Creating a Makerspace Area that is Meaningful
NW BOCES is pleased to offer an independent study option to teachers in our service region. As a part of this course, participants complete a "public product" to share their experience and their learning. Below, East Grand Middle School teacher and guest blogger Missy Quinn writes about her learning as she explored makerspaces in the independent study she completed in Fall 2018. For more information about this course offering (or to sign up) visit nwboces.gosignmeup.com.
While going down my path to create a Makerspace area in my classroom I discovered some great resources and learned a lot of valuable lessons that I’d like to share with you. Makerspaces are a new addition to the Project Based Learning design model and with that comes a lot of unknown in how to integrate them in a meaningful way. I decided to take an Independent Study course that focused on the implementation of a makerspace and how it connects with the Colorado Teacher Quality Standard 3D - especially the professional practices in level 4 and 5 where students are challenged to advocate for their own learning and apply new and different ways of learning.
What is the Point of a Makerspace? (Podcast)
What is the value a Makerspace can offer to any classroom?
A Makerspaces area benefits students by engaging, encouraging, and exploring learning at a deeper level. It’s important to create a maker mindset that includes creative thinking, solving complex problems, iterative thinking, critical thinking, perseverance, thinking divergently, and the engineering process.
How to keep a Makerspace from being totally chaotic?
Rules & Procedures are a must for your Makerspace area. This will help students to understand the structure and expectations of your makerspace area. When students are taking risks with these projects, it’s important to focus on the process and not the outcome. For instance, failures should be celebrated as they are great learning experiences.
Where to begin if you want to put together your first makerspace?
Start with a maker project…. Decide what you are going to have kids create and do a class project with all students. Especially focus on the reflection piece as most students are not familiar with this skill and it takes some practice to really create meaningful reflections.
Create the rules & procedures for your makerspace area and post them in your classroom. You will want to focus and practice these rules and procedures while doing the original maker project so that students will understand the expectations when working on makerspace projects in the future.
While it’s not a necessity, for my makerspace area I created a website with several options for students to look over for ideas. This website included links that might help them get started. For instance, if they are interested in learning how to code in Python, I have linked a few different websites like Kahn Academy and other websites that will teach them the code and challenge them at the end of a lesson.
Setting up your Makerspace area - Create an area with all the items you will need to work on your makerspace projects. I have some items that are available for students to check out for their maker projects like Makey Makeys, Arduino Boards, Raspberry Pi, Little Bits, Meet Edison, Lego Robotics Kits, and other electronic pieces that could easily become broken, lost, or stolen if available to all my classes. In the back of my room I have materials that all students can access like cardboard, marbles, paper, masking tape, and other building materials.
If teachers don't frame and use reflection in a makerspace area, they are leaving learning to chance. Being able to give them the framework of expectations in a maker area, and then reflect on what they have learned will ensure that students are taking risks and learning each time they create something new in my makerspace area. Part of this framework needs to be "problem solving, managing emotions, organizing one's time and designing with empathy", as stated in the article “Don’t Leave Learning Up to Chance: Framing and Reflection” by Katrina Schwartz. A focus on frustration when working in these areas is important as this can be a real issues for many kids when they have learned to follow the instructions and do what they are told. When giving students free reign, many can get frustrated and want you to just tell them what to do. Being able to give them some ways to deal with that frustration can be beneficial in their learning.
In what ways might you help your students to develop reflection skills?
I believe that having questions that guide students to use metacognition, thinking about their thinking, and then giving them options of showing their learning. After attending the Collab Day in Steamboat, where I took several classes dealing with makerspaces, I learned that by giving student options to show their work and learning through different media (videos, podcasts, blogs, etc), gets them more engaged in what they are reflecting on. Also, having a set of reflection questions to guide them through this process is important.
I'm going to have several options for students to reflect on their learning. They will be able to answer questions that are well defined, make a video or podcast discussing what they were able to create and what they learned through that process, or write a blog about their experience. In each of these they will need to address the questions so that adequate reflection is achieved. I know this will be a learning experience for all of us. I also like the idea of creating a game for the times that I use makerspaces as a whole group activity. This way we can play as a class and work through the reflection part together. This would be a great way to introduce the makerspace area and be able to work on reflecting on their learning.
I feel the most important parts of a Makerspace area are to frame the learning with Procedures & Rules that guide students through their work, and to create good Reflection Questions for students to reflect on their learning. Finally, it’s important to embrace the process and let students make their own mistakes and then celebrate those mistakes, because a lot of learning happens when students are not given the answers.