As of late there’s been a lot of articles and coverage about Makerspaces. Like anything, one has to have their own philosophy. I think anything in education that helps further move the design process with students is great! As a teacher with a projects background and a deep love for PBL, design thinking, creativity and innovation, I don't think it's different than what many teachers have been doing for years (but we can always be better!)
What I love about this movement is the idea that making needs to be part of instruction. Those essential skills that go into 'making' something needs to be fostered. Essentially, teachers need to give the go ahead that it's OK to go through that creative/design thinking process (even in Social Studies, ELA...). Jill Hill does a great job at starting the process at our middle school. She has created a space for students to continue that creative process outside of the classroom with her makers club. It's a great start, but a small piece in a much larger puzzle - the shift in education.
One of our awesome elementary teacher asked me recently, “What is a Makerspace? I just don’t get it.” I explained a little bit about the movement and her response was, “How is that different than my classroom?” Great question! I loved that question. Another teacher said, “I guess I could create a little area off to the side and call it a Makerspace.” This is what I am hoping that classroom teachers do NOT do. More on this in a minute.
The maker movement has been around for quite some time. Like many things in education, it started outside of education first. It started with people who just loved to build stuff. Who wouldn’t love to get together with other people and build things? I mean, I love building and creating! I’ve done it all my life.
The beginning of the ‘making’ movement started way back when people brought tools/equipment to one space. It was economical because everyone used everyone else’s tools. So, one didn’t need to buy a ton of tools. They had a shops worth of tools collectively. They built a community. Through time Makerspaces have crept into public schools in the form of Makerspaces, fab labs and tech shops, all promoting the same ideas of making, which is good! Creating is always good! However how they have packaged this concept for public education is interesting to me. I can only imagine it’s to sell people items they don’t entirely need. Little kits or huge machines. I’m here to tell you... you don’t need a 3D printer or those little expensive robots that move around. There’s no need to spend thousands of dollars on a mindset. Making is a mindset. It’s a process and a set of skills we help our students hone, practice and build. We create and design learning experiences for our students. So guess what? YOU are a maker too! Or creator, innovator, or whatever you want to call yourself [insert word here].
So why are we seeing so many makerspaces popping up all over? In part, it’s political in nature with certain spaces looking to change their image and rebrand themselves. It could also be that we are inundated with technology and we feel like we need to integrate anything we see that seems cool. We go to conferences and see cool new toys and get dazzled with little robots we must have. Blinded by tech. However, teaching 101 suggests that we always ask ourselves, "How does this aid in my instruction?" Beware of using technology for technology's sake.
I’ve always been a proponent of really looking at if the resource is worth the time invested. Is it just fun? Or can this piece of technology, app, or machine help change the way I teach? Does it help better my teaching and help engage students? Does it help build that mindset? All of the skills that we don't talk about, but we know all students need. We all want the most bang for our buck, but may not be practiced in knowing what will do that exactly...
I think I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I personally need to have a clear understanding of my own beliefs, philosophies and definitions of what x, y, and z are before diving in. So like good 'ole Chris Bocklage taught me to ask...what is the definition...
Like many movements in education, I do think and feel like makerspaces are an educational fad. However, the essence of a makerspace is not. The real pieces are all of the skills that go into 'making' and the process of design. I can tell you that it has been difficult to get my iLab students to see design differently. They came in with a preconceived notion that design meant products. Something one could hold in their hand. What they are finding is design can be anything and everywhere. They had to come to their definition of what it means to be a designer or a creator. What does that look like to them. They are constantly challenged with redefining this over and over again.
Remember again, It’s a mindset. It’s about planning, researching, creating and reflecting. It incorporates teaming, communication, empathy, and of course deep reflection - all which you can't hold in your hand. It’s my personal belief that every classroom is or should be a space for making and promoting the ‘maker’ mindset (or whatever YOU want to call it! It’s just words). It’s not reserved for the libraries of the world, after school clubs, or electives. I feel like when we do this, we are telling students directly or indirectly that making only happens in certain spaces/venues. It’s the silent message saying the ‘maker’ mindset can only be tapped into, in these spaces and those other spaces just do 'regular' class work. The non-creative work. I don’t think people knowingly do this, but it happens. Therefore, creativity takes a backseat in the core classrooms. Why?
We all have curriculum to teach. There are curriculum maps that we strictly hold ourselves to. Because of this we then may find ourselves saying, “I just don’t have time for this or that.” What is the silent message we are sending? We have to make time for not making in particular; we have to make time for learning experiences that that promote the mindset where thinking outside of the box is valued and promoted. Students have choice and voice and can be creative in their own process. This is not just a one and done act. It’s a routine and what's awesome is YOU get to set the tone!
This was the message we tried to send in the RO Tech Rally this past week. It’s not JUST about integrating technology. It's, of course, about connecting tech with curriculum, but it’s more about utilizing technology in a way to help support teachers in their journey to empower students to have a voice, give them choice, and promote that analytical, creative, maker mindset. You may have a video in the end of your designed learning experience, a drawing, a plan, an idea, a product, a website, a piece of writing, a...
As an Instructional Technology Specialist and former Visual Arts and Design teacher, I am acutely aware that creativity is not a side project. It’s not something you get to enjoy once the real work is done. This is why I caution classroom teachers from making ‘makerspaces’ a small nook in their room. It’s not a reward area for when work is done. It’s a culture set in the classroom. Even silent messages are ones that resonate with students long after they leave the classroom.
Even silent messages are ones that resonate with students long after they leave the classroom.
This is my own philosophy. It doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. It’s what I have come to after teaching in a PBL forward classroom centered around design and creative thinking. I see my role as one that helps move this mindset, to help ALL teachers design learning experiences where creating and creativity can thrive.
Let’s design together! Reach out even if you’re not in my area or building. In 2017, we can make a digital community of innovators who support one another in moving a mindset. @ROHS_Reimold