Making Maker Spaces Work for Community Learning

In middle school and high school we had maker spaces, called shop class. All children were invited to participate each semester in one type of shop. Wood, metal, home economics, electronics, video/audio, graphic arts, and auto repair are a few examples of the shop classes we had to choose from. The classes featured real tools, real work, and teaching based on the project approach. The educator in charge would guide us as we worked to complete the project of our own choosing.

Today, echoes of shop class are alive in maker spaces that are a popular inclusion into schools and afterschool programs. Maker spaces invite children to create and explore ideas by creating prototypes of machines, woodworking, robotics, computer science, and 3D printing. Depending on the age of the children, maker spaces are places to explore materials and tools and to learn the capabilities of each. Younger children in maker spaces enhance sensory skills and learn the function of tools and develop motor skills used later for writing.

My first experience with maker spaces was in collaboration with another educator in a afterschool program. Our maker space was a permanent fixture of our environment and existed as the most popular space for children to work. The creative space enabled children to create small works like jewelry and larger projects like a twenty-foot cardboard pirate ship for a play the children were creating. When I moved to a different state and a different program, the first project I completed was setting up another maker space for the children. Once again, the maker space was the most popular place in our environment and the popularity continued during my entire tenure at the school.

What ingredients contributed to the maker space being most popular spot to work in the classroom?

 A maker space is a blank canvas, open to all possibilities.

The space has a plentiful variety of materials, including recycled materials.

The children are free to explore the materials and the methods to create their ideas.

There is time for deep reflection in the work the children create that leads to innovation.

The community contributes and influences the maker space as parents and other program partners donate repurposed and recycled materials.

Each creation is built upon a wondering and has a story.

The sharing of work from the maker space is a community event and fosters children learning together.

Parents often report that children share about their work in a maker space more than any other type of work.

A maker space becomes a place of collaboration as children help each other with ideas, feedback, and execution

The products created are unique and help educators learn more about the child as an individual.

Parents love to hear the stories of the journey their child engaged in while working in a maker space and are usually surprised at the technical skill their child acquires while creating.

Maker spaces create learning opportunities for children of many ages and stages in development.

There are many stories where maker spaces have been created at home because the parents want their children to continue exploring this creative work outside of school.

These are my experiences afterschool what are yours?

Do you have a maker space in your classroom? How do the children use the materials? How are the materials acquired?