As maker education gains steam, many educators are looking for ways to incorporate making and tinkering into their schools and classrooms — often on a shoestring budget.
“Kids are saying they want to learn more about technology and science, but they also want to experience it creatively and use it personally,” said Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Media, which produces Maker Faire and Make Magazine.
“One of the ways we can do that is create more makerspaces for kids. Let’s build more makerspaces inside schools, libraries and even community centers.”
But what makes a makerspace? Dougherty and other maker movement advocates have identified three common elements of successful makerspaces:
- They promote learning through play and experimentation.
- They’re cross-disciplinary, with elements of art, science and craftsmanship.
- They offer tools and materials that encourage students to create rather than consume.
Makerspaces can be elaborate learning spaces equipped with sophisticated tools and supplies, but they don’t have to be. Dougherty offered the following simple tips for creating one in your school.
Step 1: Secure some space.
It doesn’t need to be fancy. It doesn’t even need to be large. At the Ellis School in Pittsburgh, girls tinker at “Innovation Stations” that are tucked into hallways and the corners of classrooms, said technology director Lisa Abel-Palmieri.
Sometimes finding space is simply a matter of reprioritizing. For example, Shannon McClintock Miller, the teacher librarian at Van Meter Community School in Iowa, had an office in the corner of her library. She decided to convert it into a makerspace for students.
"It’s not about our stuff," she said. "School is about the kids, and the kids are really grateful we made this for them."
That jibes with what Dougherty advises educators to do.
“I’m a big fan of making do. Just get something going and declare it,” Dougherty said. “Usually there’s some space already available. Maybe it used to be a shop class that was shut down. Let’s reinvent it. It could be an art studio, a biology lab or a computer lab. It can be all of those things mashed together because we want to allow interdisciplinary exploration.”
Step 2: Put stuff in it.
3D printers, Arduinos and agile furniture are great if you can afford them, but they don’t necessarily define a makerspace. Instead, start with what you have and let it grow organically.
“You could throw in discarded materials from around your school and say, ‘Kids, let’s make something,’ and they can have as good an experience as if you had $100,000 to build the space,” Dougherty said. “Just get it started, and then reach out to engage your community. You’d be surprised. People have tools and materials they don’t use and would love to donate.
“You can create a space for kids that becomes richer and richer over time.”
Lissa Blake, a K-2 instructional technology integration coach in Clarendon Hills, Illinois, got creative with some unlikely materials. She used pizza boxes and a fistful of green straws from Starbucks to create a low-cost recording studio where her 6-year-old students could make their own videos.
Watch her ISTE19 TED Talk to learn how she did it:
Step 3: Invite kids to play.
Sure, you can develop a curriculum for your makerspace. Sometimes it’s helpful to give students a starting point, especially if they’re new to the concept of tinkering in school. But it’s just as valuable, if not more so, to let them explore on their own, Dougherty said.
“I value space over curriculum here,” he said. “I value opportunity over rigidity.”
Once you’ve got a functioning makerspace, you can start looking at how to take it to the next level — for example, getting community support and helping students extend their projects into the digital realm where they can share and sustain them. But the important part is to just get started.
Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.
This is an updated version of a post that originally published on June 21, 2014.