[How to] Bringing a Makerspace into Your Classroom

Monday, June 29, 2015 -- Scott Sterling

You might have heard of the maker movement, which is an effort to get people exploring what it means to create things in a hands-on manner again. It is seen as a great opportunity for teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects, as well as a way to foster some manufacturing growth in a country that has drastically cut back on fabrication. All that’s really needed to join in the movement are a few basic materials, a willingness to learn new things, creativity, and the patience to struggle.

What is a makerspace?

Remember Erector sets? What about those old science kits where you could experiment with chemicals? If you think about it, it turns out that makerspaces have been around for eons. The maker movement is simply putting a new name on the concept of making things with your hands and experimenting in a shared environment.

In the adult world, a makerspace includes resources like 3D printers, electric tools, and circuit boards. Your principal probably wouldn’t approve power tools, and 3D printers can be expensive (although they are getting cheaper). However, there are plenty of other items you can bring into the classroom to help students explore the maker movement.

How it works in the classroom

Think of a makerspace as a modern take on the “centers” concept in early childhood and elementary education, but instead of playing house or roleplaying with dinosaurs, students are constructing things and experimenting. Of course, it works as a “center” for older students as well.

  • First, take a survey of your students’ interests. It might be that they are really interested in making robots but less intrigued by programming rudimentary computers. Once you have a handle on what would be popular, devote a corner of your classroom to the materials that can make those dreams happen.
  • Surprisingly, materials can be fairly cheap. Circuit boards, build-your-own-robot kits, art and decorative supplies, and a library of ideas are all available online or by trolling around your school. Even a 3D printer may not be out of reach; they tend to be the most popular item requested on crowdfunding sites.
  • Then, all you need is time. That might be the most expensive component, but it’s worth it. Google is famous for its “20% time,” where employees get to spend a fifth of their work time experimenting with their own projects. That’s where Gmail and Google Maps came from. Educators all over the country have embraced the similar concept of “genius hour” (including sharing ideas on the Twitter hashtag #geniushour). Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And students most definitely have the will once they get the hang of it.

To find out more about how the maker movement can translate to education, check out the book Invent to Learn. Interested in finding out more about Edmentum’s resources to support STEM learning? Take a look at this brochure!