George Lucas Educational Foundation

Makerspace Technology: Is It Right For Your School?

Makerspace Technology: Is It Right For Your School?

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I recently presented at FETC 2017 on this topic and wanted to share some of my thoughts. My audience was mainly school/district administrators but there were also teachers, all who were questioning whether or not to invest in makerspace technology.

I wanted to: 1) Show how a school can benefit from creating a "maker culture" 2) Explain the unique philosophy behind the 'Iolani Lower School Lab and our use of maker technology  3) Give examples of how makerspace technologies are applied to the curriculum at various grade levels.

Administrators are trying to decide if they are going to invest in makerspace technology of their schools. There are tons of questions: What technology should we get? Who will run this space? How are we going to organize/schedule it's use? How does this technology fit into the curriculum?

Sorry to say, there are not real black/white answers to these questions. However, one thing is true when it comes to the decision administrators make: "Students take risks when teachers take risks. Teachers take risks when school leaders take risks." Brad Currie.

The first thing a school leader needs to do with regard to makerspace technology, is to make sure they have a rational for "making" in their school. Why invest money in this "trend"? Because, it's not a trend. "The learning-by-doing approach also has it precedents in education: project-based learning, Jean Piaget's constructivism and Seymour Papert's constructionism. These theories explain the remarkable accomplishments of  young makers and remind educators that every classroom needs to be a place where, as Piaget taught, 'knowledge is a consequence of experience.'" This is a quote from the article "The Maker Movement: A Learning Revolution" by Martinez and Stager. The concept of "making" in education has been around for a long has, however, been lost under the pressure to "teach to the test" brought on, whether intentionally or unintentionally, by districts, communities, and the powers that be.

Christa Flores says it this way, "Constructivism (Piaget) is new knowledge via experience; Constructionism (Papert) is new knowledge via making artifacts." We know that people learn best by doing, so if you adhere to this philosophy of eduction, then you should think about creating a maker culture in your school. Making is not about machines or a space. Curriculum comes first, technology second. Making can happen in a classroom, a library, the hall or a dedicated makerspace.

At it's very essence, making in school is an attitude, a mindset, a culture; a process, a journey; Where learning is personal and unique; where work is real and meaningful; where there is an audience and a reason for what is made.

John Dewey said, "If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow." Here at 'Iolani, we have a long, rich tradition of excellence in education. For over 150 years we have helped students reach high academic standards. At the same time, our administration knows the importance of not being set in our ways...the world changes and as educators we need to find ways to prepare our students for the world they will face.

Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." If your school has a maker mindset and allows students to imagine, then anything that lets your create is maker technology.

At 'Iolani's Lower School FabLab/Makerspace the goal is do just that. Our philosophy is this: 1) To provide students and teachers the materials, tools and a place to imagine, create and improve...for school or for fun. 2) We use "Engineering Design Process" and "Design Thinking" methodologies. 3) We encourage risk-taking and creativity. 4) We assist teachers and students in project-based learning

We run the Lab as a support to our students and teacher. We are not a pull-out or a "special" class. We are open all day, everyday (with a few exceptions) for anyone to come in and making something. Teachers can schedule a period or maybe a number of days for their class to work on a given project. Students may pop-in to make a present for a loved-one. Small groups my drop by to create an object for a class assignment. Or we may offer a mini-lesson training session to a give grade on a specific topic.

In Roald Dahl's "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory", Grampa Jo says, "I've heard tell what you imagine sometimes comes true." Our Lab is a place to imagine...and when our kids imagine, they learn.

So is makerspace technology right for your school? At 'Iolani, it is and there are plenty of examples of how we fit it into the curriculum. As mentioned earlier, it's not about the machines...if this technology doesn't help your students learn what you are trying to teach them, then is will be money well wasted.

Here are a few examples of how we join our curriculum and makerspace technology. For the sake of space, I will just mention them, but if you go back into our blog, you will find longer explanations of these and many other projects:

   Kindergarten: Garden stakes

   First Grade: Habitat creatures

   Second Grade: Content area games using Scratch Jr

   Third Grade: Desk caddies and Space Exploration Vehicles

   Fourth Grade: Volcano poems on Scratch

   Fifth Grade: Novel Boardgames

   Sixth Grade: Ancient Egyptian Artifacts and Catapults

That is how we use our makerspace and it's technology in the Lower School. Here's one example of how this same philosophy is used in the Upper School, at the Sullivan Center for Innovation and Leadership: Design and Fabrication at 'Iolani School.

I created a Google Folder with a copy of my presentation slides as well as a number of other resources. You can access it at: Matthew Dillon-FETC 2017 Presentation Folder

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me. 

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Jon S's picture
Jon S
Interested in 3D design/printing, maker spaces, design thinking

Thanks for sharing, great video. Love to see what other schools are doing with maker spaces and design.

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