Yesterday, I got the chance to lead a discussion on makerspaces. I felt out of place as a facilitator, because I’ve never actually created a maker space. I know my limitations; and that includes redesigning the physical space of the classroom. If you asked me to create a list of items that “every maker space needs,” I’d be stumped after listing cardboard, duct tape, scissors and maybe some Arduino and Raspberry Pi kits. I couldn’t tell you what kind of laser cutters or 3D printers you need.
For what it’s worth, I’m happy with tables, chairs, a place for some kids to stand, plenty of student art work on the wall, and some natural sunlight. Oh, and some decent storage is nice.
In other words, I’ve always been more focused on creating a space for makers than in creating maker spaces. Does every student feel the permission to make mistakes? Does every student have the chance to geek out? Are we creating spaces for making in every subject and every grade level?
I don’t see creativity as a destination place that you have to go to in order to make it work. I’d rather see students find ways to to be creative thinkers and problem-solvers with any subject in any environment.
This isn’t a slam on maker spaces. I love differentiated spaces. I love libraries and theaters and wood shops and art rooms. I love field trips. I love gardens and atriums and the space between the buildings where the trees change colors and canvas the ground with crispy leaves.
Spaces matter. I get that. If the maker space inspires teachers to integrate creativity into their curriculum, it is providing a valuable service. But I worry about the Computer Lab Effect, where tech integration used to be a tourist escape from the “real” learning in an “actual” classroom. I worry that making becomes a side project that teachers will add if there’s time (and there’s never enough time). It becomes another version of an electives class.
It’s About the Maker Mindset
I came into the conversation yesterday feeling skeptical of where it might go.I expected long back-and-forth conversations about what should and should not go into a maker space.
But that’s not what happened.
Our conversation had nothing to do with spaces and stuff. Instead, this group of amazing teachers shared stories of learning and instantly it had me wishing my kids were in their classroom.
They shared stories about the engineering challenges the fourth graders did and how they continued with this when they went back to their classroom. One teacher explained his maker projects in a social studies classroom as an object lesson on economic systems (and the changes that go on with moving from a command to a mixed economy).
We explored the constant cycle between curiosity and creativity and the very real challenges that can happen when students are risk-averse or when they, as teachers, feel nervous about student ownership.
Don’t get me wrong. The teachers were excited about stuff. After all, who doesn’t get at least a little excited with duct tape or cardboard? But that wasn’t their primary motivation. These teachers were excited about the maker mindset and what Dale Doughtery (often referred to as the founder of the maker movement) describes as “experimental play.” They were excited about the changes that happen as students learn how to problem-solve and engage in iterative thinking. They were excited about student ownership and agency. They were excited about the sheer joy that happens when kids love what they are learning.
And the thing is, you don’t necessarily need a maker space to pull that off. You just need a group of passionate, creative teachers who willing to teach in a way that was different from how they learned in school growing up.
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