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Lab of Dreams: The Makerspace

Skyward Digital Media Group
Skyward Digital Media Group - We're All Makers at Heart

Where are your makerspaces? If your answer to this question is “we don’t have one” or “what is a makerspace,” then look no further – we’ve got all the info you need to get started.

The maker movement is a major development in the ongoing shift toward student-directed learning and accountability –  a renaissance that is driving the future of both pedagogy and educational technology. Just ask one of the many schools or libraries that have already started down this exciting new avenue of student empowerment and exploration.


Makerspace Defined

Makerspaces are informal community environments filled with creative tools for hands-on learning. They combine elements from science labs, wood shops, computer labs, and art rooms to build a creative, multidisciplinary environment.They encourage students to take initiative, get comfortable with a mix of new and old technology, experiment, fall short, and try again. The tools found in a typical makerspace range from  flashy gadgets such as welding machines, laser cutters, or 3D printers, to more “low-tech” tools, like fabric, wood, and paint.
A makerspace is a room where it’s feasible to see someone controlling a video game with an intricately wired orange, repairing a mangled bicycle, or sewing a sweater from recycled materials — all while building a valuable skillset and accumulating a deeper understanding of key concepts.
Makerspaces were initially intended for the nonacademic community. They provided a place for people to work together to repair items in inexpensive, innovative ways. Today, schools of all levels, from pre-K through higher education, have adopted the idea. Based on early returns, it is safe to say that these educational makerspaces have been an overwhelming success.  
In keeping with the recent shift to versatile resource rooms and a more mobile learning environment, makerspaces are not on a bell schedule. Your young makers will make the time to visit when they begin to tackle their passion projects. Open availability is key, and recent innovations like Positive Attendance can help make this a viable option.


The Instructional Role of the Makerspace

It is no accident that the makerspace has risen to prominence over the past several years. As we mentioned at the start, the roles of teacher and student are changing before our very eyes. The predominant concept of empowerment is driving more teachers to innovate their instructional approach, while students are being given the autonomy to take charge of their education at a much earlier age.
This student-driven learning culture is influencing both technology and pedagogy. District administrators can capitalize on the opportunity by proactively working to provide teachers with the tools to support what many consider to be the future of education. Makerspaces, blended learning environments, and expanded STEM curricula are just some of the initiatives that you can take on today in order to prepare yourself and your students for tomorrow.
One of the great benefits of the makerspace is its ability to transcend cultural boundaries. In an environment without ranking systems, prerequisites, or preconceptions, all who enter are created equal. Whether programming a robot or building a model of the solar system out of spare parts, the amount of learning taking place is wholly independent of skillset.


3 Steps to Build a Makerspace

Creating a makerspace can be as simple or complex as you want it to be.
Secure a space for the lab. Some institutions have taken a larger-scale approach. For instance, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, is building a $35 million, 7-story, 50,000-square-foot makerspace called “think[box].” If you don't "think" that will fit into your budget this year, that’s ok – you can start small for just a fraction of that cost. Many schools are reinventing their libraries, turning them into creativity and exploration zones.
Fill the space. Again, this step can be as low-cost or expensive as your budget allows. The makerspace can be the perfect drop-off location for materials your school no longer uses. Many districts rely heavily on donations and recycled material to fill their spaces. Some completely redesign their makerspaces each year to keep them fresh and inspire new ideas in their students. When setting up the room, remember to keep it user-friendly; materials should be both accessible and easy to identify.  
Invite students to use it.
This is a great opportunity for you to work in tandem with your community to spread the word about your new resource and come up with new and innovative ways to drive student engagement. Put together a makerspace promotional team at the building level to actively recruit students and obtain buy-in from school staff.


The Bottom Line: Makerspaces Improve Student Outcomes

Makerspaces improve outcomes by encouraging students to find and explore their passions, dedicate themselves, and keep trying – for weeks, months, or even years – until they achieve success. Makerspace activities touch on all of the higher order thought processes that are difficult to achieve through direct instruction while allowing students to thrive as they “learn how to learn.” Every project has its own inherent value, and many will spark additional ideas that turn into even more projects.   
Even better, this creativity and innovative spirit does not have to be confined to the physical bounds of the makerspace. When students are given the resources to discover new passions, they are more likely to take the pursuit of knowledge home with them.

Are you ready to see your students become even more self-motivated and enthusiastic about learning? Try building a makerspace. If you will build it, we bet they’ll come.



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