Makerspaces: What’s Old is New Again

Project-based learning is not new. In fact, it has been around since the end of World War I, when the term “The Project Method” was coined to describe a then-new approach to education. What is new now is not just the re-emergence of PBL (project-based learning) and makerspaces in educational settings but the significant following it has developed.


Project-based learning is not new. In fact, it has been around since the end of World War I when Columbia University professor William Heard Kilpatrick coined the term “The Project Method” to describe a then-new approach to education.

What is new now is not just the re-emergence of PBL (project-based learning) and makerspaces in educational settings but the significant following it has developed. Lindsay Simmons, maker educational consultant for MackinMaker division, traces the grassroots maker movement to over a decade ago, when it took root in libraries. In recent years, PBL has attracted millions of dollars in funding from sources including the Hewlett Foundation and the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Makerspaces are loosely defined as any space where students (or adults) can make things, a place for hands-on learning where ideas and tools are shared. In schools and libraries, that space may be a designated area, a room, a table, or even a portable cart.

What is made in the spaces runs the gamut from sophisticated robots to plants grown from a single seed. Some projects can be integrated into content areas and curriculum; others simply offer an innovative and fun way for children and teens to create and collaborate. Either way, PBL is an increasingly integral part of K–12 education.

Sylvia Stein, founder of StickTogether Products, LLC, credits teachers and librarians for devising ingenious ways to integrate makerspaces into their programs, fostering student engagement and socialization.

Wherever the making takes place, the demand for makers resources has grown dramatically. The advertisers featured in this section weigh in on what is new and now.

Sew It! Workshop

Five years ago, New Jersey-based Ellen Lumpkin Brown started running in-person sewing workshops in libraries’ makerspaces. When the pandemic hit, Brown pivoted to virtual, on-demand video workshops for hand and machine sewing, as well as offering physical kits…and Sew It! Workshop was born.

Librarians were so impressed with Brown’s in-person workshops that she was invited to write a chapter on sewing for the upcoming ALA publication 25 Ready-to-Use Sustainable Living Programs for Libraries, due out in November 2022. Brown hopes that the chapter will inspire more librarians to do their own onsite programming and expand their offerings with her video workshops and kits.

The video workshops offer step-by-step instructions, a material and equipment list, budget, and age recommendations for each video, from tweens to adults. The videos are designed to suit different types of libraries, from large institutions with designated makerspaces, to smaller institutions and school libraries that may have only a convertible space. Projects include home decor, totes and bags, animals, and more.

Currently there are 50 on-demand videos, each accompanied by a shareable PDF that illustrates the pattern, as well as instructions that span skill sets ranging from how to thread a needle to more complex stitching.

Sew It! Workshop has experienced rapid growth. In March 2020, libraries in five counties in New Jersey and New York had used Sew It! videos. Now, the company has customers in all 50 states. Access to each video is available for 30 days. The time limit, Brown explained, has prompted many librarians to make Sew It! part of their ongoing programming.

To learn more, visit

Lerner Maker Lab

Lerner Publishing Group, a familiar name to librarians and educators throughout the country, is “always evolving,” says Kris Tomes, senior digital project manager, to keep up with educational advancements and trends. This past January, the company launched Lerner Maker Lab, a subscription-based, interactive database of makers projects for schools and libraries with makerspaces, designed specifically for children in grades 2–5. More than 700 librarians and teachers participated in the launch event, according to Publicity Director Lindsay Matvick.

The database provides 550 projects from which students can choose in the categories of Craft, Build, Experiment, Eat, and Celebrate. Many of the projects complement STEAM curricula. All of the projects are designed to motivate children and engage them, whether at home or in the classroom. New categories are in the works for fall 2023, and new products will be added each publishing season. The database is constantly updated to keep the contents relevant, notes Tomes, who cites environmental concerns being top of mind these days.

Maker Lab is a closed-browser system; there are no links to the general Internet and the system does not take student identifying information, so privacy and safety are ensured. Additionally, if a project involves an action needing supervision—such as a recipe requiring an oven—a prompt tells children to “ask an adult for help.”

The projects can be done by a child alone, with a parent or teacher, with multiusers, or as a classroom activity, as the digital content is easy to exhibit on a smart board. Projects include a materials list, step-by-step instructions, photos, and illustrations. Some projects are paired with books. All are designed to use easily found, accessible, and low-cost materials. One science activity requires only string and straws to create a robotic hand.

Popular projects include creating a hungry frog with paper towels and making a bird feeder. A big favorite in the cooking area is the recipe for a Banana Dog: a hot dog and a banana with peanut butter and raisins. Projects also include ones that tie into seasons and holidays, like creating spooky animals for Halloween or creating a Petite Piñata to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Projects can be combined to create larger classroom events, such as planning a party using recipes or holding a mini science fair with completed science projects.

To learn more, visit

StickTogether Products, LLC

Lifelong maker and former product developer for Fortune 500 companies, Sylvia Stein did not intend to launch a business when she brought her StickTogether project to Maker Faire in 2015. But her mosaic poster puzzle was a instant hit. With librarians and other educators asking for her product, the company was born. Within two weeks of launch, StickTogether had 50,000 users. “The whole business was founded by the librarian and makerspaces community,” Stein says.

The company’s primary product is the StickTogether kit. For children ages 5–10, the kit is “like paint by numbers but with pixel stickers” Stein says. Each kit includes a coded poster, (pixel) stickers, a color key, and instructions and tips. The image on the poster starts to be revealed as everyone playing “sticks together.” The kit comes in two sizes: the more popular 40 x 60 inches, with approximately 4,000 stickers and more than 50 images to choose from; and a 60 x 36 inches, with 7,000 stickers and a more limited selection of images. A digital version is also available.

The posters are organized by collections including Adventure, Animal, Masterpiece, Seasonal, and Resilience. Images range from koala bears to rocket ships and even Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Some posters, like the image of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reveal a quote when designated squares are stickered first.

For educators, students, and parents, the kits provide an inclusive activity that creates a space for sharing and collaboration. More important, StickTogether “bypasses all languages and academic abilities and has proven very popular with a wide range of both children and adults with special needs. It levels the playing field,” Stein says.

To learn more, visit



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