A red light bulb floats above plain light bulbs illustrating design thinking and makerspaces.

Using design thinking to support makerspaces

Educators should research different design thinking strategies and find one that fits their school’s goals for makerspaces

Creating makerspaces and incorporating them into schools involves more than coming up with project ideas. Typically, when schools add makerspaces, they’re also looking to shift their education goals and focus on skills beyond traditional curriculum.

As Michelle Luhtala, library department chair at New Canaan High School, CT, and Bill Derry, a consultant for schools and public libraries in Connecticut, explain in their edWebinar, “Design Models that Guide Innovative Thinking,” for educators looking to make this transition, there are several different methodologies that complement the goals of makerspaces and help students become creative problem solvers.

Related: Using makerspaces to support personalized learning

While every design thinking model has its own approach, Derry and Luhtala say teachers will see some similar attributes:

  • A focus on play, where students are encouraged to try new ideas in an open environment. Derry says libraries often find it easier to encourage play than schools, which tend to be more closed environments.
  • A focus on empathy and learning to relate to all aspects of the problem and not just the end result.
  • A focus on the entrepreneurial mindset where students not only design a solution but develop a prototype that could be brought to market.

Related: 9 ways schools can create better makerspaces

Next, each methodology typically includes several phases meant to guide students through the problem-solving process. Each process also allows students the opportunity to fail and assess their failures so that they understand the need for perseverance.

  • The Launch Cycle: This is a student-friendly model that takes students from awareness of the problem (Phase 1) to the launch phase (Phase 6) where they put their product in front of an authentic audience.
  • uTEC Maker Model: In this system, students move from one level of expertise to the next—creating, experimenting, tinkering, and using. They not only develop their own competencies at each level, but they also learn to collaborate and use their group’s shared intelligence to reach their goals.
  • IDEO: Here, the idea of the creative thinker expands beyond students and education. While the model can be applied to the classroom, this methodology posits that anyone—from the P.E. teacher to the math teacher—can be a creative thinker.

Before educators adopt a design thinking model, they should research the different strategies and find one that fits their school’s goals. Of course, these methodologies can’t be implemented without significant impact on the curriculum and professional training. More important, administrators must also provide adequate funding. While there are many projects that can be done with cardboard boxes, building blocks, etc., students thrive when they have the resources to tackle real-world projects.

Finally, the main criticism that Derry and Luhtala hear about using makerspaces is that there isn’t enough evaluation of the students and their work. Both agree, though, that that reflects more on what the educators have built into the project rather than on makerspaces themselves.

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.

Bill Derry most recently worked as Director of Innovation at The Westport Library in Connecticut. He was the co-chair of the Westport Mini Maker Faire and one of the leaders of the creation of the makerspace. He was a principal writer of an IMLS national leadership grant received by the Westport Library in 2013. The grant, called MakerSpace 2.0: Retinkering Libraries, created a model for a participatory learning environment for public, academic and school libraries. Prior to joining the Westport Library in 2011, Bill worked in education for over 30 years as an elementary classroom teacher, drama-in-education teacher, library media specialist, supervisor of library media K-12 and information and technology literacy coordinator K-12. Currently he is leading workshops and presenting on the transformative power of play, imagination, and making. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillDerry.

Join the community

Emerging Tech for Schools and Libraries is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net where school librarians can explore all the ways to integrate technology and 21st century learning into school library programs.

This broadcast was sponsored by Mackin Educational Resources. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

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