When schools talk about the Maker Movement and creating maker spaces, they often focus their initial thinking on purchasing the tools and materials. This resource-driven approach can create a buzz in your school for some time; however, that excitement will inevitably fade. While resources are an important part of any maker space, taking a thematic planning approach is much more effective.
No two maker spaces are alike or should be alike. Developing appropriate and relevant themes for your space will ensure that your maker space is unique to the needs, wants, and interests of your students, and unique to your school community as well.
While maker spaces often have a STEM orientation, they most certainly do not have to be limited to just those disciplines. Proper planning helps you uncover themes that are relevant and authentic to your school. Themes in my maker space have included explorations such as digital storytelling and molecular gastronomy.
To select themes for your maker space, it is important first to understand your learners. Have conversations with them. Survey them. Find out what they enjoy doing both in and out of school. Uncover their passions.
The next thing you should do is take time to evaluate the programs, offerings, and curricula within your school. What kinds of things does your school already offer? What kinds of things does it lack–areas of learning that perhaps you can include in your maker space? This will also allow you to make strong curricular connections through your space.
In developing themes, it is also important to consider global trends and best practices. What is happening in the world, inside and outside of education, that could be integrated into your program? After doing all of this, you can take your findings and develop ideas for your maker space that have purpose and value for your learners, as well as your entire school.
A thematic approach to planning also helps streamline the ordering process. When considering equipment, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the wide variety of materials available. Without themes, selections are often made arbitrarily, or based upon what other people have, or by buying maker space-in-a-box types of kits. Having themes makes the ordering experience more focused and allows you to search websites, stores, and catalogs with a targeted lens and will ensure that you are effectively supporting your students’ learning.
Maker space themes offer distinct benefits for our learners allowing for deeper learning to take place. For example, LEGOs are something we see in many maker spaces. Instead of just putting LEGOs into ours, I looked deeper and recognized that Legos are about engineering and design. As a result, I adopted “Engineering and Design” as a theme. By doing so, I was able to ensure that I gathered the opportunities, materials and resources for my students to learn more about these concepts, as opposed to just building with LEGOs. My students were able to take their thinking forward by forming new questions for them to investigate, related to that theme. It is my belief that every child has the right to invent, tinker, create make, and do. Supporting themes in your maker space allows you to address the diverse learning styles of your students by providing a suite of multimodal materials and resources to better meet their needs.
A thematic approach to planning your maker space enables deeper learning, while at the same time allowing students to make connections and transfer knowledge they acquire and apply it in meaningful ways. It is imperative periodically to revisit the planning process. In doing so, you will pick up new themes and drop others, keeping your activities meaningful. As opposed to being a fad that fades, your maker space is guaranteed to be kept relevant and one that will be sustainable into the future.
Laura Fleming is a library media specialist at New Milford High School in New Jersey, as well as the author of Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace at Your School (Corwin Press, 2015).