When we dreamed of starting construction on a space where teachers and students alike could cultivate a maker mindset, our goals went beyond creating a dedicated makerspace. We wanted to empower our community, assure students that they were valued as individuals, and offer them opportunities to develop empathy and agency as problem-finders and creative problem-solvers.
We knew we could accomplish this with a designated space that celebrated creativity, emphasized process over product, and highlighted the importance of reflection. We set out to design a space where students could not only develop a design thinking philosophy, but integrate this maker mindset into their core studies.
What was formerly a conference room turned into a makerspace with plenty of windows and glass doors so anyone driving through our campus can see our space and, more importantly, our students’ creations. Here’s how we’re helping our entire school community develop a maker mindset.
1) Build the maker mindset before the space.
Makerspaces evolve in many ways. We started spreading the maker philosophy before we had an official space by having design thinking, engineering, coding, and robotics areas in many corners of the school. We had robotics in science classrooms, a low-tech makerspace in our library, and maker carts available in classroom hallways. Before construction of our new makerspace, we used the basement below the theater as a space for making. Before we had shiny new 3D printers and a laser cutter, the primary material used in the makerspace was cardboard. Kim collected toilet paper rolls and other recyclables throughout the school and brought in tools from home.
Because we already had making happening on our campus, our space was designed with a maker mindset. We married maker skills and curricular content so students could master core topics from different angles.
2) Make the space as flexible as possible.
Before we purchased the equipment, chose a color palette, and selected furniture, we formed a committee, wrote our makerspace statement of purpose, and drafted a list of non-negotiables that aligned with our philosophy. We required storage space for not only tools and equipment, robots, and consumable supplies, but also space to store students’ works in progress as well as space to display completed work. We also strongly recommended to the design team that we have a place to document student learning, because reflection is key to our design process. Lastly, it was very important that the furniture be modular to increase the flexibility of the space.
When we got this space, we were funded to buy a laser cutter. So now we have an Epilogue Laser Helix laser cutter, 3D printers, a CNC milling machine, and a vinyl cutter, as well as several soldering irons, a bench power unit, Arduinos, Raspberry Pi, and lots and lots of robotics equipment. The versatility and creativity that students are able to demonstrate is mind-blowing.
3) Combine high- and low-tech tools to fuel creativity.
For one activity, we placed the KIBO robots in the hands of our 1st-graders who were learning about Chinese New Year. After we read stories about the dragon dance and watched a video of the dance, we had students customize their robots and program them to dance, trying to make the KIBO imitate the dragon’s movements. Each student designed their own robot as well as their own programmed dance.
We didn’t have one robot per student, so we had to be collaborative and creative. Groups of students worked together on their New Year Dragon project, yet each was able to design their own robot and code a dance. Kim used the laser cutter to make a pre-cut cardboard platform for each student. The students were then given supplies including a paper cup, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, scissors, glue, and tape to customize their dragons and Velcro their platforms to the robot to make them dance. (It’s worth noting that even though we have a room full of high-tech equipment, the number one prototyping material being used in our makerspace is still good, old-fashioned cardboard.) An added bonus to this approach was that each student was then able to keep their creation after they finished the dragon dance unit.
Another recent assignment for our 3rd-graders and 8th-graders was the Toy Redesign Project. The students researched gendered stereotypes, observed toys that were marketed and targeted toward a specific gender, and redesigned them to be marketed to all students, regardless of race, gender, or physical ability. The amazing thing was that they weren’t required or even suggested to use the makerspace, but a bunch of students lined up and asked us if they could use the vinyl cutter to make a logo for their product or use the laser cutter to make a prototype of a skateboard. Our third-graders can even choose time in the makerspace over recess. Unfortunately, our older students are more strapped for time, so we launched a program where they can volunteer to participate in a passion-based program that will allow them access to the space after school.
Creative projects like these inspire creative fundraising, so Kimberly made jewelry using makerspace equipment and sold them to colleagues. The donations went toward the school’s Annual Fund. It really showed other educators that the makerspace is a space for anyone to learn something new about the world and themselves. We want to foster a maker mindset among our students as well as our teachers, and we want to lead by example.