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Starting a Maker Space

by Lori Gracey
maker

This is a great time of year to think about new things to do to keep the learning going. Maybe one of those new things you’ve been thinking about doing is having a maker space in your classroom or library. If so, here are a few things to consider as you get started.

First, remember that the most important thing about a maker space is to provide a place for students (and teachers!) to be creative, to explore questions and ideas they have, to build something, and to fail and try again, all in a safe environment. Second, know that a maker space can be no-tech, low-tech, or high-tech, and it can be done on a tight budget.

If you’re a little intimidated by technology like 3D printers and coding, then a no-tech space may be a good starting point. Gather a lot of empty cardboard boxes of various sizes. Add some masking and duct tape, scissors, a ruler, some markers, and students. Challenge them to create a new container, a different kind of furniture, or a piece of art. They can work in pairs or individually. If having lots of old cardboard around bothers you, you can even just provide some different colors and patterns of duct tape and see what they can create with those. Or ask parents to donate LEGOs they no longer need and let students create amazing structures. You can even collect lots of “trash” like paper towel tubes, boxes, marbles, and such and challenge students to design Rube Goldberg machines.

For a low-tech space, you’ll need to spend a little money, but not much. Consider buying a Makey Makey kit (around $50). You’ll need just one computer and the kit, which contains seven alligator clips and six connector wires. With that, students can explore how electricity works and can create a piano made out of bananas, game controllers, and inventions of their own.

You could also set up one or two computers with free coding resources and allow students to learn to program on their own. Use the great resources for all grades from Code.org, which include lessons using characters from Frozen, Minecraft, and Star Wars. Or install free Scratch software on a computer and let students create their own games.  The great thing about both of these resources is that you don’t have to know how to use them; the lessons are designed for students to use on their own.

Whatever kind of maker space you create, be sure to provide some strategic signage there that lets students know the rules. Let them know your expectations on cleaning up the area when they’re done and where/if they can store their creations. Encourage their thinking by featuring a new challenge or design idea every few weeks. Provide QR codes with URLs to maker ideas on Pinterest and the web.

Check out White Oak ISD librarian Michelle Cooper’s great Livebinder on the maker space she has in her library. It’s packed with ideas, photos, and her blog where she explains how her space works. Or follow her on Twitter to learn about other projects.

Keep in mind that there are really no wrong or right answers or ways to do things in a maker space. It’s about the experience and the learning that happens while students are creating. Know that the students may fail sometimes while making; as the adult, don’t rush in to fix things. Learning how to fail and try again is an extremely valuable life lesson. If you really want to drive the learning home, encourage students to keep a creativity journal where they record their ideas, their attempts, their failures, and their successes. This should be an ungraded journal, a place for their biggest dreams and how to accomplish them. After all, that’s what a maker space is all about!

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