How To Create A Makerspace

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Photo via ZDnet.com

“Makerspace” – this buzzword pops up frequently at education conferences, seminars, and trade shows. While makerspaces add a great deal of value for students, the challenge is in knowing precisely what a makerspace is, what it entails, the tools it should feature, and how to get started.

Eduporium is a BoardShare partner that sells the educational technology that’s ideal for makerspaces. They have helped numerous teachers and librarians by supplying design suggestions, product advice, and implementation strategies. Irina Tuule, co-founder and VP of Strategy and Communications at Eduporium, recently spoke with Natalie Dolan, BoardShare’s marketing and sales coordinator, and provided some answers to the big questions teachers have about makerspaces.

Natalie: “What exactly is a makerspace?”

Irina: “A makerspace is a project-based, educational environment that allows students to create by building and inventing. In a makerspace, children design, experiment, make mistakes, and most importantly, learn by using a hands-on approach. The maker mindset, which kids use when taking part in this kind of learning, is truly a growth mindset; it fosters creativity and collaboration in a safe environment, bringing modern-day, experiential education full circle.”

Natalie: “Why is the makerspace movement so prevalent in education right now?”

Irina: “One important aspect of utilizing makerspaces in education that I’d like to note is that making (or experiential, hands-on learning) has been around for quite a long time. Teachers have worked with students for decades (especially in elementary schools) to help them create and invent, even if it is simply building a 3D maze out of cardboard. What is new and interesting about the modern Maker Movement is the emergence of innovative technology as the tools kids are using, which offer upgrades over the crafty tools they have used for making in the past. These new technologies allow students to make more exciting creations and develop key technological competencies in the process.

“However, Maker Education is much more than just ‘hands-on’ crafting. The technology brings electronics, programming, and computational mathematics to design in meaningful, powerful ways. So, the technology that exists today can elevate makerspaces to new heights, and that’s what is drawing educators to this movement."

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Photo via creationstationma.com

Natalie: “What technology should be included in a makerspace?”

Irina: “It’s critical to understand that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to makerspaces. There is not any one product that will work perfectly in every makerspace since each one – like the students and teachers working in it – is unique. It’s also important to understand that the technology is not the goal; technology is a tool that helps students achieve the goal of creative learning. Different technologies will be needed for different classrooms, depending on the subject, grade level, teachers’ expertise, their comfort level with technology, how active students are, and so on."

“The Maker Movement is connected to the trial and error process: ‘try first and safely fail’. Experimenting, making mistakes, and getting negative results are key components of makerspaces and Maker Education. Educators can try different technologies in their makerspaces and see which ones have the most impact. A great maker tool is the one that can be customized for different purposes.”

Natalie: “Are there any examples of a customizable tool you can share?”

Irina: “One product for creating a custom learning experience is the Ozobot – a popular optical robot that can be programmed by drawing and coloring a line using black, red, green and blue markers. Ozobot can also be programmed by drawing on a tablet and by using the Blockly programming language. Despite its small size, it’s a complex robot; kids can see its parts through its transparent cover and do increasingly complex things with it, such as learning how to code. The Ozobot also enables maker experiences, especially in the younger grades. Kids can combine the coding technology with artistic expression, they can ‘map’ a story, make a maze to learn foreign words, illustrate a tribes’ migration or trading patterns, or navigate through historic battles.

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Photo via shop.ozobot.com

“Another example is the Edison V2.0 Robot from Australia. It is LEGO-compatible and can add movement to any LEGO structure. It also adds a very unique aspect to programming, as it can be programmed using barcodes as its input as well as Blockly and Python. It is also a nice ice-breaker or ‘embracer’ in inter-grades communication when middle schoolers are sharing their knowledge with younger kids.”

Natalie: “What are some other factors teachers need to consider when implementing makerspaces?”

Irina: “Another question teachers need to ask is ‘does this tool do more than one thing?’ Multifunctional tech tools are great for students to play around with and use to unlock their creativity. There are lots of STEAM tools that serve more than one purpose. Again, the Ozobot and Edison are good examples, and others include littleBits, Dash & Dot, MaKey MaKey, and Cubelets.

"Cubelets, to focus on one example, are sets of magnetic blocks, which are also LEGO-compatible, that encourage kids to create inventive robotic designs by snapping them together in almost any shape they’d like. The trick is to create a structure that will still be able to move and function, so kids need to consider this during the design phase. Taking it a step further, Cubelets are then programmable using a mobile device, so students are able to combine design, robotics, and programming with one compact tool.

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Photo via modrobotics.com/cubelets/

“Looking at the product’s safety features is also incredibly important, particularly when considering the age of the students and the excitement they experience while learning. So is considering the compatibility of MakerEd technologies and devices, as not all robots are compatible with Chromebooks, for example. The consultants at Eduporium guide teachers through describing which technologies are appropriate for each grade level and why.”

Natalie: “What advice would you give someone looking to implement a makerspace in their school or classroom?”

Irina: “We recommend starting off by creating on a general plan that will allow teachers to achieve their learning goals in the makerspace. Do you want to have a special place for students to learn on their own and just have fun, do you want them to have a guided experience, or do you want to incorporate the MakerEd tech into mainstream learning as another tool in the teacher’s toolbox? Answering these questions will help teachers navigate different scenarios.

“We’ve been noticing a shift in Maker Movement from the library to the classroom: it starts with a designated single area in the library where students are first experimenting without supervision. Then, teachers bring their students to this makerspace for a session. After that, teachers try maker products in classroom through mobile makerspaces, and going on to integrate MakerEd into routine classroom learning with their own products.

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Photo via cmle.org

“So, libraries are a good place to begin because makerspaces don’t require a lot of space and libraries tend to have just enough. They usually feature a number of tables where can collaborate and computers or laptops students can use with their maker technologies when needed. Plus, many school libraries need some upgrades and creating a makerspace within its walls is a great start to that process.

“We’ve also worked with schools and school libraries in particular to organize Lending Libraries of portable maker products that allow teachers to try MakerEd technology in their unique classroom environment. Anything that’s transportable and allows students to use collaboratively in the classroom is something that teachers should be looking to borrow from their school makerspace leaders. Old book carts can even be easily turn into a portable makerspace as well. Some good examples of portable products would be the Edison 2 Robot, Kano Computer Kit, littleBits, meeperBOT, the Piper computer building kit, and even Snap Circuits, so long as students have enough space at their classroom work stations.

“To illustrate larger MakerEd products, the Ultimaker 2 Go is a portable 3D printer in a backpack designed to be transported from place to place. Eduporium also designs custom portable bundles that are perfect for the lending library concept. Our tech bundles are used in schools and libraries of many states, including NY, MA, RI, and PA, and have received a whole lot positive feedback.

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Photo via ultimaker.com

“Most of the technologies come with an instruction booklet that includes different activities, but it is important to experiment and not just stick to the activity booklet. While some teachers are fearful of playing with the technology, students are digital natives and often more brave when it comes to exploring new technology; they often come up with innovative ways to use it. Letting the students come up with different ways to use the product also helps extend the bond between teacher and student. Another way to introduce the learning potential of maker technology is to set up a challenge or a real-life problem that could be solved using a particular product – and students are attentive to problems around and surprisingly creative in solving them.”

Natalie: “Is there a good resource for educators looking to learn more about makerspaces?”

Irina: “The book Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager is a great place to start. It’s a fairly all-encompassing guide to makerspaces and why they are important.

“Maker-specific events include Make Faires and mini Maker Faires around the world. MakerEd sessions are now commonly found at various conferences. Other examples include different Tech Petting Zoo and discovery classes that are offered by MakerEd developers and companies (including littleBits, Sparkfun, MobileMaker, and Eduporium). Maker camps are also getting more and more popular, including the beautiful STEAMmaker camp held by ESSDACK for teachers to work together with their own students so educators can see how to effectively teach through creativity.”

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