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Making Matters

How "makerspaces" help students explore the world

I have always been the type of person to take things apart and put them back together. So, I’m excited about the growing popularity of Makerspaces in schools—and not just for me!

Makerspaces, also sometimes known as STEAM labs, are physical places where do-it-yourselfers can create, invent, and build cool stuff. For the past couple of years, they have been popping up in schools with growing frequency to help students test their imaginations in fields as wide-ranging as robotics and sewing, using tools that they probably won’t have at home or in other classes.

At my school, the librarian and I worked for a year to create a Makerspace in the library where students could build and create. The location is perfect, because it allows all students to have access.

Making matters. It gives students a space to explore the world in a way that our too-often-rigid curriculum does not allow. The Makerspace also creates community, providing like-minded people with an opportunity to explore the world, and understand that they are not alone when it comes to the desire to get their hands dirty and make something.

When students are young, they are given sandboxes and toys, and urged to be creative and play. As they age, we take that all away. The Makerspace is the new sandbox for my high school students. I want them to come in, play, create—and, most of all—get their hands dirty.

The space’s creation has given me an opportunity to work with amazing students. I hear their stories about why they love being down there working during their lunch period, before school, and even after school. These few stories represent just a small fraction of what is possible when students are given a space and are encouraged to make.

Solving Meaningful Problems

The student pictured here has a problem with her kneecap. It moves around, which can be very painful. She is an athlete and has not found anything to help her with this issue. When this student came to the Makerspace, she jumped into designing possible solutions on the Makerspace dry-erase wall and is close to building a prototype of a new brace. She says there are many people with this same knee condition and she wants her creation to help them all. She also has said the Makerspace encourages her to explore solutions in a way that would not have been possible elsewhere.

Doing Good

These students want to design a prosthetic hoof for horses. Of all of the things I expected to see in the space, this never crossed my mind, which is what makes the space so amazing! Students are going to create and do things that we could never imagine—and that is what learning is all about! These two students have researched and immersed themselves in the world of assisted technology to learn how to create this device for horses. I can't wait to see their 3D designs and printed models. Their passion for this project exceeds anything else they are doing in school.

Fitting In

I run the orientations for the Makerspace, so I meet regularly with students in groups and tell them what they need to know before using the space. On two days, I worked one on one with two young ladies who were very excited about doing different things. The first student told me, “This is heaven for me. I finally have someplace to go and think about all of the things I want to do. Then, I can do them!” The second said, “I finally feel like I fit in. I felt weird about liking this type of stuff (making things, technology, etc.), but not anymore.”

I had a tough time holding back the tears and the desire to give them a hug. Everything I had hoped the Makerspace would do was happening, and these two young ladies put words to it. I wanted to create a space for students to come, tinker, create, and most of all, just be themselves. These students made me feel like I was winning education on those days.

A Makerspace Starter Kit: What You Need To Create a Makerspace In Your School

The question I am most often asked is, “What should I buy for my space?” The best answer is this: Ask the students what they want to do! Their answers can guide you to build over time a Makerspace filled with different tools. Based on working with my Makerspace and connecting with other educators, I can share with you the most popular and common items you would find in a Makerspace:

3D Printer

This is always a big item for a Makerspace. Students love watching their designs come to life before their eyes. While there are many different brands worth exploring, Makerbot makes various sizes that are wonderful and Dremel has the Idea Builder that works great as well.

Makey Makey

This is a great tool to get students building projects and having fun using core STEM skills. There are many different projects, but my personal favorite is turning bananas into a keyboard.

Legos

Students can create prototypes in Lego before designing them in 3D software. Having physical pieces to manipulate by hand is a still a great way for many students to learn and explore.

Raspberry Pi and Arduino

These pieces of hardware can get students coding and programming in no time. And while this may seem too advanced for some students, this is where Makerspace projects can really take off.

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