Thursday, May 29, 2014

Makerspaces in your Elementary Library

So, just what is a makerspace?
It is a physical space for participants gather, socialize, use resources and share ideas while working on projects. The space can be a dedicated location or temporary use of a space. 

How does it work?
There are a variety of setups that can work depending on your goals. Projects can be one-time events or on-going over long periods of time. They may be organized in classes or be unscheduled and self-directed. Individuals and groups may participate depending on the project and organization of the host. Usually tools and supplies are available to use - a cost may be charged to cover consumable materials. Specific skills are sometimes taught while other times experimentation and imagination are the key skills required.

 In Makerspaces, the students define the learning.  They chose the projects, make the plans and do the work, discover fixes and navigate problem solving. 

Why a makerspace? How does that belong in a school??? Well, makerspaces are simply projects that introduce them to the principles of design thinking. They make use of math, hand eye coordination, creativity, critical thinking, physics, problem-solving, engineering..and so much more. They allow participants to learn while taking control of their own learning. Projects can be complex -using computers and tools or as simple as using duct tape and Lego.  The possibilities are limited only by imagination and in the more advanced projects, budget. Make no mistake though, there are a plethora of options for tight budgets.

We've had them for years in one form or another: arts and crafts activities, woodshop and art classes, science experiments.  In many schools these formal classes have been downsized or eliminated but the value is still there as is the student interest.  
While the media has featured makerspaces that are well funded with 3D printers and fully stocked and dedicated rooms, any library can offer a makerspace.  Small ready made kits can be purchased.  Donations of materials from the community and sponsorship from local businesses can also help to build makerspaces.

Failure IS an option!
 Makerspaces are unique in that they focus on the process of learning and doing over the final project.  The learning is experiential and the focus and joy is in the doing.  Not knowing how to use a tool, a plan that doesn't work out, parts that fall off...these are opportunities for learning.  That is what makerspaces are all about.  The point is for the participants to explore and experiment in their projects.  Don't do it for them, if something isn't working out, it is up TO THEM to find a way to make it work or decide on another method. Again, this is about the action of making and not about the product you end up with.

What type of projects could schools on a budget have in their makerspaces?
The ALA offers ideas for a variety of ages and budgets through their searchable website:, It is a fantastic site! If you are interested in hosting your own makerspace, you have to check it out.  Here are some sample projects for the under $5 per person range.

Connect projects with your library program and include Dewey Decimal games, robotic story reenactments, make bookmarks or shelfmarkers ... whatever you and your students can imagine.

Other resources: a platform for connecting makers to other makers, products and services. A great way to explore the possibilities of makerspaces.

Maker Faire: is "an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these “makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they have made and to share what they have learned" There are Maker Faires all around the world. View this listing of Faires or to find out how to start our own in your area. A place for makers to explore, document and share their creations. Visit this site to inspire and be inspired.

Pinterest also has some amazing ideas for setting up supplies as well as many budget friendly makerspace projects. 

Whether you are investing in a high tech room or setting up a cart for your own makerspace, it is a fun way to mix knowledge and learning with creativity and innovation. Did I mention that it's fun? 
That means students will want to participate!

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