What are makerspaces? What is making? How does this fit into education?
Makerspaces provide both formal and informal learning contexts for students to explore technology in relationship to STEAM and other interdisciplinary areas (Ferguson et al., 2014). I tend to think about this as the best type of camp program. Everyone is at play. Counselors and kids participate. Occasionally someone explains something to someone else but very rarely is it the counselor doing the explaining. Usually it is camper to camper or, my favorite, camper to counselor. The counselors just make sure engrossed kids make it to their next activity and stay safe and friendly along the way.
Dougherty, Hatch, Anderson, and others emphasize the democratizing nature of making through cheap hardware, easy access to digital fabrication, and shared software and designs (2012). Every visit I make to a makerspace is filled with a paradoxical situation. On one hand folks want to share and create access for everyone. On the other, some of the equipment can be quite expensive. Most of the time I reframe my thinking from, “keep the tools functioning,” to “would I rather it sit unused or broken in the attempt at something awesome?” Insurance and warranties help a bit too. Once we democratize, read socialize if you must but seriously….we just want resources to play with, the tools in the space we can vote on which tool gets used by which group or project idea first.
Over the last several decades educators have been discussing the importance of building or “making” in education. Papert (1980) offered critiques of various technological tools in the 80s (Resnick, Ocko, & Papert, 1988). Last year I was immersed in an event that really gave educators the chance to play in this way. Gary Stager hosts Constructing Modern Knowledge each year. It is like an educator-centric, pop-up, makerspace in New England. As a student of Papert’s, Gary knows all the excitingly creative types and they tend to show up for the party. If you need to play with tools to understand their potential – sign up! It is worth every cent…probably worth it at double the price but don’t tell Gary – I like a great deal!
In addition to the creation of artifacts as an outcome of learning, researchers distinguish between learning through making from school learning. When you set down a script (school learning) there is an expectation for how connections will occur. In making experiences you can think you are working on a wind energy project but find out the kids are learning about packing design (trust me, windmills are hard to pack!). In all honestly I suggest achieving a state of complete openness before embarking on a making project. Perhaps meditate on being open. I doubt any of us actually achieve this state but the more open to potential experience the greater your chance for capitalizing and documenting student learning rather than teacher expectations of learning. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it.
1Informal learning environments such as libraries, museums, and independent non-profits widen our understanding of informal learning in makerspaces. Go to them. Don’t cloister yourself with school makerspaces. Makerspaces focus on the interests of students and understanding integrated learning through projects rather than isolated skills (West-Pucket, 2014). Process and product over tools and skills. If you only go to school spaces you risk becoming contaminated by teacher colonization of authentic, natural, learning spaces. The biggest challenge in integrated STEAM coming through a makerspace is the school-based need to define what works, inciting fear of the institutionalization of the maker movement (Doughterty, 2012). Don’t join this fearful place. Check out meetups and fab labs, library spaces and museums. Get your ideas from these rebellious dens of wonderful maker equity. Yes. I just called libraries and museums rebellious. If you disagree you need a new library and museum experience. Call me. I will direct you.