Education Cheat Sheet: What is a Makerspace?
It’s not just arts and crafts. This is what maker-centered learning really teaches your keiki.
My favorite childhood television series was MacGyver. If you were like me, you loved the fact that there was not a problem in the world that the show’s namesake character could not fix with a little duct tape and chewing gum.
Imagine having the mind of MacGyver, Ben Franklin, Grace Hopper, Henry Ford, or even Elon Musk. Can you picture young Ben in a classroom following along with the reading and writing studies at pace with his peers? When the school bell rang, did little Elon switch classes from science to humanities? Did middle-schooler Grace’s homework consist of rote practice of equations or memorizing definitions? Is it even possible to believe that any of our great innovators, real or fiction, evolved without straying from traditional schooling models?
All students are capable of innovation, and Hawai‘i schools are changing to meet a new demand for such thinkers by recognizing that becoming a maker is at the heart of human ingenuity. “[Students] need to be able to engage in iterative thinking, creative thinking, critical thinking,” says John Spencer in Episode 96 of the Cult of Pedagogy podcast. “They need to know how to pivot, how to change, how to revise, how to persevere. They need to solve complex problems. They need to think divergently. All of those are involved in that maker mindset.”
A maker mindset is the belief that we have the ability to enact change and that we can have a positive impact on the problems around us. It is knowing that resilience is necessary at times to struggle through challenges until a solution is found.
“Makerspace” is a buzzword you have likely heard. In schools, we use it to describe a place where invention and creativity can blossom. In dedicated makerspaces students visit with specialist teachers to engage in the process of making. This space may have large work areas, a variety of tools and materials. Students can make physical products with digital tools like Spheros or Makey Makeys or construct with laser cutters and 3D printers.
At some schools, including Le Jardin Academy, maker-centered thinking is often embedded in the regular curriculum. Tools and materials are stored in each classroom and the process of using empathy, brainstorming, collaboration, testing and improving is intentionally interwoven through Le Jardin’s curriculum for students from preschool to the fifth grade, and in the design courses in grades six through 10. The design course is a core class having equal emphasis to math and language.
If students are practicing a maker mindset authentically, you’ll see what they create is unique. Every child will naturally find a new way to approach a task because it is not about following a blueprint and mass producing a product. When schools do it well, the emphasis is on the process, not isolated skill development.
Le Jardin’s lower school principal, Majken Johansson, says since maker-centered learning became a consistent part of the curriculum, “we’re seeing students’ application of maker mindset all over the school, not just in the classroom. Out at recess we see kids working to solve problems through collaboration, we see kids taking ownership in making the school a better place. From organization of playground equipment to scheduling suggestions, our kids have become agents for change, helping us to design a better school.”
Is there a place for nurturing the maker mindset in your home? Carve out some time when your family can tinker together and ignite curiosity. Always remember that maker is not simply arts and crafts, so look for problems together and ponder ways to solve them. Your child may or may not reinvent an industry, but, more importantly, he or she will be an empowered learner who is capable of addressing the demands of the future.
In 10 minutes:
- Have a family discussion about what it means to create quality work.
- Talk about how designers make iterative improvements.
- Tell your child that failure is OK, and that it is an important part of learning.
In 30 minutes:
- Create a home maker kit. Start small with a dedicated cabinet or supply bin and stock it with an assortment of items such as scissors, glue, a hot glue gun, Velcro dots and materials including tin foil, paper towel tubes, cotton swabs, skewers, bottle caps, cardboard and a small hammer.
- Take something apart together. See if you can figure out how it works.
- Learn to code while designing a simple game.
- “What’s the point of a makerspace?” on cultofpedagogy.com
- Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds by Edward Clapp, Jessica Ross, Jennifer O. Ryan and Shari Tishman
- Makeology by Kylie Peppler, Erica Halverson and Yasmin N. Kafai
Great websites to get you started
Start up challenges for your keiki
- Create something that would help (name your child’s favorite character).
- Create something that can move.
- Design an underground city
- Subscribe to John Spencer’s free email for weekly challenges
Leah Magaña is the PK-12 director of learning at Le Jardin Academy and a Primary Years Program workshop leader for the International Baccalaureate.
Melissa Handy is the director of education technology at Le Jardin Academy, teaches high school computer science, and coaches the school’s two-time state championship winning robotics team.