What is a Maker Space

Published by David Martelli on

So this site is all about helping teachers to give their students the tools and experience needed to become truly excellent makers of things.  One of the really fun parts about that is getting to actually give them tools!

Getting their hands dirty is one of the most fulfilling parts of a maker curriculum, whether it’s using a camera to capture an epic performance, using a hammer to make that bridge, or using a 3D printer to make their own fidget spinner, having a space to safely learn, create, and play is an absolute must!

So what is it then that goes into a space for making (one might call it, a Maker Space?)  Here are a few guidelines to get you started on your way to giving your kids an amazing space that will give them the freedom to explore and create whatever their imagination can dream up!

It’s a big buzz word, and everyone wants one.

The term Maker Space has kind of a convoluted history, especially in education it tends to bring images of massive school expansion, maybe an extra building to house all of the massive and loud machinery.  New standing desks, maybe with treadmills attached and electrical outlets raining from the ceiling.

Over the last few years, schools that are looking for a marketing advantage or wanting to be seen as being cutting edge and innovative have sunk a ton of resources into creating these massive spaces that house all of the latest technologies.  Cathedral ceilings, 3D printers, laser cutters, and a ton of tools, these schools have created basically a Mythbusters lab and attached it to their school

While this is awesome, and if you have the resources and the space, then this is an amazing suite of resources to bring to the table, interestingly enough, these cool bells and whistles are by far not the most important aspect of bringing a maker program, and maker space, to your institution.

The physical space doesn’t matter as much as the culture

The culture and integration of a maker culture is far more important than having a dedicated physical space with a ton of the newest toys.  You can have the coolest space, with the most high tech machines available, but if it’s just sitting there, or being used to do simple cookie cutter projects than all those resources are going to waste.

What matters most is that you are encouraging an environment of creative play that allows the students to feel comfortable taking risks and building outside of their comfort zone.  By giving students the freedom to design and create their own unique projects and solutions, they will have the chance to learn the difficulties of building something from scratch, and the grit required to deal with their creations not working the way they had hoped on their first try.  Learning the iterative design process can show that what seems like failure is often the first step towards creating something completely new requires that they are comfortable having an environment that encourages risk taking, and failing upward.

Can be a box, cart, room, addition to building

The thought that the philosophy and culture matters so much more is also great news for our budgets, as it means that the huge innovation centers that cost several million to build are not required to have a successful program.  You can start with a small cart that travels from room to room.  The cart can be as complex as a mobile 3d printing and computer station with a bunch of hand tools and materials, or as simple as a small cart with cardboard, Popsicle sticks, and markers.  The projects and challenges you create much more important than the materials and tools you have access to.

Bring a maker culture to your school, not just a room in your school

A cart can even have some advantages over having a large dedicated space.  The first maker space I helped build was at the corner of a fairly large building, situated at the end of the middle school hallway.  While this area is quite purpose built and allows for a lot of flexibility in projects, it was so far away from the younger grades that they almost never utilized the space.

We ended up creating a mobile cart with all the materials needed to run some projects and make the tools the kids needed more easily accessible.  When a teacher was going to start a project or design challenge, they would simply book the cart for their room during that period and wheel the supplies they needed directly into their classroom, saving on the headache of moving kids around and needing to find space in another room to store their projects.

It’s not just another class/co-curricular, it’s a resource

And that brings us to our last point.  Don’t just bring a maker space into your building as a separate class separate from the rest of your curriculum.  Allow the maker space and it’s resources and teaching methodologies to become a part of the over all culture of the school.  Project and problem based learning can be adapted for almost any subject, science is an obvious choice, but use math classes to build machines that visualize their calculations, humanities can utilize VR or engineering to show what tools are available to other cultures or times in history.

A maker space at it’s simplest, a resource to help learners engage in content, and for educators to bring concepts into the real world in an engaging and fun way.