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Makerspace Series Part 2: Planning Your Makerspace

 

From advances in STEM learning to enhancing classroom theories with hands-on experience, the benefits of having a Makerspace in your school are clear. As our education system works to better the way we teach our children with Common Core and STEM advocacy, the elements of free play can be used to engage the curiosity of our students and to broaden their scope of what is possible with new technology. Students need the right equipment to do so. However, creating an effective Makerspace requires careful planning, financial commitment, and teacher and community commitment.

Students need to be able to use the Makerspace to further their ideas, solve problems, and collaborate with each other, while learning concepts they need for standardized testing in a different, more hands-on methodology. It follows that location, equipment, and teacher-guides are all important elements of making a lasting impact. This blog shares tips on how to get through the planning process so your students can benefit from learning with cutting edge technology.

Finding the Space for Your Makerspace

What rooms are being underutilized at your school right now? How big is your woodshop? Can a space be re-appropriated depending on the time of day and on which classes are being taught at certain times? Is there a large storage closet that holds junk the school isn’t using? One teacher from California asked to use an old storage facility and uncovered the school’s old woodshop, which still had many tools that were usable. Other options include portable classrooms or sectioned-off areas of larger rooms.

One of the best spaces that many schools can use as a Makerspace is the library. Libraries are moving to be helpful beyond books with internet resources, and these spaces are primed to increase student interaction and learning by adding technology. With the addition of equipment and design software for the computers, the students can find new comfort in their school library, as long as the librarians are okay with the noise.

Designing the Makerspace

Now that there is all this equipment, how will it fit into the space? The best guide is the room itself. Are there enough tables for the students to sit and spread out? Some schools use tables that have been treated so that you can write directly on the table with dry-erase markers, allowing the students to go beyond the norms of 8.5”x11.” Boxes and shelving units can organize the crafts simply and with labels. Certain grade levels can be responsible for keeping assigned parts of the room organized and clean. Involving students in the organization can prevent poor treatment of the equipment and promote greater responsibility for the space.

Of course, organization can only happen if there is something to organize. Tapping into the right funding [link] can make or break the room. There are plenty of ways to get the community involved in helping create this Makerspace.

Planning the Right Equipment for Your Makerspace

Makerspaces should fill students with awe and encourage exploration. Useful equipment for a Makerspace can include:

  • iPads or Tablets: can be used to schedule Makerspace hours, has countless apps to help students learn math, English, and everything else we use tablets for
  • 3D Printer: The holy grail for any school Makerspace; opens up whole new worlds of scientific research, design projects, and even robotic competitions. Not only would students learn how to code and program with the software, but they would also be able to test the physics in real space and problem-solve in unique ways and designs.
  • Professional Poster Printer: comes with design software to create beautiful, professional-looking posters related to school projects and personal interests
  • 2D Cutout Maker: can be used to create shapes that can help visualize all kinds of cycles, numbers, awards, and even puzzles
  • Sewing Machine: not just to make clothes, but can also be used to upholster furniture, patch holes, and make fabric dolls and other toys
  • Workshop equipment: jigsaws, soldering iron, hammers and nails, and don’t forget the aprons and goggles for safety
  • Craft materials: glue gun, markers, scrapbooking paper, stickers, felt, even bottle caps and popsicle sticks

 

Makerspace Leadership: Getting Teachers to Commit

While it is important for students to initiate their own projects, a Makerspace still needs an effective leader who can create a schedule that provides equal access to students, make sure students are using the equipment correctly, and act as a resource for questions and general information. Most importantly, the teacher will need to lead the charge in funding and finding resources for the Makerspace. A teacher or group of teachers trusted by students and parents alike who are enthusiastic about programming, experience-based learning, and technology can serve as a guide to design and maintain control of the space.

Librarians could be great advisors in this manner. As the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) works to change the image of librarians to teachers in their own right, these particular educators are in the unique position of being able to lead a Makerspace better than anyone else.

Regardless of position, the best teacher will be able to get students, parents, and administrators on board and on the same page. A great leader will be able to hold meetings, keep parents and administrators updated, and delegate tasks to the right people, even students themselves. If the school and the parents work together to pool their resources, there will be no limit to what anyone can do.

Funding Your Makerspace

The difficulty, as always, is funding. The good news is that there are a number of governmental and private-sector opportunities for scholarships and grants to fund a space as innovative as these.

Here are some resources to get you started:

  • Carl D. Perkins Act is a governmental funding source that caters to students who would prefer to enter “career and technical education programs” versus a 4-year college or university. These Makerspaces are perfect areas to give students their first taste of these kinds of programs.
  • Maker Ed is a non-profit organization that is helping schools all over the U.S. start their own Makerspaces who can advise on funding and tips for making a unique Makerspace for your students
  • Corporate sponsorship is a great avenue as well. Lowe’s Toolbox for Education, for example, will grant up to $5000 to a school for projects just like Makerspaces.
  • Students can participate actively with crowdfunding, using websites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or GoFundMe. Students, especially with entrepreneurial spirits, can create videos using smartphones and write out guidelines to their specific needs. Competitions can be organized between classrooms and/or grades to develop the best campaign in order to engage their creativity.

Hands-on learning and enhancing creativity for middle and high school students ensures the next generation will be prepared to enter a digitally advanced, innovative job market, which includes work in robotics research, computer analysis, and even game design. Makerspaces can help make that happen.

 

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Makerspace

Makerspace Series Part 1: Advantages of the Makerspace: Using Visual Technology to Encourage STEM Learning

 

Schools all over the country are seeing the advantages of having their very own Makerspace, a place filled with educational equipment and supplies to help students implement skills they’ve learned in the classroom. The goal of such spaces is to encourage whole-brain learning at an optimal level. Rather than force a child to follow a set curriculum, a Makerspace allows the student to come up with his/her own way to learn. The Makerspace becomes a place for students to have access to equipment, such as a 3D printer, that they can use to turn their ideas into something real.

Makerspaces are most effective when they expand the possibilities in the students’ minds and help them achieve their goals. While Makerspaces work best with a free-for-all feel, students can also benefit from having guides that can leave breadcrumbs in certain directions without pushing the students in any particular way. A well-executed Makerspace drives students to imagine, design, and create anything that their minds desire, while they learn the skills they need to do well on regulated tests and subjects.

Makerspaces Provide Benefits in STEM

Because there is still a great need for more people to enter careers in STEM, especially in the computer and programming fields, Makerspaces are the perfect places to ignite those latent passions. With the Common Core standards wanting to focus on more practical applications, students will need to do hands-on work to explore the connections between the subjects of math and science with technology that will prepare them for these jobs. A forward-thinking school can provide students with such experiential resources inside a Makerspace that can be used during class time as well as within student-initiated organizations and clubs after school. These students can move on to earn more than double their non-STEM-employed colleagues.

Unfortunately, for many students the very idea of a STEM career may seem out of reach because of a lack of understanding or motivation in the subject areas. For example, computer programming can feel quite daunting for those who have trouble understanding mathematical and logical concepts. Makerspaces are a great way to help students “put a face” to math in a way that makes more sense to them, on their own time. After-school guided projects or experiments can help students learn skills and encourage trying, even if it means failing, without the fear of bad grades or embarrassment in front of classroom peers. When students are engaged and encouraged to help each other out in a space that doesn’t limit them, everyone wins.

Visual Learning & Technology for the Makerspace

The key, then, is to provide students with the right tools. While construction paper, scissors, and glue might do the trick for small projects, the real possibilities lie in allowing creativity to have free reign of technology that will actually be used in the jobs of the 21st century.

With technology advancing so quickly, no doubt our students will help design the way we live in the future. Preparing middle and high school students for those challenges will provide a significant advantage. 3D printers can help with grasping physics or scientific concepts by giving the students a chance to design something that they can execute and look for strengths and flaws.

A 2D cutout printer can create numbers, letters, or shapes that can help with conceptual math, or biological stages of cells. There are so many ideas out there for using visual technology to aid understanding of abstract concepts. All these devices come with software that the students can learn and program to fit their needs, creating multiple levels of learning in a timely and engaging fashion. Early introduction to software and programming raises students’ aptitude and desire to work in a computerized field. In a Makerspace, students can learn how to design very specific objects with the 3D printer and can learn computer design using the Poster Maker.

The most important thing we can do for our students is to create a Makerspace that is friendly, user-oriented and broadens their scope of post-school opportunities. With equipped Makerspaces, students can learn these skills early on and find out about STEM jobs that go beyond the doctor-or-lawyer mentality. From biochemist to software developer to web designer, these jobs will ensure a bright future, not just for our students, but for everyone they can influence.

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