5 Considerations for Designing Makerspaces

Makerspaces are a really hot commodity in schools and the focus of a lot of the conversation that surrounds improving learning spaces. That’s exciting, and an opportunity to provide new spaces that add capability for students and teachers is always a good thing.

So, given this interest, what are some design questions to consider when thinking of adding a space that has maker capabilities? Here are my top five which focus on the design of such a space:

1. Think maker culture, not maker space. At one time, kids went to a space to do computing — the computer lab. Don’t let your new space become a “second generation computer lab” where this is where making occurs in the school. Find ways to encourage making everywhere, while realizing that a central space is still important because of the need for specialized equipment such as 3D printers.

2. Focus on the experience you want the space to support. At first, avoid a discussion of things and all the “stuff” that goes in such a space. A clear focus on the educational experience that you desire to create will provide the direction necessary to identify the right stuff to purchase. Stuff without a clear association with expectations for learning is just stuff. Think experience first, stuff second.

3. Focusing on the experience will help you define the relationship between curricular uses and the informal, just-in-time exploration of ideas by students. Will the space be used to teach circuitry? Will students be required use Cubelets? Will the space be used to support teacher-defined uses? Or will the space promote an exploration of ideas that are fueled by a student’s passion, curiosity and wonder? Or will it serve both uses, somewhere in-between? What will be the expectations for formal learning vs. informal learning opportunities self-created by students?

4. Involve kids in the creation of the makerspace. I’m constantly amazed by kids and the insights they have about learning in the discovery events I do for clients. Ask yourself: “Why would kids want to come here?” And then ask the kids. They know a lot about learning and a lot about the spaces they like to learn in. Involve them. Do a design charette that enables them to make things. Get some cardboard, a couple of kits from Makedo, and give them a challenge. Learn by watching how they approach making. What unique insights will inform your design based on observing kids making? Involve them from the beginning and get their buy-in…that’s a really important way to get them back into the space after it has been created.

5. Use the space as a launch pad where ideas and solutions that matter are developed. How does the space serve as a catalyst for the creation of new meaning and new ways to serve? How do kids create designs to help people in their school? Their community? Move beyond printing iPhone cases; encourage kids to tackle design challenges that are based in improving the condition of human beings. They are certainly capable of this, and the space can provide the raw material and support for the intellectual flexibility required to think in interesting ways.

A makerspace in your school can provide an additional layer to learning. Such a space can provide students with a space that allows them to learn in ways defined by them. A thoughtful and intentional process that asks the right questions first can help make the space useful, engaging, and something that contributes to the development of problem-seeking/solving skill sets and a disposition that favors creative and innovative thought.