“Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve as a gathering point for tools, projects, mentors and expertise. A collection of tools does not define a Makerspace. Rather, we define it by what it enables: making.”
~ Makerspace Playbook, School Edition (2013)
This past year I have been drawn to learn more about Makerspaces. I knew the basics. A Makerspace is a place where you create. They can be located in several places including schools. I also knew that each one is unique and one in its own. This year was my school’s first year implementing a Makerspace. It was a new idea to many, and it was great to see all of the unique “making” activities that our Teacher Librarian was facilitating. During a project for my DEL program, I constructed a small program evaluation. I was curious about teacher involvement in our school’s Makerspace. It provided a lot of good feedback, and in the process I learned a lot about Makerspaces. When presented with the task to do an independent practicum, I knew I wanted to explore more Makerspaces around my district. I contacted a few people that were recommended by my Teacher Librarian. All of them were very receptive and agreed to give me a tour of their Makerspaces. I was able to go visit 3 Makerspaces in different schools around my district in Vancouver, Washington. I thought of some guiding questions that I would keep in mind while I visited.
What activities do students participate in? How did you collect materials? How are teacher involved? How is your Makerspace utilized? How is the Makerspace funded?
The first Makerspace I visited was in a high school. It was located in the school’s library. The TL here was involving students in many different roles around the library and Makerspace. Students run the IT help desk in the library and help fellow students figure out tech problems. She praised a group of boys that are constantly help her troubleshoot many tech problems. One small conversation stands out in my mind from that visit. One of the high schoolers asked me “What is a Makerspace to you” to which I replied, “Well, I think it is a space where you can create.” “Well then technically one half of my room is a Makerspace then.” He joked. This made me smile. He had a point. That is the cool thing about Makerspace. They come in many different forms and are unique to the creating that takes place. This Makerspace was primarily used by students during their lunch period.There was a sewing station, a take apart area and a tech area with a 3D printer and an HP Sprout. There were trays of puzzle pieces, duct tape for wallets, paper for origami and so many more boxes of supplies. Every week there is a “featured” project that students can participate in if they want. She creates posters advertising the activities and posts them around the school to promote the chosen activity. Some projects had been very popular with students and some hadn’t generated much interest. Regardless of what project was being created during the week, students were welcome to work on whatever they chose. She showed me fidget cubes that students had been creating with the 3D printer and demonstrated the animations they could create with the HP Sprout. It was amazing to see the resources that were available in the Makerspace. I was curious of how all of these resources were provided. She said the a lot of big technology items like the 3D printer and Sprout were obtained from a grant. All of the other materials were donated, collected over time or purchased for the Makerspace. All throughout my visit students came and went. It was a busy bustling library, yet oddly calm. It was amazing to me how student directed the Makerspace was. Students were there in every role. The teacher librarian I visited with was so incredibly knowledgeable and a great facilitator. It was very apparent how drawn the kids were to her and the Makerspace.
The second Makerspace I visited was unique in the sense that it was in its infancy. This Makerspace was at a middle school in their library. The teacher librarian had just recently gotten the Makerspace approved by her principal and had cleared a computer cove out to make room for Makerspace supplies and space for activities. We talked about how great it was that her principal had approved the removal of some computers from the area and how important it was to have that buy in from her administration. I was really impressed with the amount of materials she had compiled. There were things like buttons, screw and bolts, legos, thread, yarn, paper, cardboard and even bags of styrofoam that was being collected for future bean bag chairs. I think it was important to see a Makerspace that was just being set up. She described to me future plans of the Makerspace, and changes she had already planned to make. A huge portion of her materials had been donated by parents at the school. She pointed out boxes to me that were full of donated items that she hadn’t even gone through yet, getting excited about the prospect of opening up the unknown treasures. This Makerspace was being utilized by students after school and as an option during a reward period that students had monthly. She had also helped facilitate lessons with various teachers in different classes.I was shown a mobile tool box with wheels that she was thinking about creating a sort of “mobile Makerspace.” I thought that was a great idea. It would make it so much more accessible and create the opportunity for the teacher librarian to go into classrooms or for classroom teachers to check it out and do makerspace activities in their classrooms. It was helpful to see a Makerspace that was just beginning. I got a glimpse at the planning stage, with goal setting and many possible future outcomes for the school’s Makerspace.
The third Makerspace I toured in my district was in an elementary school. This Makerspace was its own classroom. It was an entire room just dedicated for making. It was amazing! I saw expectations posted and an area to include learning targets with Makerspace activities. The teacher librarian that ran this Makerspace had applied for, and received a grant to fund Makerspace supplies. She had everything from robotics to cardboard boxes to actual tools the kids could use. A problem that she was currently troubleshooting was that she was having to get permission from the state for her elementary kids to be able to use tools for projects. Even a tool as basic as a hot glue gun needed permissions. Currently, only adult are allowed to use the tools. She envisioned an entire new level of student led projects as soon as all of the permissions were worked out. This was a component I would have never had thought of. When I see all of these tools and materials, I automatically assume they are just okay for anybody to use. A lot of Makerspace is so new and there are some things that seem to still not be clearly defined. One of those things was a scope and sequence for Makerspace. She was interested in creating something that outlined a progression of skills that could be mastered in kindergarten through fifth grade. This scope and sequence could be used when creating Makerspace activities and could give teachers a specific target or objective. The classroom was available for signup and any teacher could come in and do activities with or without the help of the teacher librarian. The most exciting thing that I learned about this space, was that next year they were going to fund a k-3 teacher specifically for Makerspace. This is the first I had heard of a position like this, and it sounds amazing. It would be a sort of trial run. I am interested to see how that position works out and if it may become more common in my district and others.
I observed so many great things when I went to these 3 Makerspace locations in my district. Each one was at a different school level, yet there were so many similarities in materials and projects. It was great to see how these similarities formed a foundation to the Makerspaces, but each one was unique in many different ways. I learned a lot about logistics like obtaining, storing and facilitating supplies. Supplies were either purchased through dedicated funds or more commonly donated by parents and staff. I observed how the different spaces were utilized in a way that supported their school best and how that role could look different. There were various levels of teacher involvement and librarian support. I found each experience very beneficial and hope to use the knowledge I absorbed to contribute positively and add value to my school’s Makerspace in the near future.