April 17, 2016

A Makerspace - Why? Where? How?

The makerspace movement is the hottest new trend in education.  They are popping up in many elementary, middle, and high schools across the state and nation.  As a teacher librarian, I serve on the makerspace committees in both of my elementary buildings.  The makerspaces in each building are new, and were launched this school year.  In a series of upcoming blog posts, I’d like to provide others insight into starting, operating, and maintaining a makerspace.  Today’s post will discuss the philosophy explaining why a makerspace is important, where makerspaces can be located, and how makerspaces can be utilized.

Makerspaces are revolutionizing the way educators approach teaching and learning.  Built on the idea of constructivism, they provide personalized learning, inquiry-based instruction, and promote STEAM.  Makerspaces can be defined as a unique “place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials” (Diana Rendina, Renovated Learning).  By creating authentic learning experiences, makerspaces provide hands-on, student-centered learning.  They foster creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving skills, while promoting collaboration as students work together to create projects and complete design challenges.  Makerspaces allow students to explore their own interests, allowing choice on learning activities and approaches to task completion.  Most of all,  makerspaces encourage a growth mindset as students redesign, solve, and persevere through complex, and often challenging, assignments.

You know a makerspace is a valuable addition to schools, but where is a makerspace located?  The makerspaces in both of my buildings are very different.  In one elementary, our makerspace is located in a room connected to the media center.  There are five work tables (no chairs) and shelves full of tinkering items.  If you have an available room in your building, I highly recommend turning it into a makerspace.  Having makerspace items stored within the tinker space allows for a one stop shop for creation with a variety of resources.  If you do not have an open room in your school, you can still have a makerspace.  For instance, in my other elementary building we have makerspace items stored on shelves for teachers to bring to their classrooms to use.  I truly believe that a physical space is not needed to have a makerspace in a school.  A maker mindset can be promoted anywhere!  In fact, having access to a limited amount of items/supplies forces students to adapt and seek alternate solutions to their design and creation challenges.  Worry less about the physical space of a makerspace, and focus on the mindset of a maker environment.
Regardless of where your makerspace is located, how it’s utilized by staff and students is an important aspect.  In my elementary building with a makerspace room, it is signed out by teachers to use with their students.  Teachers either allow students freedom to create or tinker, create stations with specific learning activities, or ask students to complete a specific STEAM challenge.  If teachers want help using the makerspace with their students, the gifted teacher and myself can be scheduled to assist.  In my building without a physical makerspace room, teachers can sign out the makerspace items to bring back to their classroom.  Once again, teachers can allow students time to discovery play or they can create tables of design challenges or ask students to solve a STEAM challenge.   If teachers want assistance, I can be scheduled to help.  As a teacher librarian, I am not in the specials rotation.  Teachers see me to schedule lessons taught independently and in partnership with them.  If you are a teacher librarian within the specials rotation, you could offer makerspace time to your already scheduled classes.  If you are a teacher librarian on a flexible schedule in a middle or high school, you could have a makerspace within your library for students to utilize during their study hall period. 

If you’re considered starting a makerspace at your school, I hope this post was helpful.  There are many ways to bring a makerspace to your staff and students.  Find what works best for your school, and go for it.  The unique learning provided by a makerspace is too valuable to not try and start somewhere.  Please stay tuned for my next post on items to include in a makerspace.  I’ll offer my advice on what to purchase first and later, as well as suggestions for donated items.

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