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Make Space for Makerspace

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Let’s get to the bottom of it

Recently there has been a lot of discussion on adding makerspaces within the school districts I am working with. However, from district-to-district there is variation between what a makerspace means to each district and how it is (or will be) used.

To clear things up makerspaces are simply a community space with tools and materials. These spaces bring together manufacturing equipment, technology, community and education for the purposes of enabling members to design, prototype and create (spaces.makerspace.com).

These spaces should take form based on each school’s specific needs, and the real key to the success is the right curriculum. In order for students to truly reap the benefits of a makerspace, we must challenge them to think outside of the box and explore using resources to solve problems.

An interesting element of these spaces is we’re asking students to use developing technology to further their knowledge rather than allowing the technology to replace it. This is exciting! Makerspaces should encourage students to learn from trial and error while digging deeper for big ideas through invention and hands-on design.

When it comes down to it, I believe the true purpose of a makerspace is to develop lifelong skills such as curiosity, creativity and the ability to learn in 3D. A makerspace should support the growth of these skills and allow students to learn in a more personalized way.

Is it here to stay?

Makerspaces are more than a trend and I really believe they are here to stay. Here’s my thinking:

  • We are creating a space for what we already know: Studies and research prove students learn best through hands-on, self-directed learning. It results in greater retention, critical thinking skills, collaboration, creativity and "a deeper understanding."
  • I have seen and experienced successful makerspaces not only in schools, but also in the community. Examples of this are my participation in a Makerspace exercise while attending the 2014 national conference of Council of Educational Facilities Planners International (CEFPI) in Portland, OR and a recent visit to the Milwaukee, WI community-based makerspace, which is open to the public.
  • The job market. We have to give students the direction and tools they need to succeed in the future job market. Makerspaces are a catalyst for future changes in the curriculum, such as more classes in STE(A)M and Project Lead the Way efforts.

Making your makerspace

The great thing about makerspaces is they don’t necessarily require intense new construction or renovations. In fact, they can be cost effective – depending on the size and equipment needed.

While there has been a lot of attention on providing access to manufacturing trades such as steel fabrication, laser cutting and 3D printing, your makerspace doesn’t have to include all of the latest and the greatest technology. Many of the school districts I am working with focus on more traditional arts and crafts like knitting or Legos ™, while others might support more advanced technology. Makerspaces are for all ages, but and some schools DO put power tools in the hands of kindergarteners.

Thinking about the future of makerspaces in education, wouldn’t it be great if we could meld various subjects into one exciting creative space? A hub for creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit. A space that supports art, woods, metals, textiles, technology, etc.? Think about the possibilities! This concept could save money, increase collaboration and create innovation.

Most school districts we’re working with are creating makerspaces in the space they already have. We are, however, starting to see dedicated, central – open and flexible spaces being purposefully designed into new schools.

When it comes down to the basic design of a makerspace the fundamental concept is flexibility, which is true for all learning environments. Flexible spaces allow for more than one activity and are adaptable to the ever-changing technologies.

So now what?

Are you contemplating a Makerspace? What would you want your makerspace to do for your students or community? How can we better support the maker’s movement in our schools connecting these spaces to business and industry in our communities?

Answer these questions and you are on your way to a successful Makerspace that will encourage creativity, collaboration and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Robert Vajgrt, AIA, LEED AP, CDT

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