A makerspace is a unique, multipurpose learning environment that encourages tinkering, play and open-ended exploration. Such activities demand an enquiry-based approach to learning, and they epitomise what progressive education is all about. The central idea of a makerspace is that children learn by doing.
The only thing that is required of such an initiative is a room with appropriate materials and resources, to encourage learners to make. Take a look at the tools section to get some ideas about the type of resources that can be used in the makerspace. The makerspace provides a central location, where all of these resources can both be stored and used.
A makerspace initiative also fits in very well with STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) education. However, it is worth pointing out that a makerspace is not just for STEAM classes. Video production, for example, forms a big part of what the the room can be used for, and this goes hand in hand with other subjects like literacy and drama. In this way, making can be anything to anyone!
Pedagogically speaking, the whole maker movement is underpinned by the idea of “constructionism”, which has been coined by Seymour Papert. It is a similar-sounding term to the more well-known pedagogy, constructivism. Where constructivism is a well-established theory of learning indicating that people actively construct new knowledge by combining their experiences with what they already know, constructionism takes things a step further. Although the learning happens inside the learner’s head, Papert’s constructionism states that this happens most reliably when the learner is engaged in a personally meaningful activity outside of their head that makes the learning real and shareable.
According to Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager (2013), authors of Invent to Learn:
‘This shareable activity may take the form of a robot, musical composition, poem, conversation, or new hypothesis… This is much more than “hands-on” learning. The meaningful part of constructionism is not just touchy-feely new age language. It acknowledges that the power of making something comes from a question or an impulse that the learner has, and is not imposed from the outside… We seek to liberate learners from their dependency on being taught.’
By creating a makerspace, students are given the opportunity to take ownership of their own learning as they explore their own passions. Nevertheless, it is still possible to teach basic skills, and then “flip” the makerspace, so that students can innovate and build on what they have learnt.
A makerspace can be a fantastic way to bring creativity into the students’ learning and support deeper learning - adding value to what students already learn. Makerspaces can be the perfect environments in which to challenge students, to try to solve problems in new ways. These challenges can be created by either teachers or students. What is particularly exciting about a makerspace, is how this can impact lessons, as teachers can become more innovative owing to the various tools now easily accessible.
Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, talks about the importance of knowing your why: the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do. This is as important to keep in mind when designing a makerspace as just about any other venture. For this reason, the core values of the makerspace can be summed up as:
Work, Learn & Create
According to Laura Fleming, author of The Kickstart Guide to Making Great Makerspaces, great makerspaces begin with a vision for driving their space. As with all great ventures a makerspace should have a mission statement such as the one used by the robotics construction set, littleBits:
“Make something that does something.”
Regardless of the activity itself, this slogan should be the expectation for all students who use the makerspace room, to make something that does something.