Makerspace Musings

This past weekend I helped some of my colleagues host a GAFE (Google Apps for Education) conference in Barrie. When jobs were being assigned I leapt at the chance to help run a makerspace for kids, in part because I am intrigued by the multitude of maker stories appearing in blogs and on twitter, in part because I identify as a maker, and in part because I knew that my own kids would love it. We ended up hosting about 15 kids in our space who ranged in age from 6 to 11 years. Button-making, knitting, weaving, robots, Makey-Makey, squishy circuits, LEGO, art-bots and more were on our ‘maker menu.’

We set up our makerspace in the front foyer of the host school (for optimum visibility) and although it was sunny and spacious it was also cavernous and noisy. The best part? On four different occasions a child told me that they were bored. Each time this happened, that same child soon found something to occupy their attention for at least another hour. At the end of the day I practically pried the button maker out of one girl’s hands as she raced to complete her ‘forty-somethingth’ button.

Standing back and taking in the view on Saturday, things in the makerspace appeared to be very organic. Kids were camped out in bean bag chairs or sprawled on the floor; standing at desks or chasing robots up and down the hall; grazing at the snack table or engaged in constructing a marble run. They explored new media with curiosity and the benefit of minimum adult intervention. Here are some images from the day:

There are a number of schools in our board that have expressed a desire to incorporate makerspaces into their learning environments. After my experience on Saturday I have a better idea of what ‘mass making’ entails, but many questions remain:

  • Would it be possible to free up students in a school to explore, unfettered, for an hour (or hours) at a time?
  • How could we arrange these spaces to help kids get the most out of them?
  • What amount of teacher guidance is appropriate in these spaces?
  • How do we manage the continuous generation of mess that comes with creation (and encourage kids to take ownership of this space)?
  • What is the role of curriculum in a makerspace?
  • How would we manage to maintain a continuous supply of consumables without putting a significant dent in school budgets?

I know that established makerspaces have answers to some of these questions and a good deal of advice to offer, but I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to dabble in a makerspace environment and experience the urgency of these questions for myself.

If you have never visited a makerspace, I would highly recommend the experience. As an alternative, take the plunge host a ‘maker day’ at your school to get a feel for the wonder and excitement that it can generate. One of our secondary schools (Stayner Collegaite Institute) recently hosted such a day, and although I was not able to attend it is clear that it has generated ripples of curiosity.

Finally, tech (in the form of ipads and computers) played only a supporting role in our makerspace. We had several iPads that remained untouched for the entire day. This was not what we had anticipated, but it was wonderful to see how much the students thrived from making with their hands and learning from one another. There was a vivid sense of community in the space that all of us embraced.


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