When considering classroom environments, one of the most engaging approaches is a makerspace. But setting them up, using them effectively and ensuring these spaces are more than a fun activity can be a challenge. This guide helps you generate makerspace ideas that set all students up for success.
Use this table of contents to help you quickly find what you need:
1. What is a Makerspace?
Let’s start with what a makerspace is, and the extensions of this definition. A makerspace is a DIY space for exploration where people can gather to create, invent and learn. It’s an active making-centered area. This can take on lots of different applications in schools, communities and even businesses.
In schools, makerspaces are dedicated areas where students can use hands-on techniques and tools to make something new, discover problems and solutions, and to consider how their learning of discreet skills and concepts can be applied in real life.
Some schools are developing dedicated makerspace areas in empty spaces or classrooms in the building. Others are retooling their libraries to contain a makerspace zone and still others have makerspaces within the general classroom.
These are spaces in your local community that invite artisans, craftsmen and sometimes the general public a place to come in and create items of their own. In fact, this is how the dongle for Square, the portable credit card processing system, was first created. These can be dedicated spaces like Makersmiths in Virginia or they can be found in a dedicated area of your local library.
Many times, these community makerspaces also provide classes in everything from woodworking to 3D printing. They contain equipment that would be difficult for the average person to purchase on their own. They also provide a co-working space for makers to collaborate.
This is the newest model of makerspace to pop up. This is when local businesses in your community house a makerspace for the public to use. Often, they are tied to tech companies like Ting as a way to connect the community to maker resources that might otherwise not be available.
2. How to Create a Makerspace
As you begin creating a makerspace, consider the type of place and partnerships (if any) you want to cultivate. If working with partners, you may want to ask local businesses, organizations and arts groups for support. This support can be in supplies, funding or even hands-on classes. Concordia University has a starter eBook with a good “reach-out” letter you can use for this. We also have a helpful guide for finding funding to support your arts integration and makerspace ideas.
In terms of what items to include, most makerspaces can be built inexpensively to start. Many people think you need expensive supplies like Little Bits or 3D Printers to start, but that’s not always the case. Take a look at this list of 114 Tips to Create a Makerspace which has a list of supplies from least expensive to most pricey. This is a good place to begin when looking at pricing out your effort.
Building it Out
Depending on your intention for the space, the options for building out your space are widely varied. Remember: these spaces are intended to allow for creating, inventing and learning. So what items will allow you to do that with students in new and interesting ways?
Certainly, you can go with 3D printing stations and have students explore the process of taking a design and turning it into a 3D, tangible object. But you could just as easily include items like sewing machines, culinary tools and AutoDesk stations.
You can also go for a more budget-friendly approach and include things like a Tinker Station that has random parts from old machines – think bolts, washers, random chips from old computers – as well as some adhesives and connectors for students to build and create models for specific lessons or designs. Need more? Try this comprehensive guide from School Specialty.
Create Your Intention
The idea here is that you’re building a makerspace to serve your intention. Are you looking for this to be a place for more organic discovery? Or do you only want students to use the makerspace for specific projects or ideas? That will determine what items you need and how you design the layout. And if you need some ideas for organizing the space, check out our budget-friendly organization hacks for makerspaces. This can help you build out your space at a lower cost.
And don’t feel like you need to be confined to an indoor space! You can take your makerspaces outside, too. That’s exactly what Jeff Mather does as the STEAM artist-in-residence with Drew Charter School’s TinkerYard. This project provided students with a place to plan their new playground and then build it outside. The making takes place in multiple areas and isn’t confined to a single classroom.
3. Makerspace Ideas for Schools
Speaking of areas for making, makerspaces in schools can extremely flexible. Which can also pose a problem. Sometimes, the lines get blurry when we’re talking about makerspaces, libraries and STEAM labs. We’ve already highlighted what a makerspace is and how to create it. Let’s take a look at the other two commonly used references.
A library is a collection of informational resources for reference or borrowing. It provides physical or digital access to material, and may be a physical building or room, or a virtual space, or both.
Libraries can be a hub for creativity. They are a learning environment for individuals to gather research and to explore a variety of texts. They can also serve as a place for teams of people to plan innovation through technological means. Sometimes, this is the place where schools house their computer labs, 3D printers, and other technology tools.
A STEAM Lab is a place for teachers to lead pre-planned, guided content that integrates Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math standards. STEAM Labs often serve as the springboard to moving from a pure makerspace to a more focused lesson using the makerspace foundation.
Future Ready Schools
All three of these visions for making can be woven into the Future Ready Schools effort that is having an impact in 30 states and counting. This effort seeks to “maximize digital learning opportunities and help school districts move quickly toward preparing students for success in college, a career, and citizenship.”
One way to make that possible is through the intentional design and use of makerspaces in schools. Not just as a way to provide digital learning opportunities, but to tie those opportunities into lessons through hands-on learning in and through the arts. How?
Intentional Design and Delivery
Connecting your makerspace to the curriculum is the single best way to ensure these spaces are most effective for student learning. Making just to make is absolutely necessary for students to explore their own creative practice. But at some point, that needs to move into a direct connection and application with what they’re learning in the classroom.
This is where makerspaces can really go to the next level. If you design a makerspace that is flexible enough for students to create in a variety of methods, while also providing the framework of a learning experience, students will make stronger connections to the discreet content they are studying. These connections are what enable them to experiment, reflect and revise.
By creating an intentional lesson design that includes time for making, the makerspace becomes an extension of the learning process, rather than an event in and of itself.
To do this, try working backwards.
Want students to create an art bot? You’ve got to to discuss circuitry and artistic design first.
Want to design that new playground? Students need to learn about measurement, the design process and environmental changes that could effect the equipment.
Start with the end in mind and determine where that fits into the components of your curriculum as it stands now. Then, weave a makerspace in as part of your new lesson process.
4. Community Makerspace Ideas
The Beck Center at Georgetown University shares that makerspaces are places that promote community and city development. These spaces allow for community members to have access to a world of new tools and technology, and are centers for open collaboration. This offers the following benefits:
Creating social capital
Providing accessibility that enable users to take action
The ability to scale local projects
This resource from Invent to Learn highlights where you can find community makerspaces and hackerspaces worldwide. Looking to start your own? Try contacting one or more of these current spaces to find out their process for starting. You’ll also want to discuss their model for revenue generation and how they use their space to connect with the community.
5. Makerspace Lesson Resources
Ready to take your makerspace to the next level? Then you’ll need some lessons, resources or curricula to make this process effective. Here are some sources to get you started:
- Makerspace for Education Curriculum Guide
- Colleen Graves’ Maker Education Lessons Page
- Gretchen Renshaw’s Makerspace Lesson Plans
- Community Science Network Resources
- Instructables Projects
- MakerEd Resources
- How to Build Your Makerspace Guide
- Maker Fair Classroom Pack
- Edutopia’s Resources for Maker Education
Hopefully, this guide has given you everything you need for a makerspace in your classroom, school or community. If you’d like a more hands-on learning experience, try out our Designed to STEAM online course. It’s one of the best ways you can create STEAM lessons that tie into your new maker-centered classroom.
Do you have a makerspace? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.