Makerspaces: 4 Ways to Build Better Learners
Since the beginning of time, human beings have been creators and tinkerers. Many modern tools and services that we use today have been invented through trial, error, and experimentation. By this logic, the concept of a “maker” has been around for a long time. In the last decade, however, the word “Makers” (that’s right, with a capital “M!”) has encompassed an entire movement, galvanised by the spiked interest in creating physical items with digital tools and internet-shared plans and techniques. From knitters to coders to carpenters, the movement can be described as a fusion of several social and technological movements—including STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education, new media art, and a revived interest in handcrafts.
With the rise of the freelance economy and artisan and technological industries, the concept of communal access to materials and tools that people are unlikely able to have at home (such as laser cutters and industrial sewing machines) has gained popularity. Though Makers have largely connected to one another via the internet, a particularly interesting aspect about the movement is that it has found physical bases in the form of “makerspaces,” or places where “people with shared interests, especially in computing or technology, can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge.”
According to a Davee, Regalla and Chang report published in 2015, “Google Trends shows the search term “makerspace” has quadrupled in the past two years and is currently in its highest rate of growth in search frequency.”
The educational potential of makerspaces is gaining recognition, too. Below we outline a few ways the movement can provide opportunities for deeper learning, collaboration, innovation, and academic growth in general.
Why Makerspaces are Beneficial for K-12 Education
The turn of the 21st century has brought about a shift in the need for skillsets that have real, practical value in a rapidly changing world. As educators work to keep up with these changes, skills like creativity, design, and engineering are becoming priorities in places of learning.
In 2015, the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report: K-12 Edition claimed that “makerspaces are expected to be increasingly adopted by schools in one year’s time or less to make use of mobile learning and cultivate environments where students take ownership of their education by doing and creating.”
This prediction was accurate: Makerspaces are increasingly popping up in schools, libraries, and museums. Aside from the obvious advantage of advancing STEAM education, there are several other tangible reasons why makerspaces provide infinite value to K-12 students, whether they be in their schools or local communities.
1. Makerspaces Promote Grit
Angela Duckworth, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the importance of “grit,” believes that experiences of failure and perseverance through challenging tasks are necessary in order to develop the kind of higher-order thinking skills necessary in our rapidly changing world. She defines “grit” as the “tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.”
Think about a time you’ve observed a child get frustrated when they don’t get an answer correct or failed at an assignment. Our modern school systems and standardised testing regimens have programmed many students to see failure as a negative experience. Since Makerspaces encourage experimentation through trial and error, their incorporation in the learning process and the encouragement of failure is essential in balancing out this unfortunate psychological programming in students today.
2. Makerspaces Foster Critical Thinking
Along the same lines, Makerspaces create an excellent laboratory for critical thinking and real-life problem solving. Many of the skills used within such spaces are practical in their application, and can be taught in ways that require students to problem-solve with various factors and components in mind.
Whether kids are working on their own projects and ideas, or given an assignment to solve a problem using technical or artistic skills, makerspaces can be an exciting laboratory.
3. Makerspaces Provide Access to Communal Technology
Though access to tools such as 3D printers and laser cutters have become democratised via the creation of Makerbots and other more affordable technological tools, they are still inaccessible and require training to operate. Makerspaces make it possible for students to access and learn how to use such systems to make their creative visions a reality.
This act of being able to build something and bring ideas to life is key in learning and development.
As Kylie Peppler, an assistant professor of learning sciences at Indiana University, Bloomington and head of the Make to Learn Initiative puts it, “The act of construction externalises what kids know and allows them to reflect on the designing and action. The externalising of your ideas is really productive for learning and connecting with other people.”
4. Makerspaces Produce Creators, Not Consumers
As opposed to the more passive model of receiving information from an instructor, makerspaces encourage students to take on a more active role in the learning process. The central question moves from “What should I know?” to “What can I do with what I know?” Creation, rather than consumption, becomes the primary goal of the educational process. As a group of maker-minded educators at Campbell University in North Carolina puts it, the maker movement “reconfigures the learner as a producer rather than a consumer,” thereby facilitating more constructivist, hands-on learning.
Makerspaces for Youth and Students
The following list provides a few sample spaces that cater to helping young people become makers and hone their technological, engineering, art, and design skills, whether it be in a museum, private makerspace, or within a school.
The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh partnered with Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) and the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE) to create MAKESHOP at their museum.
They offer a wealth of classes in skills such as woodworking, circuitry, textile processes like sewing and weaving, stop-motion animation, electrical systems, and small appliances. Kids can experiment with a variety of materials, and a team of skilled makers and educators are available to help teach visiting children how to translate their visions into tangible objects.
Based in Melbourne, Australia, Make-Create is a membership-based community makerspace that offers classes for adults and students on topics ranging from drone-building to woodworking to learning how to build a Raspberry Pi. Their communal open workspace also has a host of tools for members to experiment with in building their own independent projects. From basic hand tools like hammers and screwdrivers, to more advanced tools including 3D Printers, they are happy to teach members how to use the 3D Printers, or they can even work on building their own!
As school libraries innovate to keep up with the times and expand their offerings beyond rented academic resource materials, several have recognised the value of evolving to serve as learning and making hubs.
At North Canton Elementary School in North Carolina, media specialists are working with teachers to create maker stations for students in their library media centers. The aim is to “provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they engage in STEM-related activities.”
There are two maker stations that the school as developed for students:
• Virtual Reality: Using VR headsets, students can “ride through the eye of a tornado, explore systems of the human body and tour Egyptian pyramids.” These communal VR headsets allow students to make connections between what they are learning about in the classroom with interactive 3D experiences.
• Robots: The other maker station is the Dash and Dot Robot duo. Students learn to code which enables them to make the robots sing, dance, and navigate the media center. This of course is an exciting element for students who like to see the power of their knowledge and skills in action!
The horizon looks promising for the implementation of more makerspaces and maker culture practices in general in educational systems.
In their whitepaper on Maker-Centered Learning, Harvard research initiative Agency by Design comments on the educational sector’s relationship to the Maker movement, explaining that “schools are building out or repurposing spaces for maker-centered activities. Shop classes that were once de-commissioned and cut from curricula are being rebranded as makerspaces and tinkering labs. Tech Ed positions are replacing Ed Techs, as schools move to embed technology teachers into their programs. Across the country educators, policy-makers, and researchers alike are beginning to investigate the tools, tricks, and trends of the maker trade.”
Hoping to find a makerspace near you? For a full listing of makerspaces around the world, check out Makerspace.com’s worldwide directory.