During my eight-plus years of teaching students in a makerspace-style environment, I have witnessed first-hand a surge of interest in problem-based curriculum from both our youth and their parents due to its ability to engage students and to help them retain the knowledge.
This is why the marriage between the classroom and the makerspace is so potent. It fills the gap between classroom theory and the physical world. Historically, sparse classroom budgets have been the root cause for a lack of modern equipment in the classroom. This made sense, of course, when an entry-level 3D printer could cost more then $20,000. Now, a derivative of the technology can be purchased with the proceeds of a single bake sale, or even through parent donation.
The beauty of the makerspace is its ability to not only inspire students, but to accelerate their knowledge intake through exciting and imaginative curricular application. In order to facilitate this, schools need to consider the design constraints imposed by makerspace equipment and how it might affect classroom layout.
There are two ways that a makerspace can be integrated into your school: either as part of the existing classroom environment or as an entity unto itself. While each present different challenges, each can be profoundly effective in assisting and inspiring students.
As part of the classroom environment, the makerspace mentality and equipment can be instrumental to the success of the curriculum and engagement of the students. Students embrace the responsibility of using technical equipment, and when they see the potential this equipment provides, their excitement helps motivate their peers.
The decision to merge Makerspace and classroom should extend department-wide, as it helps to improve knowledge retention among students. This idea of “vertical articulation” applies typically to curriculum, yet is just as effective when working with equipment.
For example, students are educated and conditioned to use calculators in their math classes. When they leave class and go to a science course that needs them to solve an equation, chances are they are going to reach for that calculator. If every classroom had a 3D printer, they would reach for that, too.
The benefits that makerspace technology can afford the classroom environment is astounding. One of the largest hiccups that has prevented innovative exploration in the classroom is the presence of standardized curriculum. With the help of makerspace technology, innovation and imagination can now supplement and support the standardized curriculum, making the classroom more exciting and engaging for student and teacher alike.
Most classrooms integrate the idea of a “lab” or “activity” that takes the students away from the books and requires them to apply the concept in a physical manner. This allocated time is optimal for the education and integration of makerspace technology.
Here are potential content areas where makerspace equipment could benefit the classroom environment:
• Science: makerspace technology can be used to assist in the physical modeling and assembly of chemical compounds, cell and bone structures, and in developing an understanding of how data is acquired and analyzed.
• Technology and Engineering: Makerspace technology can supplement a wide array of projects that would normally require multi-thousand-dollar machines. It directly ties into courses that focus on architecture, design and manufacturing, robotics, industrial and mechanical engineering, electronics, and virtually all other technology education and engineering curriculum.
• Art: Makerspace technology can provide a medium for a large number of artistic projects. This can include modeling, photography, computer-controlled art, light and sound, and so on.
• Mathematics: Makerspace technology can help illustrate many mathematical concepts through the production of physical objects. Equations and their relationships can be physically constructed, altered and computed all within the classroom.
In the event that the makerspace cannot coexist with the classroom environment, it might function better as an entity unto itself. This standalone makerspace can serve as a “go-to” resource for individual classrooms and student projects alike. As makerspace equipment can be implemented into areas with relatively large space constraints, the repurposing of a small classroom or teacher workroom can make the decision a breeze.
With any workshop environment, it is important to clearly define the person in charge of the materials and equipment, as well as the spaces limitations. This supervisor, whether it be teacher or otherwise, is solely responsible for the spaces maintenance and upkeep, as classrooms depend on the resources.
As you can imagine, a situation where multiple classrooms are dependent on a single Makerspace ends up in a scheduling and resource nightmare. Compounded with the need for students to be directly involved with the equipment’s use, it is important to ensure that this space can in fact support the classrooms that depend on it. It isn’t fair to bring 35 students into a small Makerspace and expect them to all get a chance to use the equipment. This is why it is so important to understand the Makerspace’s limitations in order for it to succeed.
Aside from operating as a classroom resource, the makerspace can serve as a resource for individual student projects and initiatives. Depending on your school’s schedule, there is often time where students are not required to be in class. For example: during lunch, before or after school, or during designated club/activity time. It can also provide a manufacturing resource for student organizations like TSA, FIRST LEGO, FIRST Robotics, and Odyssey of the Mind.
Adam Kemp directs the Energy Systems Research Laboratory at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and is active in the Maker community. His first book, The Makerspace Workbench, is a compilation of years of experience designing and creating both inside and outside the classroom. You can also find Adam on Adafruit Industries’ blog, “Ask an Educator.”