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If you’re on Twitter or you’ve been to any education conferences lately, you’ve probably heard the word “makerspace” before. But what exactly is a makerspace and why should you want one in your classroom?

Makerspaces are all about stimulating creative thought and design thinking, encouraging innovation and differentiating your students’ learning journeys. If you can set up a makerspace for your students, it won’t be long before you start seeing the positive results.

Stick with us to find out how to set up a makerspace, what your students can create there and how it’s revolutionizing education.

What is a makerspace?

Maker + space = makerspace. It doesn’t seem that complicated, right? And the truth is, it’s not.

Google defines the term “makerspace” as:

a place in which people with shared interests, especially in computing or technology, can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge.

While that might sound a little intimidating for the classroom, especially for younger students, makerspaces can (and have been) adapted to every grade and skill level. Whoever you teach, there’s a way to create a makerspace for them!

The basic idea behind a makerspace is that it’s an area designated for creating, with tools and resources to allow your students to turn their ideas into a reality. That can range from building ancient Greek temples with toilet paper rolls to 3-D printing prosthetics.

The possibilities are literally as endless as your students’ ideas!

The History Behind Makerspaces

Dig into the history of the makerspace, and you’ll find that almost all the sources credit its origin to the founding of Make magazine back in 2005.

The following year, in 2006, they launched the very first Maker Faire in California, an event that has expanded to over 200 Maker Faires across the globe!

At a Maker Faire, students and makers from all walks of life gather to share their creations. Make magazine describes it as “part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new.” Field trip opportunity, anyone?

Makerspaces took another leap forward in 2009 with President Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign designed to help stimulate STEM education in the United States. He was famously quoted as saying:

I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent—to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.

MIT’s famous FabLabs (fabrication laboratories) were also an early model for makerspaces, and the importance they were given at the university level would eventually trickle down to classrooms in secondary and primary education.

How to Set Up a Makerspace

Now that you know a little bit about where the idea of makerspaces came from, just how exactly can you get started with yours?

The first step is choosing where to set up your makerspace. Will it be in your classroom? The library? The shop classroom? The computer lab? Or somewhere else?

If you’re the makerspace pioneer or among the first teachers at your school to try it out, your classroom will be the best bet. If you’ve got other teachers and your admin on board, you can pitch setting up a whole room for your makerspace! What have you got to lose?

Next, organization is everything. Create a list of materials you want to get started with, thinking of things that can be donated or “upcycled” (recycled and repurposed to make something new and better).

Here it’s important not to forget about storage! Make sure you have enough bins or containers to hold all of your new goodies and store student projects that are in the process of creation. When students are in the nitty-gritty of making, there will be some mess involved, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be neatly put away when the time at their makerspace is up.

Think about the types of supplies you’ll need based on your age group and budget. For getting started, John Spencer, a former teacher and expert on design thinking and makerspaces, suggested in an interview with Cult of Pedagogy:

I would have some kind of physical prototyping items, like duct tape, cardboard, packing tape, that type of stuff. I would have circuitry, because it’s so inexpensive and easy to do…like one or two Snap Circuits. I would have a couple computers devoted specifically to using something like Hour of Code or Scratch, and then I would probably have a podcasting area and a green screen area.

Finally, Angela Watson’s makerspace recommendations include keeping a wish list with more expensive items like a 3-D printer or a Makey Makey kit:

If this all sounds a little bit overwhelming, take a breath and take a step back. Spencer suggests simply starting with a maker project to see how things go first. If you and your students are excited about the results, go forth and make your makerspace!

Adapting Your Makerspace to Different Grade Levels and Subject Areas

While high school and college students might be deep into programming, complex circuitry and 3-D printing, a makerspace for elementary students will look quite different.

For younger students, activities could include taking apart old toys and putting them back together to see how they work; building cities and structures with blocks, cardboard, popsicle sticks, etc.; or learning how to code for the first time with robots like Dash or Sphero.

While most of the makerspace activities may feel like they’re leaning heavily on STEM subjects, arts and humanities can also easily be folded into a makerspace.

For music class, students can try making their own music videos or creating their own instruments, either with recycled materials or through coding.

Podcasts and making documentaries with a greenscreen are some of John Spencer’s ideas for language arts and social studies classes, while for P.E., he suggests having students design their own sport.

The point is, there’s no reason not to start your own makerspace because you’re afraid your students are too young or your subject area doesn’t lend itself to making. But if you do find yourself at a loss for ideas, there are plenty of resources out there to inspire your makerspace.

Resources for Makerspaces One great place to head for resources for your makerspace is Twitter, where you’ll find helpful nuggets just like this one:

We’ve also rounded up some helpful articles and video resources to help you learn more about how to make your makerspace:

So now it’s time to get to making! We can’t wait to see what you come up with… and what your students end up making!

Learn more about makerspaces on Edpuzzle