Makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring, and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools. It has been successful in many schools, as each individual school interprets the concept their own way.
Tricia Spencer, an Art teacher at White Oak Elementary, Sugar Hill, Georgia, has run a successful makerspace for over five years. Here, in her own words, is how she made it work.
How did your makerspace start?
Our makerspace started out as a table in our media center with monthly activities set up for small groups. The activities were organized with several factors like current/school events, seasons, subjects, etc.
Did you hire a trained makerspace leader? Or did you take classes yourself?
Neither, The Media Specialist and The Inquiry Art Specialist researched current trends and basically trained ourselves. We explored resources online and in books that helped move our work. We always seek out successful models from other schools.
How are your makerspace classes structured?
Our makerspace is not on a class schedule. There is a sign up sheet available for classes and small groups can work in our makerspace as well.
Are your spaces sectioned off for different grades?
We do have activities that are geared toward grades K-2 or 3-5. They are labeled in bins on shelves. The activities are all housed in one room that is designated as our makerspace. We have makerspace carts for check out to be used in classrooms with activities that change every so often. We still have our table in the media center that started it all!
Are they themed?
We do have themed activities that are provided as well as permanent activities/resources for students to explore.
What has been some of the biggest challenges in setting up your makerspace?
Securing funds for resources has been slow even though we are in a some-what affluent area.
What products/themes do you use in your spaces?
We have a Lego wall, a PVC vertical mouse trap-style wall with Velcro and various balls, Plexiglas drawing walls, erector sets, Makey-Makey Stations, Osmos, BeeBots, ProBots, Ozobots, and Spheroes. We also have materials for design and hands-on creating — paper, pens, crayons, sewing supplies, etc. There are computers for using sites and programs as well as iPads for exploring apps.
How have you woven makerspace into the more traditional classes?
Our Innovator team of teachers spent a year being trained on creating makerspace styled opportunities for students organized with the curriculum. Additionally, our Media Specialist organizes read-aloud sessions with K-2 classes that are followed up by a makerspace challenge that is themed with the text.
How did you get your principal interested?
White Oak’s principal has always been innovative. She is committed to allowing her teachers the time and resources they need to implement programs like the makerspace. Our school is a school of Inquiry and we see the makerspace as a perfect way for students to wonder and explore.
Do you decipher between STEM and STEAM?
White Oak is STEM certified but truly sees the Arts as instrumental in the work that our teachers and our students do on a daily basis. The inquiry work that our students do is infused with the Arts. WOES has explicit instruction in the arts provided by three arts specialists (Visual Arts, Music and Inquiry Arts).
Is makerspace part of any lesson plans?
What have the results been so far?
Our makerspace has been in place for five years now. The students see it as a safe place for authentic hands-on learning. The teachers see the makerspace as an environment for supporting the work that takes place in their classrooms. Our principal sees the maker space as an innovative approach to reach every style of learner. Our makerspace is very successful.
What advice do you have for other schools that want to start their own makerspace program?
Even if your start is small and seems insignificant, the activities may make a huge difference in even a few students. Make activities available that you enjoyed as a kid. Definitely stay on top of the latest trends with STEM and makerspace research and resources. Don’t be afraid to allow students to make messes!