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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

About the Presenters

Michelle Luhtala is the library department chair at New Canaan High School in Connecticut and was one of five school librarians named as a “Mover and Shaker” by Library Journal in 2015. She is the winner of the 2011 “I Love My Librarian” Award and the Library Association’s 2010 Outstanding Librarian Award. The New Canaan High School Library won AASL’s National School Library Program of the year in 2010. Follow her on Twitter @mluhtala.

Ethan Heise is the director of MackinMaker, Mackin’s maker education division. He has a hobbyist background in open source electronics and has helped start K-12 school makerspaces across the United States. He also works closely with community makerspaces in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Heather Lister, professional learning specialist, is an international speaker and author on the topics of makerspaces, innovative libraries, and space transformation. With her experience and training as a school librarian, mathematics and instructional technology specialist, and school administrator, Lister brings a unique and practical perspective to the world of school librarianship and maker education.

Join the Community
Emerging Tech for Schools and Libraries is a free professional learning community where school librarians, teachers, and administrators can explore all the ways to integrate technology and 21st century learning into school library programs.

This broadcast was hosted by edWeb.net and sponsored by Mackin Educational Resources.

The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

[Editor’s note: This piece is original content produced by edWeb.net. View more edWeb.net events here.]

About the Author:

Julia Ottesen is the community & public relations coordinator for edWeb.net. She coaches edWeb members, partners, and sponsors on using online networking for collaboration, and helps to spread the word about how this collaboration helps teaching and learning. Contact her on Twitter @edwebnet.