Keys to Creating Makerspaces
The maker movement is poised to transform K12 learning. Makerspaces—workshop areas that provide tools and raw materials for students to invent, create, collaborate and learn—reinforce STEM skills and enable more authentic learning. While there are a variety of ways to design and build makerspaces, there are some key strategies administrators can employ to ensure their program is successful.
This web seminar focused on key strategies for creating makerspaces, with insights from administrators at the Toms River Regional Schools in New Jersey and the Wallingford Public Schools in Connecticut, two districts with innovative, cutting-edge makerspace programs. Presenters highlighted tips for designing the room, aligning curriculum and selecting the right tools and materials, and a grant funding expert outlined some of the financial resources that are available to support a district’s makerspaces.
Toms River Regional Schools (N.J.)
Makerspaces are one of the few places where there’s open access to materials, student choice and creativity—they are places where technology meets the woodshop, art meets science, and students use engineering notebooks and tools to plan, explore, redesign, fail and try again. It’s a place for authentic problem-based learning and application of so many things we learn about in school.
Many people look at these as spaces for their gifted and talented children, but this is a place where different students bring a variety skills to the table, all of which are equally valuable and viable. Makerspaces are inclusive. Students with hands-on engineering and design skills are not always “gifted and talented” children.
Makerspaces empower children to share their ideas with a broad audience and engage the community, whether it’s by inviting in parents, professionals or community members live or virtually, synchronously or asynchronously. This raises the bar for all student work. Today we are able to share with classes around the corner or around the globe.
Wallingford Public Schools (Conn.)
We’re always trying to be innovative in how we provide education to our students. We not only believe that we need to ignite our students’ capabilities to be creative, innovative and successful, but we also need to continue to ignite the passion of our teachers and our administrators.
We all know that engagement unfortunately decreases over the course of the years that a student is in a K12 system. So we wanted to look at the ways that makerspaces could address this challenge, and transform the challenge into an opportunity. We also believe that enabling staff to see connections to other content areas is essential in makerspace development. Then students are able to tap into their interests and extend their knowledge and understanding.
Soft skills—empathy, communication, ethics, work ethic—all of those skills were so important to us when we developed our makerspaces. We actually went to the community and the businesses in our area and saw that these were important pieces to the puzzle that we needed to put together for our graduates. We want to make sure students are getting more out of their diploma than they ever have.
Makerspaces should be considered a need, not a want. We do not live in a time financially where programs could be implemented that are “nice to have.” They should be needed. Those are the programs that get implemented in districts.
Lucey: For your room and your room design, you can start with a cart. I know that that’s not the ideal vision that you have, but you want to be able to have these spaces be mobile so that different classes have a way to participate. Another thing to consider is a corner—just providing tools that are out and available to students to allow them to work independently.
You might also want to consider what you would do if you had an entire course. We converted a traditional woodshop into a makerspace with 21st Century tools and settings. This was made incredibly easy by working with the Office Depot design team. They started with our vision and what we were trying to accomplish, and then they raised the potential for student learning and success.
When you think about learning materials, often they’re behind the desk, they’re stashed away, they’re in a closet. But in a makerspace, they’re out and available to everyone. You can start with a nice low budget—some glue guns, googly eyes and pom-poms. Then of course you get into the higher-tech stuff, things like 3D printers, CNC routers or vinyl cutters.
We also have access and choice. The students can just go and grab what they need and get to work. This is a dream space. This is a space where students can and will make decisions, find success, or learn to fail and keep on trying.
Menzo: In Wallingford we’ve been able to establish a high school Capstone experience, and we wanted to make sure that our district culture was such that it is the end of the journey for our graduates. Again, we wanted to focus on a need versus a want—that implementing makerspaces was going to actually lead toward an outcome that had overall meaning for our students and our staff.
Over the last two years we have developed a grade 3 through 5 course that is a mini-mini-Capstone. Then we have our 6 through 8 course which is a mini-Capstone. The difference between the courses is not that significant, except that we’ve been trying to stretch the students’ understanding of the concepts and design thinking.
The basis for our curriculum is a three-phase process. The first part focuses on defining and identifying the problem, because students often rush to the solution. The second phase is to focus on brainstorming and to develop a prototype. The third focuses on the creating—that’s when the space becomes a vital opportunity for the students. This is the part of the process where we start seeing students have those self-actualization skills such as perseverance.
What is the strategy to pursue funding for your makerspace? It’s like search-and-rescue. We seek out funds. We do deep analysis to make sure they fit or match your need. If you’re going to invest the time in applying for grants, you want to be very clear first that there is funding available, and second that your needs are aligned with the grant criteria and priorities. We want you to consider fertile paths to funding.
I want to encourage you to be an advocate for makerspaces because they are a valuable and recognized part of the well-rounded education that we are seeing emphasized under the Every Student Succeeds Act. As we move into this, there will be more flexibility for funding and deciding how those funds will be used by local and state education agencies.
If you remember the three-part strategy for funding—search, analyze and match—you will be in great shape. Keep searching, keep analyzing, keep matching, and you’re going to find the funds for your makerspace.
To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit: www.districtadministration.com/ws092816