Makerspaces in Education & Literacy
Danielle Marie Kowalewicz
Today, technology is becoming more and more prevalent in education, and that means students are losing the ability to create and invent with their hands because they now have technology such as iPads that do all the creative work for them. Makerspaces are popping up in schools for just that reason – to help students learn by creating and inventing their own learning!
What is a Makerspace?
According to Leanne Bowler (2014) in her article, Creativity Through “Maker” Experiences and Design Thinking in the Education of Librarians, “A makerspace is a physical place in the library where informal, collaborative learning can happen through hands-on creation, using any combination of technology, industrial arts, and fine arts that is not readily available for home use” (p. 59). The main purpose is to allow students access to technology and tools that they wouldn’t usually get in the classroom or at home. They don’t always have to be in a library, and in fact they usually are not, because of the loud noises that makerspaces can make! Makerspaces allow children to make and create a version of what they are learning, or even create and learn something they never intended to, to stimulate deeper thinking.
According to Steven Kurti, Debby Kurti and Laura Fleming (2014) in their article The Philosophy of Educational Makerspaces Part 1 of Making an Educational Makerspace, makerspaces should create an environment that inspires students to invite curiosity, inspire wonder, encourage playfulness and celebrate unique solutions (p. 10). Makerspaces are and should be a place where it is okay for students to make mistakes, and to use trial and error to learn what the correct answer is, and to find new and different ways to come to conclusions. When students learn that it is okay to fail and get the wrong answer as long as they continue to try again, it promotes high order thinking they will need when they progress through school.
“Maker education fosters curiosity, tinkering, and iterative learning, which in turn leads to better thinking through better questioning. This learning environment fosters enthusiasm for learning, student confidence, and natural collaboration. Ultimately, the outcome of maker education and educational makerspaces leads to determination, independent and creative problem solving, and an authentic preparation for the real world by simulating real-world challenges.” ~ Steven Kurti, Debby Kurti & Laura Fleming
The way education is taught to students is constantly changing due to societal factors; the more advanced the technology gets the more creative teachers have to become. Makerspaces promote a new approach to teaching in education called STEM. STEM stands for Science, Technology and Engineering, and Mathematics. According to Amanda S. Roberts (2013), a Ph.D. student at Old Dominion University studying teaching strategies for STEM education, in her article, STEM IS HERE. NOW WHAT? states that, “STEM education is an approach in which STEM subjects are integrated through an instructional method that uses design-based, problem-solving, discovery, and exploratory learning strategies” (p. 22). STEM goes along with the learning format of project-based learning, which ties standards in with projects. Makerspaces fit right in with this style of learning, because it promotes discovery and exploration.
Another great educational framework that makerspaces fit in with is STEAM. It is similar to STEM in that it just adds an A for art. According to Sheena Ghanbari (2014), a writer for the STEAM Journal, states in her article STEAM: The wave of the future embedded in ideals of the past, “With the economic push to increase STEM majors at the university level it is fitting that there is a momentum to integrate the arts with STEM to make it STEAM. Adding the “A” serves to benefit students and bring creativity and experiential learning into the STEM landscape” (p. 1). With the addition of the art concept, it brings about a more kinesthetic type of learning, which for many students is the best form of learning. Ghanbari, in her article, talks about observing a classroom who embodied the STEAM framework when doing their final projects where the students had to mold scientifically accurate sculptural representations of various species. She noted that, “Students repeatedly noted that “using their hands” to create the mold helped engrain the scientific concepts taught in the course” (p. 1). With the aid of hands on learning, teachers can take content to the next level and have students create their learning at a deeper level.
How Do Makerspaces Tie Into Literacy?
Laura Fleming is a library media specialist at New Milford High School in New Jersey who has used makerspaces to help improve literacy. One literacy assignment Fleming does is she picks out books that do not have a linear structure, so she can expose her students to a different way of reading and writing; once students see this new way Fleming allows her students to create their own editions or endings to the story using all the different tools and resources found in her makerspace. The main idea was to encourage her students to image, create, and build their ideas.
“I believe this maker movement is one that all educators need to embrace. The incredible affordances of new media allow for opportunities to create a “maker culture” in our schools like never before. This is true whether you have a formally designated makerspace in your school or not.” ~ Laura Fleming
Another great example is exposing students to stories that move through a continuum of creating — stories that are told through multiple different media forms, such as text and video. In Fleming’s (2014) article Literacy in the Making Showing how the ‘maker movement’ has a place in all disciplines, she states that, “This transmedia story helped to move my students from consumption to creation and sparked a mash-up of experience. The process became less about the task of writing and more about telling stories by leveraging traditional elements and new technologies to shape their narrative” (p. 29). Her students ended up creating stories that involved text, video, games as well as puzzles. Because students were not just writing a story they were creating a story over multiple different media formats, the assignment became much more engaging and meaningful.
“The word makerspace for me is really simply a metaphor for enabling opportunities for your students to create, imagine, and build, and what better springboard for that than stories? Stories fuel and ignite the imagination.” ~ Laura Fleming
Questions to Consider When Planning for a Makerspace.
If your school is planning on starting a makerspace, there are questions that your school needs to consider before moving forward. The Canadian library, Edmonton Public Library (EPL), has implemented a successful makerspace. Their makerspace contains 3D Printers, Espresso Book Machine [a machine that prints, covers, and binds books within minutes], creative workstations (PC’s & Mac’s), digital conversation hardware, gaming consoles, and a green screen. The EPL has kindly shared their process in implementing their makerspace in an article written by Carla Haug (2014) titled Here’s How We Did It: The Story of the EPL Makerspace, and these were some of the key questions they kept in mind when planning for their makerspace (p. 22):
- Services and Equipment
These a crucial questions to keep in mind when planning for a makerspace. When creating a makerspace you need to keep in mind the services and equipment that you are intending to purchase; along with that your school should have a good understanding of the purpose of each and every tool so that nothing is wasted. You also need to get in touch with your school’s IT department to make sure that any technology you bring into your makerspace will be supported by the infrastructure of the school system. Partnership was included as another source of income besides grants — if a school partners with members of the community or with technology partners (such as Apple) the school is more likely to find funding and receive discounts. Lastly is evaluation, your school needs a system to evaluate the effectiveness of your makerspace. If your makerspace is not being used in the way that it was intended there needs to be a way to evaluate where it is lacking and find strategies on how to help alleviate the problem!
Maker education utilizes the developing technological advances to further knowledge rather than allowing the technology to replace it. Today, schools are beginning to embrace maker education and are providing children with makerspaces that provide them with a platform for making things and learning through hands-on activities. The idea of these spaces is to allow the students to discover, invent and understand content through making. To engage students and teach them the skills needed in today’s society, teachers need to find new and innovative ways to deliver content and makerspaces do just that.
To get a more unique take on makerspaces in education and literacy, I used different genres to get the point across! Enjoy!