How To Get Started With A Makerspace

Learn how you can get started with makerspaces!
Contributed By

Will Deyamport, III, Ed.D

Instructional Technologist and Host of the Dr. Will Show

How To Get Started With A Makerspace

Posted in Evolving Ed | January 21, 2020

Have you come across the term makerspace or maker education but are not quite sure what they mean? Maybe you have heard of the term at a conference or come up in a tweet, but are not sure how it can be incorporated into your classroom. Makerspaces have been around for quite some time and reflect a growing movement that derives from the Maker Movement, which encourages tinkering, exploration, and ultimately making. Let’s explore this concept and delve into ways it can fit into your classroom setting.

What is a Makerspace?

A makerspace refers to a communal space that is utilized for the purposes of creating something new or improving an existing item or prototype. The ultimate goal of a makerspace is for individuals to collaborate and share their creations. Makerspaces can be housed in public libraries, universities, or even a classroom or home. Experts say no two makerspaces will look alike and each makerspace is defined by the culture of its school or institution that houses it. 

While some offer more high-tech, expensive equipment like laser cutters, 3D printers, soldering irons, and more, others include materials as simple as art supplies, Legos, cardboard and a variety of hands-on kits. Further, makerspaces tend to focus on building skills across areas such as science, 3D printing and modeling, woodworking, robotics, STEM, and even entrepreneurship. The ultimate goal of a makerspace is to inspire participants to collaborate and create something from scratch that relates to something that they are interested or passionate about. So, it’s not only about the space itself, but what can be done in that space. 

How do Makerspaces Benefit Learners?

Makerspaces are interactive in that they allow the learner to lead their own pursuit of creation. Makerspaces provide open-ended learning opportunities where learners use trial and error to come up with different solutions to problems or challenges they face as they are creating new prototypes or inventions. This encourages students to take risks and try new approaches when they fail, which is important during the learning process. 

By putting learners in the driver’s seat, they build higher-order thinking and problem solving skills throughout the learning process. This in turn promotes a sense of self confidence since they are the ones who are making decisions for their creation and/or project along the way.  

Not One-Size-Fits-All Solution

As you research makerspaces, you will come across many definitions and interpretations of what one should look like. It is important to keep in mind, however, that a makerspace is what you make of it. If you decide to start one in your classroom, don’t get caught up in what others have available. Focus on your overall goals for having a makerspace in the first place. 

As mentioned earlier, makerspaces are unique and should reflect their school or institution’s culture. SA makerspace should not be judged or defined by the equipment it has or doesn’t have but rather the experiences they provide learners. Other experts similarly warn schools and districts not to fall into the trap of being mesmerized by expensive equipment for makerspaces. Many problems arise from this mentality and can lead to districts or schools avoiding makerspaces due to budgetary constraints or even teachers and librarians who don’t feel comfortable with new technology and equipment. 

In order for makerspaces to integrate seamlessly into schools they must be accessible and applicable to the classroom setting. There’s more to makerspaces than technology and equipment, and finding ways to integrate the maker mindset into everyday learning experiences that both engage and meet the needs of learners should be at the core of it all. 

Creating Space for a Makerspace

The core of the makerspace is the actual physical space that will be utilized. As referenced, a makerspace is not about fancy equipment but rather the learning experiences you wish to create for your students. After establishing your learning goals and objectives for your makerspace, here are some tips on how to transform a space such as a classroom or library into a fully functioning makerspace. 

  1. First, the space must be flexible, open, and adjustable to allow for collaboration, exploration, tinkering, and sharing among those who will use it. 
  2. Next, materials should be organized in a way that is accessible to all participants. Some materials can be as basic as cardboard, paper, old books to craft materials like pipe cleaners, paint, felt, and fabric scraps. For a complete list of other materials, see Gerstien’s list under Affordable and Scavenged Materials in the article cited above. 
  3. Having materials easily available is crucial because oftentimes they can be a source of inspiration for creation. 
  4. Having open spaces to create a mess during the creation phase is also welcome and should not be a hindrance when it comes to makerspaces. 
  5. More importantly is engagement which should be at the forefront of all makerspaces. 
  6. Students should have choice and drive the direction of their creations and or prototypes at all times and these creations should tap into student interests. 

Tips for Getting Started 

As with any new project or idea, it’s best not to reinvent the wheel. The same can be said for makerspace projects. While the goal of a makerspace project is to keep it open-ended and student-driven, there are a set of strategies that can help guide your makers if they need a bit more direction with their project or creation. 

First, it is important to outline what you want to learn as a result of your project. This can be done by narrowing the focus to a specific skill that you want to acquire and a tool or medium that will be used to acquire that skill. For example, if your students want to learn coding and programming (skill), they can use platforms (mediums) such as code.org or Scratch.  

The next step is to examine others’ work or creations. For example, to see other projects for coding, users can go to Scratch and go under Explore to see projects that other members of the Scratch community have created. If possible, encourage your learners to seek out members in your school or community who have the set of skills they are wishing to build to ask questions and seek guidance for their own projects. This may require that the teacher research some local organizations or colleges. Another source of inspiration can also be found from pictures of projects you wish you to create that were found online. 

Finally, encourage your makers to start collecting materials that they can use or try out for their projects.  

Starter Projects and Ideas for Inspiration

While each makerspace is different, you will find some similarities when it comes to skills and types of projects. Projects and skills that are typical in makerspaces are, but are not limited to: 

  • Coding and programming
  • Robotics
  • 3D printing and modeling
  • Art
  • Do-it-yourself (DIY) projects
  • Sewing and knitting
  • Circuits and paper circuits
  • Laser cutting
  • Soldering
  • Wood work

Whichever direction your makerspace takes, always consider leaving projects open-ended and focus on those that gauge student interests. Below are some resources that your learners can explore to jump start their maker journey. 

Wonderopolis.org- This is an interactive site that presents topics through “wonders” or questions via nonfiction articles, visuals, and videos. The site features a “Wonder of the Day” and visitors have the option to search their own wonders or questions. Also worth checking out is their Camp Wonderopolis, which provides a free online summer program focusing on STEM topics and correlating maker projects throughout. This would be a great resource for how to organize and present starter projects. 

Diy.org- This is a creative online hub that offers courses and step-by-step videos in different areas for kids to try out as well as post and provide feedback on creative projects. A few of their online course offerings include: photography, drawing bootcamp, invent your own machine, and more. One thing to note is that there is a subscription fee but you can explore with their free trial. This site is best suited for families who wish to encourage more making with children in a safe online space. 

Instructables.org- This is an online community of makers who post step-by-step instructions and examples of projects made. This is an excellent visual resource for inspiration for makers of all levels. The instructions section is also a great starting point for beginners because they provide pictures for each step. Other neat features of this site if that you are able to download, comment, ask a question, or offer a tip, which encourages the maker process. 

Code.org- If you are interested in trying out coding and programming with your students, this is perhaps the most popular site to do so. The Hour of Code has been a movement that started back in December of 2013, and has since grown each year. You will find a variety of tutorials and courses that your students can try out based on popular characters or shows such as Angry Birds, Disney’s Frozen and Moana, and Star Wars.  

What makes this site the most relevant is that they gauge interest through popular culture characters and even music through their Dance Party Edition in order to teach basic level programming skills. You also have the option of creating accounts for your students to enroll them in free online courses that offer more depth into coding concepts or just having them try out the shorter tutorials online without saving their work. Finally, the code.org is a community where students with accounts can share their work and explore others’ work and where teachers can connect to seek face-to-face workshops and other learning opportunities to learn how to teach programming. 

Makerspaces have the potential to put your students in the driver’s seat when it comes to their learning and particularly exploring their interests. While makerspaces aren’t new concept in K-12 education, it is important to remember to cater them to your students’ needs. Many times, schools and districts can get caught up with what they envision a makerspace should look like and lose focus on the essence of making and how that looks for their own school or classroom. What’s so cool about makerspaces is that they can have different focuses and tap into a variety of skills and interests.

Do you have any other tips for getting started with makerspaces? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology

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