Making a Makerspace: What Do We Make Here? Some Capabilities and Tools for Your Educational Makerspace

This is Part 3 in my Making a Makerspace series.  If this interests you, catch parts one and two.


A makerspace is a space for a group of interesting and creative people to make something.  Makerspaces differ from traditional constructional spaces in schools such as woodshops, auto mechanics shops, tech labs, etc because making brings three ideas into the classroom: collaboration, communication and personal fabrication.  Personal fabrication brings new, ever-cheaper technologies, such as 3D printing and desktop CNC machines, into the classroom for educational use.  Collaboration focuses on group and community work, whether in the shop space, your local community or on the web.  Makers work with others, in the space, in the community and on the web.  Lastly, makerspaces push communication.  A project is not complete until it is shown off.  Makers collaborate with others, modifying open-source projects and giving the innovation back to the open community.  If you have students, the students are pushed to show  their work to their community: peers, teachers, parents.


So what tools do you need in a makerspace to be successful? Actually it’s easier to thing about what you want your students do…and build those capabilities into your classroom.  Once you figure out the capabilities of your MakerSpace, you can outfit your MakerSpace with the correct tools.  The High School MakerSpace Playbook offers some tools, such as general construction, electronics, 3-d printing, textiles, et cetera, and a great launching point for outfitting your space.  The MakerSpace proposed in the Playbook costs roughly 50 grand to begin.  If you don’t have the money, what do you do?  You deliberately determine what your MakerSpace’s capabilities should be, then you chase it.


All good projects in a Makerspace begin with design.  Students have great ideas, but often need explicit instruction and tool-knowledge in brainstorming and designing projects. Therefore, the Makerspace needs a robust design capacity or our students miss out on a therapeutic need.  To accommodate this, we have computer-aided design programs (CAD), computer-science learning environments, and graphic-arts software installed on all laptops and desktop computers.  And – we have enough computers to accommodate numerous class sizes – but not yet 1-1.  Specifically, I use SketchUp: Make for a CAD program, Alice 3 as a programming environment and GIMP/Inkscape for graphic arts.  These are not the only tools out there, these are just my tools.


Once a project is designed, it’s time to build something.  Prototyping is the rapid creation of a product.  In a classroom, this might be the building of a catapult, repainting of a bicycle, or the design of a geometric object to be 3-d printed.  Our STEAMworks would attempt to accommodate the widest range of projects while respecting the limits of the space, safety, and health considerations of our students.  We focused on three main sub-domains of prototyping:  wood-working, 3-d printing, and electronics.  Woodworking is a basic skill.  Mastery of measurement, angles, and cutting implements means nearly any project that can be imagined can be created out of wood.  Better yet – local reuse organizations provide free materials.  3-D printing provides students an avenue or production and novelty which excites, engages, and ignites students’ learning.   Electronics allow explorations into higher-order mathematics – and make killer halloween decorations.

If student cannot test their theories or their products, they can never truly progress along their developmental pathway.  Testing is a way of evaluation and reflection.  Students must have access to numerous measurement devices, such as scales, tape-measures, dial calipers, sectors, stop watches, rulers, compasses, dividers, decibel meters, refractometers, and laser thermometers.  In Physics, students will film their motion experiments and model the results via video capture software.  Algebraic and geometric modeling software allows deeper exploration and presentation of their learning.

I knew we would capture everything on camera – in fact, one of my favorite strategies for engaging a reluctant learner is handing them a camera and saying, “take as many pictures as you can.”  This allows my students to document, manipulate, and publish all sorts of media.  We needed a blogging platform to reach an interested audience, video editing software to present professional artifacts of learning, and literacy tools for those students who needed extra support expressing themselves, such as dictation, speech recognition and audio software for podcasts.


Finally, the MakerSpace should be conductive to iteration.  None of these steps happen in a linear manner, nor should it.  The capabilities must be flexible enough to include all sorts of stops and starts, false trails and bridges into competence.

The cost of a MakerSpace is not an insurmountable hurdle.  Careful consideration of the needs of your students and the scope of your curriculum will naturally guide your material and tool purchases.  Begin small – a few hand tools, a carpenter’s box and lots and lots of cardboard.  One laptop.  You’ll be surprised what shows up.


Make it safe & keep the rubberside down this week.

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