Maker culture is thriving in schools and public libraries across the United States and beyond. From challenges to success stories, no two makerspaces are alike, and maker facilitators have valuable lessons to share. In their recent edWebinar, Michelle Luhtala, library department chair at New Canaan High School in Conn., Ethan Heise, director of MackinMaker, and Heather Lister, professional learning specialist, discussed their experiences with makerspaces and shared advice for those starting their maker education journey.
4 tips from those in the know
Three makerspace experts share their best practices
- Start small. When New Canaan High School started its makerspace journey, Luhtala realized they needed to start with basics like LEGO bricks, markers, and butcher-block paper to maintain a student-centered mindset. Once students began spending more time in the makerspace and expressing interest in using different kinds of materials, storage and organization—including tackle boxes, shelves, labeled bins, and photo albums with pictures displaying materials—became essential.
- Ask for assistance from teachers and students. Although you may be the driving force at your school, Lister did not recommend going it alone. With hundreds or even thousands of kids using the library, it doesn’t make sense to design that space without their voice. Have teachers take a level of ownership by getting their input in areas like the furniture design or adding ideas to a Pinterest board. She also added that you should not be too rigid when it comes to your plan. Save yourself stress by staying flexible when plans change, potential new equipment emerges, or old materials don’t work out.
- Do not be one-size-fits-all. Heise said it’s a good idea to choose themes (e.g., coding for kids) so you can assess the materials you’ll need. Be sure to check out device compatibility before purchasing any equipment. A needs assessment that encompasses factors like time, size, budget, theme, and location can help you determine how to move forward. Understanding how long different projects will take your students is key to making sure you’re getting the right products into your makerspace.
- Be transparent from the start. Getting teachers on board might be a challenge at first, so Lister recommended presenting your ideas at a staff meeting and asking teachers to collaborate on a project they’re already doing. That way, they’ll see that the makerspace is not something additional, but something they can work into an existing project. “You will really start to see the power and creativity that comes out of (having a makerspace) and you’re going to have so many unintended benefits, good consequences that come out of this,” said Lister.