8 Components of a Successful Makerspace
By Luke Jumper
1 – Define Your Success. The first task in implementing a successful makerspace is to define the goal of the space. Are you looking for better grades for students that use the space? Are you looking to expose more students to advanced technology? Are you looking to diversify the makeup of the courses you are teaching? Are you looking for a way to interact with your community? You may choose one or all these goals or more, but define it up front to know how to proceed.
2 – Select Equipment. This is where most schools start and end. The equipment that is typically used in a makerspace is the “shiny object” that many instructors and administrators chase after. It is fun to purchase a new piece of equipment and show it off to students, other instructors, community members and even other schools. You need to ask yourself this question, “How is this going to help my students learn the material?” If you must twist logic into knots to justify it, you are purchasing the incorrect tools. Remember that the tools we use in making are less important that the process of making. To this end, select equipment that is robust enough to withstand the use of a school environment, but is easy enough to use that it is not an impediment to the learning process.
3 – Integrate Into Curriculum. If you build a makerspace in your school, but fail to integrate it into your coursework, you have failed to realize its potential. Many schools take this route and end up with an expensive way to create downloaded knick-knacks. Installation is not implementation. Make sure that you have lessons, projects, or units of study that utilize the equipment in the space in some capacity. Look for ways that a piece(s) of equipment can be used to support what is already being taught in the class. Giving students the ability to “see” the subject matter from a different viewpoint will increase their understanding and lead to better outcomes. With state standards and other requirements, this can be daunting, but is ultimately worth the effort.
4 – Train the Instructors. The instructors have become the students in this instance. We would not expect a student to master new content or a technique without some explanation of why or how. We should not expect the instructors to master new equipment and curriculum without some training. It is just as important to train instructors on how to utilize the lab as it is to purchase the equipment within it. In addition to the initial training, you should expect to update that training on a yearly basis as well as when new instructors join the team.
5 – Determine Operational Framework. This piece is a boring, but a necessary part of running a successful makerspace. You need to determine how the space will function. Will it host full classes? Will it be an open communal space for teachers and students to take advantage of? Will it be used after school or in the summer? Will the public be allowed to use it? Who will manage scheduling? Will you have dedicated personnel running it or distribute this responsibility? This may change as the needs of the school change, but you should outline how you want the space to operate and designate individuals that will have these tasks.
6 – Determine Budget. This seems like a no-brainer, but you need to determine what you are willing to spend on a space like this. There is the initial cost of implementing a space like this, but there will be an ongoing cost as well. There will be ongoing costs of curriculum development, project materials, and teacher time. To be fair, you are already spending money on some of the aspects of this space, so it may be some shifting of funds instead of new spending. You should also look to grants and other funding sources to offset some of the costs. An excellent way to defray yearly costs is to partner with a local business that has a desire for better educated, more technically proficient students graduating from your school.
7 – Include All Students. If you want your space to be truly successful, it should be accessible by the largest proportion of students in the school possible. Many schools fail in this respect by burying the space in the “tech wing” of the school and only permitting students from specific courses to utilize it. This runs contrary to the desire most schools must improve students’ outcomes with project-based learning. Work with the instructors to give them the confidence with the equipment and curriculum that will allow them to employ the space frequently.
8 – Integrate the Community. If you really want to see this space soar, look for ways to integrate the community into the offerings of this space. As mentioned before, the community has an interest in their most valuable asset, the students, to be better educated. You can also invite the community into the space through open houses, workshops, or presentations. This will not only make the school look better in the eyes of the community, but also for parents looking for better schools for their children.
Remember, the goal is to develop a space where students can improve their understanding of the content you are already teaching them. If you are only interested in the “shiny” equipment, don’t call it a makerspace.