Makerspace learning environments have been around for a while, however, their popularity has now exploded and teachers and schools are scrambling to observe the mastery works of educators such as MIE Expert Matthew Richards from St Columba Anglican School and ICTENSW educator of the year Amanda Hogan from Tara Anglican School to begin working on their own. 

For those who are new to the area of technology, makerspaces serve as gathering points where communities of new and experienced makers connect to work on real and personally meaningful projects, informed by helpful mentors and expertise, using new technologies and traditional tools.

Makerspaces are increasing in education as they contribute to 21st Century learning, collaborative learning experiences and much more. Moreover, it can be used to build connection between the school community and its learners.

Creating a makerspace learning environment need not be difficult nor expensive. It is important to understand the entire capacity of what a makerspace can bring to support the teaching and learning that already exists in your school without adding an additional burden on teachers or students. That is, its integration should be seamless.

Its Purpose

Initially a teacher should spend some time researching various setups of makerspace environments to ascertain which components they offer are suitable for their school. As we all know, schools differ, as do our schools’ strategic plan, therefore, our makerspace should support our schools’ overall goals and plans.

Its Location

Once you establish the purpose of your makerspace, it is time to determine the location of your new learning environment. Many opt to use a room or a space within the school library as this is often the hub of the school. It is important to select a space that is central to all students and easily accessible. This will encourage teachers and students to utilise the space regularly. The space needs to be well lit and ventilated and needs to be big enough that work areas can be separated enough to be used safely. Keep pathways to tools, exits, and safety equipment clear. 

Its Contents

It is very important that you don’t try to include everything that others are claiming to do. Start small. Begin by purchasing a few things online, perhaps using eBay, and slowly build your kit. This will help you work out what resources work and what don’t, and as you will be working with mostly consumable tools, you won’t be in a burdening financial position. Purchasing 5mm LED lights from eBay can cost approximately $2 for 100 units. This coupled with a roll of conductive tape (at $1) and 100 units Button Cell Batteries (at $13) allows you to create numerous types of projects that could support many topics learned in any KLA. 

You could choose to have a few simple tools for some kinds of making, keeping the capacity at a “basic” level there while building out another area of making to a level that might be considered “intermediate” or “advanced.” We define basic as relatively low-cost while still useful and easy to use, while “intermediate” tools and materials add more capability to the makerspace, allowing makers to create more ambitious projects and work with more materials with greater precision.

For more inspiration about what to include in your makerspace environment, create a Pinterest account to follow the amazing works of others.

Communicating with Staff

As it is important to start slowly, begin the makerspace environment with a small group of students who specialise in one particular area. This could be your gaming team, such as Minecraft, or your TAS team that are creating a major work using a 3D printer. Once the team are confident in using the space without teacher intervention, you may begin introducing staff slowly. For example, by notifying HSIE teachers that the space is available for students to create dioramas (students could select to use various materials) as part of a topic. 

Set Rules

Like any classroom, rules need to be established and followed by all. These rules include OH&S as well as those that stipulate the roles of the teacher and students. Such rules will not only allow everyone to work in a safe space but will also enable the resources to be stretched further, giving more students access to the available resources. 

Have a Plan

Once your makerspace is up and running, it’s time to set up a short and long term plan. By evaluating the activities after a term or so, you will be able to determine what works for your school, and so can then plan to commence mentoring programs, specialised collaborative groups, after school clubs and more. It could also create opportunities for other teachers to utilise the space during their lesson time and help them develop new skills that can be shared with other teachers.

There are endless possibilities of makerspace learning environments and no two environments are the same making them unique and fundamental features of 21st Century schools.