The benefits of hands-on, active learning are firmly established, yet a lot of difference exists between being able to touch something and being able to create something. The latter allows students to practice skills in demand in the modern economy.

This past June, the exhibitor floor at the 2017 ISTE Conference provided an inspiring snapshot for the rise of skills-based learning options and environments across the American educational landscape. Educators and schools are realizing they need to provide more experiential learning experiences for the next generation of makers. One way is through learning environments called “makerspaces”.

What is a Makerspace?

A makerspace is an environment that students–or “makers”–use to collaborate and experiment freely. Containing 3D printers, laser cutters, and soldering equipment, this space may look reminiscent of a NASA laboratory. A makerspace can also be quite basic, using already-available school supplies such as cardboard, clothespins, and art supplies. The goal is to allow students to explore the process of making something utilizing their creativity.

Why Should You Consider Starting a Makerspace?

Makerspaces are popular because they incubate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills, which are marketable proficiencies for students in the 21st century economy. Aside from STEM, makerspaces also tend to be areas for collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity – skills used by all students in the world of college and career.

What Does a Makerspace Look Like?

As mentioned, a makerspace can be as high-tech or low-tech as you like. The important part is to provide a safe, collaborative environment.

Furniture should be flexible and durable, with the ability to transition for various tasks. It should also allow for movement as students and the teacher demand. Because makerspaces provide students with a wealth of tools, any furnishings should allow for enhanced organization of a variety of objects.

If your makerspace is of the high-tech variety, furnishings should also provide plenty of options to power tools and devices, as well as easy access to electrical outlets.

In many schools, media centers and tech savvy media specialists are leading the charge by facilitating problem-solving, design-thinking projects in varied dynamic makerspace centers within a media center. Areas of discovery may include robotics, movie making, gaming, circuitry, LEGOs, music production and construction while utilizing high tech tools such as 3D printers and graphic design programs.

(Next page: Makerspace ideas and considerations for the new school year)

About the Author:

Paul Ramos is a former teacher and currently manages the Makerspace campaign at School Specialty.


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