If you asked me to define a makerspace at the start of the school year, I would have told you it was a room - most likely in a high school - where a 3D printer was lorded over by the building’s resident tech guru. Perhaps there were a few robots in the corner and some wires or motors whose purpose I couldn’t identify. What the definition wouldn’t have included was me.
The one-room, one guru vision of a makerspace makes sense. The level of know-how to manage such a space, as well as the money required to fill it, would limit the scope of any school’s maker initiative.
But what if you didn’t need expensive 3D printers, robots, and fancy gizmos? What if you didn’t need a single, centralized space? What if the definition of a makerspace was broadened so that it extended into every classroom, making every student - and every teacher - a certified “maker”?
It took me a while to arrive at this expanded view of a makerspace. After attending an inspirational EdCamp session led by Rebecca McLelland-Crawley (@bec_chirps) several months ago, I decided to run back to my school and put the makerspace wheels into motion. My goal was to create an approximation of a makerspace in my 3rd grade classroom so that I could give my principal a taste of what we could do if given the resources to build a “real” one in an open classroom down the hall.
I began by moving my desk out of of the room, making way for a mini TV studio consisting of a tripod, camera, and dry erase board. From there, I went through every cabinet, drawer and science kit and pulled out anything - and I mean ANYTHING - that could be used to make something. The items ranged from crayons to old computers to shovels. I used a holiday gift card (given to me by the students) to purchase a few items, and I sent out an email blast asking for donations.
My definition of “making” was going to be broad, spanning all subjects. I vowed to place as many tools as possible in front of the students and then step back to see what they would do with it. I created a section of the room where the materials would be stored and was very clear in my instructions: Have fun. Be creative.
A few weeks into my exploration, I realized something - The “real” makerspace that I was hoping to build someday was already taking shape. There were no 3D printers and no robots, but there was something even more important - time. By placing the tools and materials in the classroom and not in the empty room down the hall, I was inviting my students to “make” throughout the day. And make they did.
Over the past few months, my students have explored coding, made video tutorials, collaborated on slide presentations, designed their own science experiments, created math games, taken apart old computers, launched a blog, built a giant cardboard limousine, and more. Two girls started a tutoring business and created an accompanying website. Another group started a club called “The Science Sisters,” which meets every recess and makes experiments with mud. Just last week, an online story-writing club emerged.
A funny thing happens when you give kids the time, materials and permission to be creative - they run with it. I’d like to say that I had a huge role in all of their projects, but I didn’t. I helped with some initiatives more than others, but much of what you read about above came directly from the kids. All I did was give them the time, materials and permission to make it happen.
The best thing about a classroom makerspace is that it will look completely different in every space. If you are a tech guru, go ahead and fill it with computers, wires and gizmos. If you skew toward the artsy side, load up on paper, crayons, and cardboard. If you are the roll-up-your-sleeves outdoorsy type, a few hand trowels can get you going. If your students are invited to make - no matter what they are making - then you can pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on creating a makerspace.
While I am still committed to helping my colleagues launch a central makerspace in the room down the hall, I am even more committed to helping them turn their own classrooms into makerspaces. I can’t wait to engage in conversations where we explore how every teacher can tap their unique interests and talents to deliver a meaningful making experience for their students.
Last week, a colleague presented a plan for leveraging the staff’s unique interests - as well as the unique interests of the students - by organizing regular “maker days.” The plan is to get together in cross-graded groups and work on projects that interest them. Teachers will facilitate groups that align to their interests and skill-sets.
This expanded view of what it means to have a makerspace is empowering to students and teachers alike. Making is a mindset, and the tools to get started are most likely at your fingertips. In my case, it involved opening up my cabinets and making the inaccessible accessible. It involved saying, “Yes, you can use all of this stuff - any way you see fit. Seriously.” And it involved trust.That trust is paying off.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.