Want To Build a Great Maker Space? Plan Before You Play, Say Experts.

Got the maker bug but don’t know where to start? Check with the very people you hope to entice: your students. Panelists Laura Fleming, Tamiko Brown, and David Jakes offered their advice in the webcast "Build a Great Makerspace."
Got the maker space bug but don’t know where to start? Check with the very people you hope to entice: your students.

Laura Fleming

“Without the student voice, you have nothing more than a bunch of stuff in the corner of the room,” says Laura Fleming, a librarian, consultant, and author of The Kickstart Guide to Making Great Makerspaces (Sage, 2017). Fleming was a panelist for “Build a Great Makerspace,” a School Library Journal (SLJ) webcast, copresented with ISTE and held Tuesday, September 21. The hour-long discussion covered how to start a maker space, where to find great project ideas, and why trying a project that may not work is actually the whole point. “Learning happens when you’re slightly uncomfortable,” says Tamiko Brown, librarian at Ed White E-STEM Magnet School (EWS) in El Lago, TX. “This is true for the student and for the educator.”

Failing is always an option

Tamiko Brown
Photo by Felix Sanchez

According to Brown, SLJ’s School Librarian of the Year, maker spaces give children a way to stretch and grow—particularly if they stayed focus, as she believes they should, on the process and not the final project. She used Google apps as her example—tools that are always in beta, meaning they’re never finished and always being tweaked. To her, students should approach their time in a maker space—and the projects they start—the same way: something to tinker with rather than try and perfect. If something doesn’t work? Try again. “A maker space teaches kids grit and perseverance to try until they’re successful,” she says. Besides the library’s maker space—which is open to all students during their library class—Brown developed take-home kits, with projects that use tools from Arduino to Makey Makey and a range of skills, such as knitting. Students need parent permission to check them out (some can have upwards of $200 worth of materials in them) for up to two weeks to tinker on their own time.

David Jakes

To David Jakes, founder and chief design officer of David Jakes Designs, seeing students take the maker space concept out of a school’s walls is exactly the point. A successful maker space is one that give children a chance to learn all the skills of making, according to Jakes, even how to start and sustain a project once they’re out on their own. After all, while cardboard and glue guns may not be the tools of their trade when they move in their adult lives, students who have the ability to approach their job from multiple angles as they try to succeed at a task at hand are, at the least, likely to enjoy their work more. “So when they leave your school, they continue to create, they continue to make with the tools of their choosing,” says Jakes.

Plan before play

Educators should aim to not just build a maker space but a great maker space, according to Fleming. And that goal can only be met by making sure the specific needs of school community are addressed and not just copied from someone else’s space. Librarians can look for projects online (such as on her blog, "Worlds of Making"), but they should also tailor their idea to what their students could benefit from the most. She agrees that 3-D printers and Raspberry Pi’s and other technology gadgets are fun to use. But before dropping a significant portion of their annual budget on devices and tools, librarians should think about how they’ll be put to use—and if that’s what they’re students even may want. “While that stuff can be important, in my opinion it really is having that opportunity for open-ended exploration that pushes students outside of their comfort zone,” she says.   Jakes believes that ultimately, no matter how many projects and goodies are tucked into the library, a maker space can only succeed if everyone in a school is involved and feels they have ownership, not just a school librarian and students. He says when he goes to a new project site on campus, one of his first questions to ask is, "Who will be responsible for maintaining the maker space?" This question is one he asked during a recent visit to a charter school. “Every single hand shot up,” he says. Brown says that at her library she doesn’t have the luxury of library aides helping her run the maker space. But “passionate parent volunteers,” she says, have been able to step up and help. And teachers also help mobile maker spaces, project kits that can be checked out for classroom use for a week at a time. “Our maker space is like a village,” she says. “We also use student helpers, and as they’re becoming more of an expert, they’re able to help younger one make and create. So that’s really exciting to see.”

Next up: 60 Tools

The next webcast in the series, "60 Tools in 60-ish Minutes" takes place October 19.
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