Five Ways to Jumpstart Your Makerspace
By Brittany Murro, Elementary iSTEM Educator
The world of education is constantly evolving and changing, and one of the newest trends in education is developing a makerspace area. Some schools have an entire room dedicated as a makerspace area, and some teachers are finding ways to incorporate mini makerspaces in their individual classrooms. A makerspace is a place where students can imagine, build, create, tinker, explore, and play. It is an area where students have the freedom to follow their interests and their passions, where they get to sit in the driver’s seat and take charge of their own learning. Gone are the days of the teacher standing in front of the room and leading all learning. While teachers will always be there to help support and facilitate, makerspaces are truly student-led and student-driven. Students are transformed into designers and inventors; they are transformed into problem-solvers who can tackle challenges, overcome obstacles, and persevere. They are empowered to create positive change and help the world around them.
However, this paradigm shift of the students now taking on a leadership role in the classroom comes with a change in culture and, in some cases, a change of mindset. What are students learning in makerspaces? What standards are being addressed? How do makerspaces connect to the curriculum? When I had first entered the world of makerspaces, I had asked myself all of these questions, too. Any time that you venture out of the realm of familiar and into the world of new possibilities, there will be questions that arise, along with some hesitations at first. But the key is to do your homework early. I began looking into the Maker Movement, and I felt like my teaching career was being rejuvenated! What are students learning in makerspaces? They are developing creative and critical thinking skills, which help to better prepare them for their future careers. They are developing independence, perseverance, and resiliency. They are learning the importance of grit and the lessons that go along with trying, failing, and trying again. What standards are addressed? All of them! Makerspaces can apply to every subject, in any grade, and in every learning environment. After doing much research, I felt a surge of energy, and I began to get started.
Starting early is important. You always want to have a plan before you jump into something new. These five steps helped me to jumpstart my makerspace.
1) Get to know some incredible makerspaces that are already out there! There are so many fabulous educators who have entered into the world of makerspaces! Many of these educators are sharing their work on social media, so you can see some of their really creative and engaging ideas that might help to inspire some ideas of your own. Do you know about a cool makerspace in your area? Reach out and see if you can schedule a tour. The best way to learn about the makerspace process is from others who have already embarked on the journey.
2) Poll your students on their interests. Every makerspace is special in its own way and unique to the students who will be using it. By interviewing students and getting some survey data, you will have a better idea of what your students are hoping to explore, and you will have a better sense of where to start. There is nothing more important than student voice and student choice! You want the students to be vested in their learning!
3) Plan out your space. You want your space to have that “WOW” factor with students without breaking the bank in the process. How do you want your students to feel when they enter their new space? What do you want their first reaction to be, and how will you make sure you get it? It’s important to be resourceful when planning your space and what will be available in it. What do you already have that you can repurpose and use in some way? What resources do you have at your disposal in your school district or in your local community? Start small, and let your plans evolve and expand naturally over time.
4) Get your local community involved. The biggest support system that I had in my makerspace journey was our surrounding community. It is important to involve your local community from the beginning, and find ways to make them part of your growing process. For me, I used social media and letters to the community to help promote our new learning space and our new makerspace adventure. I started posting ideas and pictures early on, from the moment that the makerspace was completely bare to when it was complete, documenting all of the stages of the growing process. I even created a video tour to promote and share our space with the community. I found that after the community had a better sense of what a makerspace was and how we planned to use it, the community members were excited to come in and check out our space, and they were eager to make donations. Even now that we are well into our makerspace program, I still have families and community members that are making donations to our space every single day.
5) Gather your materials. Are you surprised that gathering your materials is the last step of the process? However, it is the last step for a reason. You can’t just start buying materials and making plans without getting to know your students and their needs and without seeing what can be repurposed or donated. Go through all of the other steps, evaluate where you are at in your planning process, and then start to plan which materials to purchase accordingly.
Embarking on a new adventure in the world of makerspaces is exciting, but it can be overwhelming at first, too. It is important to take your time and slowly build your space; everything does not have to be done overnight. The best and most beautiful thing about makerspaces is that they are constantly evolving and changing, just like our students. Take time to enjoy the journey and adventure alongside your students, and look forward to the bright future ahead!
Brittany Murro received a BA in Education and a BA in Writing Arts from Rowan University. She currently teaches in Tabernacle, NJ and was named Tabernacle Elementary School’s Governor’s Educator of the Year in 2014–2015. She enjoys serving on various committees and writing curriculum for her district. You can follow her on Twitter @BrittanyMurro or through her blog, Collaboratory Corner.
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