Creating a culture in your classroom where students can feel free to tap into their creativity can be tricky. Sometimes you need to take a big first step. One of the easiest ways to do this is to create a Makerspace in your classroom.
What is a Makerspace?
Makerspaces came about during the STEM era, and thus a lot of them are devoted to science and engineering, but Makerspaces can be created for any classroom. When I first began teaching gifted and talented twenty years ago, when there was no such thing as a Makerspace, I had what I called “the big box of crap.” Essentially, I gathered all of the defunct and broken technology that had accumulated at my house, and rather than throwing it all away, I put it in a cardboard box and let students rip things apart. Curious students would root through this box, looking at old phones, printers, computers, and VCRs to see what made them tick. There was no guidance on my part, just the opportunity for students to explore and gain an understanding of how things worked.
Makerspaces have come a long way since then, with companies devoted to the sales of mobile carts, Ozobots and other robotics, 3D printers, STEM kits, green screens, LEGO Mindstorms, and various arts and crafts bundles. If you have the budget to afford such equipment, you are more than welcome to purchase these for your Makerspace. However, you can create effective Makerspaces without breaking the bank. The best set-up for your Makerspace is whatever best fits into your classroom. It could be in the corner, it could be in a common space in the hallway, it could be along the entire back wall. You might have an alcove in your room where you could house it. It doesn’t require a ton of space. Simply a table with some chairs, or seating and a shelf or cabinet where materials can be stored.
Supplying Your Makerspace
Your supplies also need not be very expensive. Here are some inexpensive options to consider:
|Copy paper||Cardboard||Index cards|
|Construction paper||Tape||Rubber bands|
|Glue/glue sticks||Paper/plastic cups||Tissue Paper|
|Chenille sticks||Beads||Paper plates/bowls|
|Plastic silverware||Binder/paper clips||Yarn|
|Straws||Ping pong balls||Toilet paper rolls|
You don’t have to purchase all of these materials yourself. There are practical ways you can supply your Makerspace:
- Student supply list
- Parent/Business donations
- Supply closet
- Garage sales/thrift stores
- Recycling bins
- Storage rooms
- Retiring/moving teachers
- Gifted coordinator
How much work will it involve?
Most of the work comes in setting up the Makerspace, gathering supplies and arranging everything. You may need to provide some guidance to those working in the space at first, but eventually, if the space is structured clearly, it will not require much of your attention during the actual class. Students will just gravitate toward the space if they are finished with their work and create whatever they have chosen. If the Makerspace is off in the corner, other students may not even notice when a student or two has gone over and begun to work on something.
How to set up your Makerspace
You can decide how you want your Makerspace to work. Here is a spectrum of different structures:
Freestyle: This is just about making the materials and space available to the students and letting them create whatever they want. There is no end goal in mind; it’s a place where students can be creative and explore their own ideas. This might look like a student sitting down and constructing a chenille stick flower because it is what pops into her head.
Independent projects: These are a bit more structured in that students do have an end product in mind. There is a purpose to their creating but they still get complete control of what they make and for what purpose. What this might look like is a student liking a certain videogame character and deciding to create a model of this character using the materials in the Makerspace.
Prototype challenges: Here, students are given a very basic premise and then decide where they will take it. These might be listed on index cards or put on sticky notes and adhered to the wall. An example would be one that asks a student to create a better version of a phone.
Instant challenges: These present a challenge, tell students what materials they can use and what purpose their product would have, letting students decide how these materials will be used and in what fashion. It might be a challenge for students to create a bridge using only toothpicks, clay, and paper clips that stretches across a one-foot gap.
Task cards: These are cards with a bit more guidance than just the prototype challenge. It might ask the students to create a container that can carry their lunch and has a handle. Students would then set out to build this however they like, meeting the purpose established by the task card.
Projects: This is a long-term option, asking students to create a product that solves a clear purpose. Materials might even be determined for the student. One such project might be making an insect bot where students are given the materials they can use, with a demonstration of the body parts based on a real insect.
Your setup work will be determined by which of these structures you decide to use. Instant challenges, task cards, and projects don’t write themselves. These would either have to be created or procured by the teacher and then displayed at the Makerspace. The freestyle and independent projects require very little work by the teacher, but their lack of structure can make for mixed results where the student might not be able to produce anything without some sort of guidance.
Taking that First Step
No matter which structure you choose for the Makerspace, one thing that will always be required is organizing and resupplying the Makerspace. Things can get messy really fast, so making sure to establish norms or expectations for those working in the Makerspace can help, but you will still have to do some tidying up at the end of the class or day. You can always assign students to do this as well.
By having a space for students to be creative, they will feel more empowered to do so throughout their studies. This goes a long way in creating that culture in your classroom.
- There is no one correct way to create a Makerspace. You must find the best set-up for your classroom to meet the needs of your students. A Makerspace can be an entire room or it can be a corner in your classroom.
- When supplying your Makerspace there is no need to break the bank. Simple supplies allow students greater creative freedom.
- There are many different structures you can use for your Makerspace varying from a free-for-all to having very prescribed projects students will be working on. You have to ask yourself which one of these will allow you to get the best creative outlet for the buck of what you are teaching.
Todd Stanley is a National Board teacher and the author of many teacher-education books including Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st Century Classroom, Promoting Rigor Through Higher Level Questioning, and his latest, Enrichment Activities for Gifted Students: Extra-Curricular Academic Activities for Gifted Education. He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years where he worked with all grade levels in all subject areas in all types of service. He is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools where he lives with his wife and two daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @the_gifted_guy or visit his website at thegiftedguy.com where you can access blogs, resources, and view presentations he has given.
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