Makerspaces are spaces designed to support hands-on learning experiences and opportunities to explore technology. They have grown out of events designed to promote innovation that have emerged over the past decade.
In 2006, Maker Faire began in the San Francisco Bay Area as a place for technology enthusiasts to come together and explore new technologies. This launch illustrated the growing interest in hands-on activities and popularity of making new things. In 2014, 119 independently-produced Mini and 14 Featured Maker Faires occurred around the world, from Detroit to Rome, to Tokyo and Shenzhen.
As interest and buzz around makerspaces has grown, their popularity has been noticed in education circles. While educators, employers, parents and politicians lament the lack of STEM competencies in today’s youth, makerspaces are seen as a way of introducing students and teachers to constructivist learning in a risk-free environment.
The New Medium Consortium’s 2016 Higher Education Edition Horizon Report points to makerspaces as an important development in educational technology for higher education, predicting a time-to-adoption rate of two to three years. Makerspaces are also being introduced in K-12 classrooms to inspire creativity. Why should you bring the concept to your school district, and how can you do it most effectively?
Makerspaces in Higher Ed
The MakeSchools Higher Education Alliance, formed by a group of colleges and universities, supports the maker movement on campuses. In their 2015 report, contributors representing alliance members reviewed 40 campuses and concluded that makerspaces have fostered the spread of active learning, cross-disciplinary approaches, and creativity in higher education.
According to many of the colleges and universities featured in the report, the addition of maker culture and learning was valuable because its interdisciplinary nature allows students personalized and unrestricted hands-on learning experiences. Representatives from these institutes of higher learning reported that making engages “multiple dimensions of campus activities—education, research, entrepreneurship” (North Carolina A&T), and “is the essence of creativity and invention in both the arts and technology” (Carnegie Mellon University). It’s a trend students can expect to see now when studying in colleges and universities.
Makerspaces in K-12
This learning process isn’t just limited to postsecondary, nor should it be that way. Makerspaces can introduce K-12 children to 3-D printing, robotics, virtual reality and more. Albemarle County Public Schools have experimented with various ways to best implement makerspaces in K-12 classrooms.
Additionally, the White House and the U.S. Department of Education are revving up their support for more makerspaces. There are plans for a three-pronged approach, which includes a series of career and technical education makeover challenges and a “Maker Promise” campaign to encourage more students to participate in the push.
Libraries are getting in on the action, too. Makerspaces are a great way for libraries to serve as a hub for exploration and learning in the 21st century. According to EdTech magazine, the increase of makerspaces in libraries is helping them fit into the modern world, with investments in 3-D printers and similar technology that can help students engage in innovation.
Makerspaces for PD
Students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from makerspaces. The concept represents opportunities for professional development (PD) for teachers as well, providing a low-pressure, high-tech opportunity to engage with various types of technologies.
Makerspaces can provide a range of tech interactions to serve the needs of newbies as well as tech aficionados, from simply getting beginner makers to feel comfortable with software and hardware to teaching advanced makers more about digital fabrication. EdSurge suggests devoting one staff meeting every other month to exploration and sharing in order to make the time for teachers to enjoy the social learning experiences, just like their students do.
How to Hold a Makerfaire
Colleges and universities blazing the makerspace trail offer this advice for getting started at your school. Begin with the interests of the students. Hold a brainstorming session and listen to what they are interested in making. Bring in things to spark conversation, and read up on what is coming out of major labs.
Check in with other makers online through hashtags, blogs, and groups. A growing list of makers resources exist on the web. Also, look into pairing with local museums, libraries, and schools to see who is making and could be interested in partnering with you.
Takeaway: Makerspaces represent a great way to introduce students and teachers to technology. As technology continues to emerge and develop, the concept can be adapted to ensure that these audiences are introduced to new options in settings that encourage interaction and innovation across all levels of education.
1. “A Bit of History” Maker Faire. 2016
2. “NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Report” New Medium Consortium. 2016.
3. “Introducing MakeSchools” Carnegie Mellon University. 2016.
4. “Nation of Makers” Carnegie Mellon University. 2016.
5. “MakeSchools Higher Education Alliance State of Making Report” Carnegie Mellon University. June 2015.
6. “White House and Barack Obama Scale Up TechHire Initiative, Push for More Makerspaces in K-12” EdSurge. March 8, 2016.
7. “Tech Pushes That Are Preparing K-12 Students For the Future Workforce” Education World. May 1, 2016.
8. Makerspace Resources Rowman and Littlefield. 2014.
9. “Libraries Use Makerspaces, Social Engagement to Become ‘Third Places’” Education World. January 29, 2016.
10. “Five Ways to Create More Teacher Rockstars in Your School” EdSurge. March 9, 2016.
11. “How to Lead Professional Development for Makerspace and STEM Educators” EdSurge. July 29, 2015.
12. “Making Makerspaces Work on Campus” EdTech. February 11, 2015
13. “Top Ten Ways to Start With ‘Maker Education’” Invent to Learn. August 18, 2014.