Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Seven Tips for Starting a Makerspace




Many of my posts have focused on our school Makerspace and the Makerspace Club. While I've already shared some of my favorite activities and some of my Makerspace stations, I thought it would be helpful to share some tips for how you can start your own school or classroom Makerspace.


Tip #1

You don't need to buy it all

When you start researching Makerspaces, you will see that there are a lot of cool tools out there. 3-D printers, Arduino, Hummingbird, Sphero, circuits, and more. I would caution you to not buy every last tech  tool and gadget that you've seen in other Makerspaces right from the start. It can be really exciting to see 3-D printers, robotics, and more, but there is a benefit to starting small. Just like you wouldn't just blindly buy the newest and shiniest computers on the market for your whole school, you shouldn't just jump into buying every gadget and gizmo that's out there without doing your research. What do you want to achieve with that tool? How will it help your students learn, create, or discover? Can it be better accomplished with another material? There are plenty of Makerspace recommendations out there, take your time to explore what the purpose of the materials really are before spending money. If you're looking for starter items, check out this post or if you're looking to see how we've used some of our favorite items, look here.


Tip #2

Think creatively to fund your space


Use extra bookshelves for storage and
display- here's our Breakerspace after 
a fun day of breaking
Once you have done your research and have chosen the materials/tools that you are most interested in, the tricky part can be figuring out how to actually fund your Makerspace. Remember that many items, Legos, K'Nex, household items like duct tape, yarn, batteries, old technology for your take apart station, etc., can be donated. Reach out to your school community through a school newsletter or website to see what your community will donate. Also, look to garage sales or Salvation Army for great storage units or building items like Legos. There is no better time to recycle or re-purpose items than when you are building a Makerspace. I use extra bookshelves to store and display our Makerspace and Breakerspace items and old magazine holders to display Maker books for students. Our school/district PTSA and Student Council have been great funding sources as well. Don't forget to look beyond your school and see what district or state grants may be available. You can also look into crowdfunding through sources like DonorsChoose.org, digitalwish.com, or gofundme.com. Both Donors Choose and Digital Wish have been great sources for providing tech materials for my students. There are also many technology or STEM-related grants out there that can really make a difference. Major businesses like Best Buy offer technology grants or check out Funds for Teachers to explore grants by category.


Tip #3

Collaboration is key

A Makerspace is about collaboration in so many ways. It is certainly about student collaboration. Students work together to design, build, and create. It is so fun to see how students naturally come together to explore in the Makerspace and develop theories to test. As a Maker educator, it is also very helpful to collaborate with other Maker teachers. Using resources like blogs or Twitter (try #Makerspace or #MakerEd), you can learn so much about what others are doing, what has worked, what challenges they have encountered, and opportunities to ask questions. Don't be afraid to share or learn from others. It will make a tremendous difference in the experiences that you provide for your students and will help to challenge your thinking and move you forward.


Tip #4

If you build it, they will come...with a bit of modeling

It may seem like as long as you buy the materials, kids will flock to the Makerspace. With time and modeling, that will happen, but you need to make sure that kids know what a Makerspace is and guide them through what they can do. I created a promo video and shared it on our morning news show to first share what we had in our Makerspace and when it would be accessible. Between that and starting a Makerspace Club, word began to spread about the neat things kids could do in the Makerspace and soon kids were exploring before school and at lunch daily.


Tip #5

You don't have to be an expert

As teachers, we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that we have to know everything. When really, kids learn best by doing, exploring, and even making mistakes. That is what a Makerspace is all about. I introduce my students to our Makerspace, share examples, and offer challenges, but I don't claim to be an expert on everything. You will often see me sitting with the kids during our Makerspace Club experimenting with them. My favorite phrase during Makerspace Club seems to be, "Let's try it!"


Tip #6

Utilize Challenges 

It's hard to rate my favorite days with our Makerspace Club, but if I had to, it would be the days that we have challenges. Challenges can be as small or as big as you want them to and tend to develop and change based on the students' ideas throughout the challenge. Sometimes our challenges take a day, other times they'll take a week. We've done paper airplane catapult challenges, Sphero race challenges, and more. We don't focus on winning or losing, but rather the process, design, and planning. I emphasize that challenges are about the thinking process rather than a competition. The kids love the build up designing and creating for whatever the challenge may be. I have designed Makerspace Challenge Cards so that we always have challenges to choose from and multiple challenges can be going on at once. This is great because we have limited materials and lots of interested students. Check them out if you're looking for guided challenges for your Makerspace!


Tip #7

A Makerspace is a journey

This is the most important tip to remember when creating your Makerspace. Our Makerspace evolved throughout the past year, and it absolutely will continue to evolve this year. When I first looked at what other educators had done with their school Makerspaces, I felt inspired, but overwhelmed. I found myself starting with lots of questions that could only be answered by actually creating a Makerspace and adjusting it as needed. What I really learned after one year with our school Makerspace is that Makerspaces really do need to adapt and grow based on your students' interests. Once you see how your students choose to use the Makerspace, you can make choices and activities that build on their interests.







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If you're looking to start or enhance your Makerspace, I created a Makerspace Kit Bundle. It includes signs, challenge cards, a Makerspace journal, and more items that we use in our Makerspace. I also have these Makerspace items individually here.










1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous post! Thanks for the suggestions!

    ReplyDelete