ideas to take back to their schools. Social media is filled with fantastic examples of Makerspaces, numerous websites and organizations are devoted to it, and books have been published on how to build your own Makerspace.
Why build a Makerspace in your school? Student creativity, building stronger neural pathways in the brain through kinesthetic learning opportunities, is the reason to build a Makerspace. It is about play, students tinkering to discover, children experimenting to learn, and students building what they dream.
Building a Makerspace is worth it when the students grow and learn within it.
In an age of accountability and standardization, these elements have been steadily removed from schools and classrooms. A Makerspace has the potential to put it all back in place. Even so, making a Makerspace come to life in a school is not an easy task. It takes vision, buy-in, materials and space, and a plan for implementation. More than that, building a Makerspace in a school takes time. And, we did it!
Building The Team
While I knew the potential of building a Makerspace in our school, I knew that I had to build a collective vision for one. I could not just find a space, order materials, and expect a Makerspace to happen. It was going to take a team to make this happen. Therefore, I created a team of teachers, bringing them together with the sole purpose to discover a new way to envision an open space we had in our building. It is with this team that we developed our vision and put all the plans into motion.
We began our work simply discussing the space we had in the building, our Learning Lab. We recently gutted our old computer lab, putting in flexible furniture for a variety of uses. In essence, I asked, “What would you like to see from this space?” From there, we began to dream together. I created a Google Classroom for us to share resources, websites, and articles about different ways schools have used their spaces. And then, our Makerspace began to form.
Promoting The Vision
A Makerspace is really cool, but why have one? Why put it together? The vision for the Makerspace must be clear, keeping students at the forefront, not the space or materials. While a Makerspace cannot function well without materials, that is not why this space is created.
The team determined we needed a clear vision that we could share with all teachers, students, and the community so that there was purpose behind what we were creating. During one of our meetings, we wrote down words and phrases, imagining what we wanted to create. Our vision was formed using the words we brainstormed:
The Learning Lab will present STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) opportunities for students to work collaboratively, experiment, tinker, and explore through the process of inquiry and problem-solving, while using their creative abilities to ask questions and develop their own solutions.
Gettin The Materials and Space
With our vision in place, we began to think about how to make it all happen. After face-to-face discussion and sharing through Google Classroom, we decided to create four main stations of materials to match our vision- the Arts Station, the Builders Station, the Games & Puzzles Station, and the Tech n’ Engineering Exploration Station.
The team made lists of materials for each station, brainstorming different challenges and ideas that students may want to create. We looked at grants and other funding opportunities through the school district, ordering a few materials, shopping at the Dollar Store for others, and asking for donations from anyone. Together, we cleaned out cabinets and found most of the materials right in our classrooms already! They just needed to be discovered for use in different ways.
With the space fairly empty, we went to work, organizing the materials into tubs, rearranging furniture, making station signs, and creating “rules of engagement” procedures for use. The space was coming together very quickly, and we were peaking the interest of many as well!
Encouraging The Buy-In
The team had a vision for the space. Materials were now in the Learning Lab Makerspace. Now it was time to build buy-in. We planned a time for the staff to come to the Makerspace to play.
We flipped basic information for the staff, sending them a video a few days in advance, sharing what a Makerspace is, what stations ours will have, and what our next steps would be. During our staff collaboration meeting, we quickly introduced each station, showing a short video to spark interest, and then let the staff play, choosing where they would like to start, much like we would want for our students with choice and interest driving decisions.
During this play, there were pads of paper at each station, giving the staff the opportunity to write their thoughts, ideas, and concerns in an open forum. This feedback would be used to continue to develop the space, building opportunities for our students to use this space as much as possible while still following the curricular guidelines that have been set forth by our district curriculum. Even more than that, this time to play, share, and reflect builds the buy-in we want for our staff to use this space with their students, even taking the vision and concepts into their own classrooms.
Planning The Implementation
This is where we are right now. We are now ready to roll this out to our students, using the feedback from the staff so that we can ensure our students have opportunities to create, explore, and tinker in our new Makerspace. Our students are excited, their curiosity is at a fever-pitch, and they truly cannot wait to dig in.
Building a Makerspace is worth it when the students grow and learn within it. I cannot wait to see this space evolve with the students, changing as needed based on their interests. Furthermore, I am elated to know there will be amazing projects, collaborative learning, and fun happening here.
We did it! Let the fun begin!
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, phil41dean.