Photo of a young child painting

5 Ways Educators Are Creating Makerspaces in Schools

9 Jul 2015 by Heather Breedlove

"Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve as gathering points for tools, projects, mentors and expertise. A collection of tools does not define a makerspace. Rather, we define it by what it enables: making.” –Dale Dougherty, creator of MAKE magazine and the Maker Faire, and Executive Chairman of Maker Media, 2013

Educators are looking for opportunities to incorporate more elements of makerspaces into their classrooms, but they have concerns about space, time and materials. Sessions at the 2015 International Society for Teacher Education (ISTE) Conference & Expo addressed these concerns and gave educators the tools to get started in the maker movement by “making” their own spaces.

Maker corner

One way to start a makerspace on a budget is to create a small area of the classroom that is used for making. Schools have items collecting dust that can be repurposed for a makerspace.

“There are lots of opportunities with cardboard,” says Kat Sauter, a facilitator for the Design Lab in Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. Items like large boxes can be donated, and similar items can be funded through such organizations as Donors Choose or Digital Wish. Sauter recommends purchasing special cardboard scissors to make cutting cardboard safer and easier for students.

Clubs and events

Before- and after-school clubs can offer the flexibility needed to start a maker movement in the school. Clubs can offer a focus like robotics or be open ended, so students can create something of their choosing. Karishma Galani and John Kilbane, who work in the American School of Bombay Research and Development Department, created clubs designed to “appeal to high school girls,” says Kilbane. The clubs focused on creating wearable technology, such as scarves that lit up when someone talked.

Maker Saturdays are events that invite families to come create and make on the weekends, where they get hands-on experiences together. There is usually a headline activity, such as a programming or science experiment, along with individual topics of focus. Galani and Kilbane feel that Maker Saturdays are a success, and continue to make changes based on the feedback from parents and students.

Create a maker class

Sauter created a Maker Class in their ARS Design Lab. Students apply to be in the class and select a project to create. She says the few weeks are spent brainstorming, and using online tools and chart paper for viable projects that the students are interested in making. Her students work in teams on projects they choose.

One team built a playhouse for a preschool and another group built an app to help organize school information for students. But not every maker project needs to solve a problem. A third group of students made clothes for birds. Sauter supports the students having choices in what they want to make. “It’s really about the process, not the product,” she says.

Galani and Kilbane helped organize Middle School Day 9 at the American School of Bombay. This event dedicated two full school days for middle-school students to choose from 11 learning studios, such as Interactive Body-Motion Games & Toys and Interactive Fashion Accessories.

Library or media spaces

Students are scheduled for library time each week. Why not have them check out books and create something while they are there? Susan Brown, Carmella Doty, Renee Henderson and Barbara Liedahl, all specialists at Prince George County Schools, help create Library Makerspaces for students.

Brown and Liedahl feel that the library or media center space is already the “go-to” resource for classrooms, so the makerspace becomes a natural extension. In the Library Makerspace, students work with paper circuits, felting, e-textiles and robotic arms among other materials to create. To establish a Library Makerspace in your school, learn more at Makerspaces: School Library Learning Commons.

Mini Maker Faire

What to do with all the student projects? Organize a student Mini Maker Faire for your school or district where students can share their creations with their peers and the community. Learn more with 10 steps to create a school Maker Faire.