When most penny-pinching, time-crunched, and exhausted teachers hear about lofty ideas like the MakerSpace movement in education, they are likely to dismiss it as another passing and impractical fad. However, the more we investigate, the more convinced we are that there are practical–and profoundly meaningful–ways for teachers to implement its ideals, even in an elementary school classroom.
Benefits of Maker Spaces
“Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve as a gathering point for tools, projects, mentors and expertise. A collection of tools does not define a Makerspace. Rather, we define it by what it enables: making.” (MakerSpace Playbook)
They cultivate creativity. For students who already love doing, they will love this outlet to get their hands on a myriad of resources. For students who feel that they are lacking in creativity, they will have an opportunity to rekindle their inborn wonder and curiosity.
(Remember Caine’s Arcade? This video goes on to show the resulting movement, all from a bit of cardboard)
They provide an opportunity for students to take the lead. How much of our students’ time involves them being directed in what answers to give, what products to create, and even what art to design (and when)? A MakerSpace gives them the opportunity to learn how to pursue their own ideas and possibilities, and on their time-table.
They make for a much more productive fast-finisher. Have you ever had a parent report to you that their child is bored? Get a MakerSpace zone going in your classroom, and watch what happens to that boredom.
They develop essential characteristics. In this ever-evolving global landscape, we must focus on giving our students practical tools that will serve them in the long-term. Critical thinking, problem solving, and intrinsic motivation–these are just a few attributes that are encouraged in a MakerSpace’s atmosphere of tinkering, iterating, and exploring.
MakerSpaces are designed to make students wonder, question, and experiment as they work to make sense of the world around them.
4 Realistic Tips to Maker-ize Your Room
#1: Start with designating a small space for your makers. A full-blown high school makerspace can cost over $30,000, complete with 10 different modules, including a workspace and tools area, and zones for woodworking, metalworking, electronics, textiles, computers, digital fabrication, 3D printing, laser cutting and more. Instead of getting overwhelmed by the magnitude of such a vision, simply pull elements that would be practical for your students and classroom. Put up a Wonder shelf in the back of your room. Mount a pegboard to display all the tools. Get creative with a workbench for multi-use storage and workspace, such as putting casters on a dresser.
#2: Look at existing resources. Add casters, table tops, and plexiglass to your student desks for flexible workspaces & collaboration (Third Teacher + redesign).
- Look at other teachers’ strategies for starting simply, such as this teacher’s list of top 5 materials to provide.
- Ask for donations of cardboard, remnant fabric, playdough, and scrap wood. Look for tools you can borrow from home, like your hot glue gun, miter box, & travel sewing set. Recycle juice bottles and egg cartons. Make your space a poster child for “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” in the best possible ways!
#3: Plan for Guidelines. As open-ended as a MakerSpace can and should be, be sure to consider basic boundaries and safety:
- Create, display, and discuss posters that outline appropriate and safe use.
- Support the growth mindset, being particularly mindful of embracing risk-taking, perseverance, and failing. We love this FAIL sheet as a guide to help students reflect upon and learn from their failures.
- Decide when your MakerSpace will be open. Before or after school? Open lunch? Fast finishers? Family nights?
- Consider designing open-ended projects/challenges for your students (top projects for beginners), especially those who would appreciate a little more structure. For whole-class project-based learning that is actually graded, consider creating rubrics to offer more support.
- Think about the conversations you’ll have with your students when they get stuck, overconfident, or frustrated. Gayle Allen and Lisa Yokana share great insight on student/teacher discussions during each stage of making.
#4: Gradually Invest. As tempting as it may be to try and dive in with one show-stopping gadget, you are better off letting your students gradually acclimate to their MakerSpace, learning and deciding together its growth and direction. Consider these ideas:
- Make it a point to learn about your students’ interests. Would they love more electronics? How about a few Lego sets? Perhaps a sewing machine? Prioritize your MakerSpace growth based on those interests.
- Look to teacher funding resources like Donors Choose to help your students’ dreams happen. Start small with fascinating tools like a Makey Makey, and perhaps eventually build to bigger ticket items, like a Printrbot 3D printer.
Other resources to launch your MakerSpace:
- Article on elementary maker classroom
- Edutopia’s “Starting a MakerSpace from Scratch”
- Edutopia’s “Project-Based Learning through a Maker’s Lens”
Featured Image: DeathtoTheStockPhoto.com