by Bosede Edwards
Makerspace is a constructive and constructionist movement that is taking the world by storm. Imagine DIY meets education. Makerspace is not only a hackshop where you can go to learn how to use an arc welder for the afternoon, but an educational concept as well. A makerspace presents readily-available materials that can act as a provocation for inquiry, as well as modern technology and items to invent with.
A place where people can come together to use, and learn to use, materials. Makerspaces promote learning through play and can be created in a classroom, a library or even in a stand-alone building. The important idea is that it is a place that can be used for a range of activities with changing and flexible educational goals and creative purposes.
A makerspace can be as high-tech or low-tech as desired. The important factor is to provide a safe, collaborative environment. Furniture and equipment should be flexible and durable, enabling student-teacher movement and task-transitioning. Furnishings should also allow for enhanced organization of various objects (e.g. peg boards for hanging tools). If your makerspace is high-tech, furnishings should provide options to charge tools and devices.
There are plenty of reasons why teachers would want a makerspace in their classrooms. Once we understand that a makerspace isn’t limited to certain materials, it gets easier to see how a makerspace could be incorporated into any classroom.
“To define a school makerspace by its purpose and simplest of terms, it is a place where young people have an opportunity to explore their own interests; learn to use tools and materials, both physical and virtual; and develop creative projects” Laura Flemming, Worlds of Making.
In many schools, media centres facilitate problem-solving and design-thinking projects in varied dynamic makerspaces. Areas of discovery include robotics, iMovie making, gaming, circuitry, music production and construction while utilizing high-tech tools such as 3D printers and graphic design programs.
There was a time when you could follow the formula: work hard at school, go to college, and climb a corporate ladder. But because of the complex global economy, the creative economy, the information economy, the ladder is now a maze. Students need to be able to engage in iterative thinking, creative thinking, critical thinking. They need to know how to picot, how to revise, how to persevere. They need to solve complex problems. All of these are involved in the maker mindset. If you can embed making in the curriculum, then they’re able to develop that maker mindset. The school is just the platform that facilitates it.
The benefits of educational makerspaces are many and varied. While they do not come without their challenges, makerspaces can have a significant impact on student learning and development. In fact, makerspaces were recently identified as one of six important developments in educational technology for K-12 education by the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report for 2015, which states, “Makerspaces are increasingly being looked to as a method for engaging learners in creative, higher-order problem-solving through hands-on design, construction, and iteration.”
In studying and evaluating a practice, it’s vital to examine all sides of it, considering both its pros and cons—even projecting its potential for flourishing or fading with time. Just as a painter carefully studies a subject from all angles, featuring both light and shadow, so should we examine makerspaces with similar scrutiny.
While it is certainly possible to establish a school library makerspace without any significant costs in terms of supplies and space requirements, a developing makerspace will most likely involve extra expenditures over time. Depending on the makerspace focus, certain equipment, resources and technology purchases can prove expensive.
Sufficiently staffing a library makerspace and providing programming can be challenging. Librarians need to get creative with their staffing models when balancing the task of managing both a library and a makerspace. In many libraries there is only one person available to balance both responsibilities. Makerspaces add new demands onto library staff, over and above their regular library programming.
Makerspaces, by their very nature, can invite “creative mess” and in some cases, maker activities have the potential to damage existing furnishings. For example, carpets, tables and other surfaces can be damaged with the use (or abuse) of maker tools on their surfaces.
But with all that being said, the maker movement is about teaching and learning that is focused on student centred inquiry. This is not the project done at the end of a unit of learning, but the actual vehicle and purpose of the learning. The time to change education is needed now more than ever. We are facing an educational system in crisis and a global economy feeling the ripple effect of this failure.
The drive towards standardized testing and learning outcome achievements mean that the opportunity for play in our classroom is rare; however Makerspaces provide the perfect antidote. Makerspaces are essentially collaborative and creative learning environments. They are not fixed by the materials and tools inside them but a mindset of community, creativity and collaboration. They are, in effect,t centres of active or participatory learning. The explosion of new information and multimedia technologies also means that students need to be equipped with grammars of understanding around these new technologies – or multiliteracies. Makerspaces allow students to explore technology in a way that values their varied interests and strengths. “The turn of the 21st century has signalled a shift in the types of skill sets that have real, applicable value in a rapidly advancing world. In this landscape, creativity, design, and engineering are making their way to the forefront of educational considerations, as tools such as robotics, 3D printers, and web-based 3D modelling applications become accessible to more people. Makerspaces are increasingly being looked to as a method for engaging learners in creative, higher-order problem-solving through hands-on design, construction, and iteration” (NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition, p. 38).