The Benefits of a Makerspace in Schools

Andrew Robbin
Andrew Robbin
Primary school principal; 6th Year Certificate of Advanced Studies in Administration

With the prevalence of information readily available for students, education has shifted from gaining knowledge to applying information to create new ideas. Makerspaces fit perfectly into this concept as they provide students the opportunities to construct knowledge in novel ways.

What is a Makerspace?

Has the allure of a screwdriver, a broken piece of electronics, and a vivid imagination ever excited you or your students? Have you or your students found joy in opening up an object to see the inner workings? Have your students ever taken a bunch of objects and combined them to create something new? If any of these have happened, then you already have had experiences with a makerspace.

Makerspaces are a wonderful example of STEM activities for schools. Typically, makerspaces are designated areas that encourage students to explore, design, experiment, and build. They are able to take items apart, put things together, and dream of imaginative creations. The notion of multiple attempts, refining designs, and failure are all inherent with engaging students to take risks. While guidance from teachers helps set-up the task for students, students’ actions are mostly self-directed as they apply their knowledge to creatively problem solve.

Makerspaces typically are a defined, open space area with tools and materials. The items in the area can vary ranging from household items (toilet paper rolls, tape) to high-tech equipment (3D printers, electronics).

What are the Benefits of Makerspaces?

In addition to the natural enjoyment of makerspaces, they coincide well with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math; sometimes also called STEAM, the ‘A’ standing for arts) concepts and thus share all of the benefits of STEM education.

Some other specific areas that makerspaces help students with are:

Innovation and Creativity

Having the freedom to invent allows students to create items in a manner of their choosing. Although guidance may be given in terms of the task and the materials, students are encouraged to create things that haven’t been thought of before. This innovation and creativity encourages students to try different things in a typical educational environment. These skills are vital in our ever-changing world.

Experimentation and Revision

Throughout the process, students need to refine and revise their products. For example, a popular makerspace activity is creating a marble maze. Students try to make a marble move through a path using toilet paper tubes, yogurt containers, and other household items. Students will have to figure out how to join the items on a basic level or make complex structures with different materials for the more advanced engineer.

Students will need to analyze what is working, how to fix any problems, and how to cope with missing materials. Listening to feedback, students will need to respond by adjusting their design. This type of self-analysis enhances students’ ability to look at their work and find areas of improvement.

Collaboration

Many makerspace activities are designed for collaborative groups. Students can work together, design a plan, assign a job, and figure out norms for their groups to be successful. Students will need to communicate throughout the process to make sure the work is going in the direction intended.

Moreover, feedback is needed from group members to problem-solve when things inevitably don’t go as planned. In our current COVID-19, physical- distanced world, this can continue by giving feedback from a distance, initially brainstorming ideas or using technology to film the work, and provide feedback virtually.

Resiliency and Self-worth

Makerspaces aren’t easy. Things will need to be adapted causing the realization that multiple attempts are needed for success. This develops resiliency in students as they recognize that things won’t always work the first time around and that effort equates to success.

This aligns to Robert Marzano’s strategy about the effectiveness of reinforcing effort and providing recognition yielding high gains. Moreover, the ability to correct your work and see improvement adds to one’s confidence when things do improve and ultimately meet the criteria set forth in the initial directive.

Things to Consider Before Creating a Makerspace

Knowing the positive impact makerspaces can have, the question becomes how to develop one for your school. Here is a guideline of questions to help you get started.

Who will be using the makerspace?

Is it just students or will you open it up to the community? Knowing the usage will assist in the development process. Starting small is always a better way to ensure a more positive outcome.

Where will your makerspace be?

Is there an area that people can access? Is there enough space to store materials? Will the materials be safe in that spot? Within these decisions, you’ll want to revisit who will use the makerspace as this will help one consider the most appropriate space. Another factor to consider is when people will be using the makerspace and will it impede on other areas of instruction.

How do you get source materials?

What will you use to start furnishing the area? Is there a budget? You are going to need storage areas (bins, boxes, a closet, shelving, etc.) for the materials. Tables and chairs or workshops will be needed depending on the focus of the makerspace. Some makerspaces can be very elaborate and expensive with electronics; others can just be typical furniture found around a school or garage. Safety gear (eye protection) and tools may need to be considered too.

The intent of your makerspace and budget will inform these decisions. Once you have the materials for storage designed, you can think about the source materials. Household products, Legos, and broken electronics are popular items to get started and are typically easily acquired through donations from the community. Starting with these materials allows you to spread the word of the makerspace, generating excitement at a low-cost level.

Lastly, logistical expectations need to be set.

When is the area available? What are the supervision requirements? How do you set up and clean up? Is it a voluntary sign-up or scheduled activity? Knowing your purpose and goals for students should assist in guiding your responses.

Like anything else, as makerspaces evolve and grow, the set-up will need to be re-examined and revised.

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