When the term makerspace first popped into the lexicon I was less than impressed. The idea of rebranding the arts and craft studio into a place where students could do arts and crafts, and make stuff, seemed like calling a large coffee a Venti coffee. Just a rose by another name. Then variations on the idea- makers, maker manifestos, and maker fairs sprung up. This buzzword was gathering a following. Then the precocious little term starting hanging with the in crowd. Combining in books and article with heavy hitters like mindset, Design thinking, and Project Based Learning. even those awesome twins STEM and STEAM where hanging out in makerspaces.
Soon places like Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Stanford had makerspaces, and maker clubs and maker conferences. At that point, I had considered the possibility that makerspace had either changed into something more than just a hippy-dippy art studio or however unlikely that I may have jumped to a conclusion rather than actually looking into a new idea. So with a more open mind and a venti large cup of coffee, I began to explore what a makerspace was and what its movement wanted to do in education.
To be honest, a makerspace can be a studio for all kinds of crafting, so my first impression was not completely wrong. But thinking of a makerspace as a studio, in the same way, my parents called the spare bedroom an art studio is akin to thinking of my cell phone like the kitchen phone they shared.
In its truest form, a makerspace is where all those other terms go from theory to application; a growth mindset is built from opportunities to try, explore, and tinker without fear. Design thinking is just a formula for engineering solutions by taking apart the issue and prototyping possible solutions, and PBL works best if students have a place and resources to make it happen. Within those contexts, the term is more than an extra room.
The whole maker movement is also more complex than just the re-designation of classroom space. The STEM people have shown that with plenty of research; a study from The Carnegie Corporation’s Institute for the Advanced Study Commission on Math and Science Education, concluded that we need to move from the current system of “telling” kids about STEM topics to helping them develop the inquiry and problem-solving skills in more “hands on” and “relevant” ways.
In a more concert sense, the maker movement confronts what the internet has already taught us about today’s students. Back in 2004, the Pew Institute did a study that found by age 12, over 71% students had “contributed to the internet.” in the form of blog posts, videos, music files and graphics. (that was before either Twitter or Instagram.) Not everyone wants to drop an original track on Soundcloud or post a video on YouTube. It is however, human nature to build, create, or tinker, we are internally wired to make. It is both an outlet of individuality and a fostering agent for curiosity, those same qualities the current school system stymies.
Makerspaces are not a panacea for an educational system that needs to be re-engineered. They come with unanswered questions about formative and summative assessments, curricula connections, funding, and access.
Makerspaces are a step forward on a path that puts less distance between the shop class and chemistry lab. Makers, by both design and definition, are resilient to failure, empowered to change, driven to explore and excited to learn.
There is a chance that the term makerspace is a buzzword that will fade and be replaced by a chicer phase. But there is little doubt that this is a good idea for education.