"To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk."
Tom had a point, and happily this idea has made its way back into education. For many, makerspaces have found a home in the school library and are places where critical thinking and inquiry reside. Whether it's a problem to be solved or an idea to bring to life, a great makerspace will provide the fodder. Introducing a makerspace activity with a lesson including discussion helps ensure students will have a sense of purpose, engagement, and the challenge to create.
Whether full of high-tech gear or low-tech "junk," all great makerspaces are based on the theory of Constructionism, which contends that not only does learning occur by constructing meaning, but also by then constructing real-world items to be shared. For example, in my high school library, I created a "pop-up" makerspace activity suggested by a student who wanted the school to make blankets to share with our local children's hospital for her senior capstone project. The young patients there received a blanket for a sense of security and were able to take their blankets home when they left. My student leader solicited material from people around the school and greater community, and I created a place for her and other interested students to work on the blankets. There was purpose, engagement, and a problem to solve. There was also a tangible item to be shared.
Ensuring you infuse your makerspace activities with a sense of purpose is worth the little extra time and effort it takes. In her recent book Makers with a Cause: Creative Service Projects for Library Youth, Gina Seymour discusses the importance of active reflection as a strategy. Take time to begin a project by using some simple reflective questions with students:
Why are we doing this?
Who is affected?
How does this make a difference?
Asking questions like these can take a makerspace project from a fun activity to a project of which to be proud and one that makes students think beyond what they already know. Once the project is completed, make sure students have time to reflect again, this time on what they have accomplished:
Did this have the desired outcome?
What were the strengths or weaknesses of our project?
What would we do differently next time?
Now you are probably thinking, "How can this be done in my busy library? I have individual students and classes visit all day. I don't have time to stop and discuss and reflect with each student who uses the makerspace." Well, you don't have to. Got room for signage in your makerspace location? These questions would make great posters—just remind students to look at them before they begin. Or if you would like a little more accountability for makerspace usage, require that students do a pre-assessment page that asks the first three questions. At the end of the project, use an exit slip to ask the last three questions. Not only will this practice foster more authentic learning and growth, student comments can be used as powerful qualitative data to measure and report on the impact of your makerspace.
You may be fortunate enough to have a room or space that you can dedicate to your Makerspace Lab/TinkerSpace/CreationStation. If so, what a great opportunity to do some collaborative teaching! Service learning and community service coordinate well with social studies, inventing can be intriguing for science teachers, and even low-tech letters to service men and women or senior citizens would be a good writing activity for English classes.
If you are new to makerspaces or are seeking new ideas to add a sense of purpose and engagement to your activities, I recommend you check out the sample resources from Gina Seymour on our Curriculum Connection page this month. These resources and those in Gina's new book give you great, manageable projects that will benefit your students and the greater community as well. (And you may enjoy them too!)