Thinking About Maker Spaces

Posted: 16th January 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

There is so much good stuff going on in education these days, isn’t there? I’m excited when I get to walk into a classroom or lurk a learning space through someone’s blog or tweets and see the innovative ways students are learning. One trend that I’ve been thinking about is the inclusion of maker spaces in classrooms and in programming.
Maker spaces vary greatly in space, resources, expectation and age or level of participant. As far as I can see, there is no one-size-fits-all model for a maker space or how to use it. I like that. I like how it can vary depending on the facilitator, the participants and what resources you have. If you don’t have a 3D printer and only have one table’s worth of space to dedicate, you can still have a maker space that stretches students to think innovatively, creatively and collaboratively, and create something meaningful to them. That, it seems to me, are the common variables in maker spaces: an allowance for innovative thought and a means to apply that thinking.
When trends take off like this, it always has me thinking about the why. Why is it that there is such an insurgence in maker spaces in education? What is it about our education system that was lacking that required this move? Why now?
I think educators have realized how important a role student advocacy and student-led inquiry and learning is to provide our young thinkers opportunities to hone skills that will serve them throughout their lives (problem solving, innovative thinking, critical awareness and analysis, resourcefulness, collaboration, creativity, communication…I’m sure there are others). I see how maker spaces can provide a venue for some of those rich experiences.
The why now and what are the gaps questions are a little more complex. On the one hand, as our lives and roles in the world have changed drastically in the last generation, particularly due to the explosion of technology and it’s uses, educators have shifted practices to meet the new needs of learners. Now that everyone basically carries a powerful computer in their pocket all of the time, we can devote less of our time and energy to learning tasks that can be done by a device. Need to know the capital of Turkey? A search engine will provide that for you, along with a synopsis of Turkey’s history and geography in less than a second. As knowledge patterns change, humans jobs and roles have changed. We all recognize that and education is slowly shifting to align itself more to those unique roles that humans still do better than machines: problem solving, innovative thinking, critical awareness and analysis, resourcefulness, collaboration, creativity. Does this list look familiar?  Maker spaces help to fill that gap.
That’s part of the why now, but I think there is another gap we are trying to fill. All of those complex human roles are not, in fact, anything new. Resourcefulness, creativity, critical analysis and the rest are not unique to the 21st century. Think about how resourceful people were during World War One to find ways to survive. Or how the creativity of Leonardo da Vinci’s thinking led to innovations in art, technology and science in the 15th century. (By the way, I just googled da Vinci to recall what century he lived. I’m not ashamed to note where computers and the internet are smarter than me.) Consider the critical analysis of someone like Socrates even farther back in history and how his methods of dialogue continue to challenge the patterns of thinking and teaching even today.
What I’m trying to say is that all of these complex ways of thinking are not 21st century inventions. But for some reason, our 21st century learners have not had the same opportunities to explore and practice these, which has led to the need for maker spaces.
I think, perhaps, the ease of life we have in our modern times has forced us to create opportunities through things like maker spaces. When something breaks, we go out and buy a new one instead of figuring out how to fix it: who fixes vacuums anymore? We create structured opportunities for play for our children in big plastic-filled “play lands” instead of kicking them out the back door after breakfast with nothing more than a peanut butter sandwich in their pocket and one rule: come home when it gets dark (the whole topic of letting kids invent play and avoid boredom through sheer exposure to environment and a lack of constant adult direction is worthy of its own blog post, but that’s for another time). We seek to replicate products of design instead of innovate: why build a better chair when you can build an Eames knock off with less effort and more profit?
You have to admire the irony in it: humans roles have grown increasingly intellectually complex as technology has taken over some of the more rote, physical and automated roles we previously had to spend our time doing. But at the same time, humans relying on the advances in technology have made us soft and less skilled for the roles we now find ourselves needing to fill.
Is your head spinning yet? Mine too.
If anything, thinking about the why has just led me to understand how important it is that we do provide learners (students, educators and anyone else who wants to learn and keep pace with progress) with opportunities to tinker, to try out new ideas and new materials, to create freely, to communicate their ideas to seek feedback and share learning, to try to make something impossible be now humanly possible.
Don’t we owe it to our 21st century da Vincis to give them those opportunities?

  1. Aviva says:

    Wow! Such a fantastic post, Kristi! I can’t help but wonder if our classrooms could regularly embed these Makerspaces (or maybe even just be them) … keeping in mind that we can “make” in so many different ways. Imagine the growth in thinking (richer deeper thinking about learning and curriculum) and the increase in student engagement. Hmmm … you have me thinking more!

    Now for another question, if we’re going to provide these options for students, how as adults do we get more comfortable with “tinkering?” Does this vary from the mindset of, “I need an inservice for that?” I wonder where we can begin.

    Aviva

    • Michelle Spencer says:

      Another aspect of maker spaces to consider is they fill the gap left behind when we got rid of tech and family studies programs in elementary schools. We lose some kids when we do not provide the with hands on opportunities to learn, and show their learning, and maker spaces may help grab the attention of kids who otherwise would not consider school ‘their’ place.

  2. Tracey says:

    Hi Kristi. Great post (as usual!!). My semester 2 task is to create a makerspace in the Learning Commons at Ancaster High. Thanks to a healthy grant I applied for, I will be able to fill the space with many cool objects that encourage play, inquiry, collaboration. I am a bit anxious about the leaning curve I will be riding but it’s such an exciting time to be an educator. You’ll have to drop by when we are all set up!

    • Profile photo of adunsige adunsige says:

      Tracey, this sounds amazing! I love that this learning and playing is extending beyond elementary school (and into high school). I hope that you’ll tweet out some of the wonderful things that happen in this Makerspace.

      Aviva

      • Tracey says:

        I hope the secondary kids respond to the space as I imagine it unfolding. I will definitely be tweeting our epic fails and our successes!!

        • Profile photo of adunsige adunsige says:

          Tracey, I can’t wait to hear more! I bet that the students will help make this space “their own,” and that’s also wonderful. Excited to see what you share!

          Aviva

  3. Amy Z says:

    Great post Kristi. This has been something I’ve been working on building since I returned to the classroom (grade 1/2) this last fall. We are just about to launch our creation station with woodworking tools and materials. We currently have building materials and a great deal of tech integration including the Makey Makey. I’ve seen engagement soar for all levels of students! They want to write instructions, stories about their creations, and reflections on what they would change. In addition they are applying real math skills, in various ways, along the way. I’m trying to encourage my students to find real life problems and to try to solve them. I’m excited about how it’s going and I’m more excited about where it might go!