I’ve gotten several emails after my last post and they all ended with the same line, “Where do I start?” It can be overwhelming to start by Googling “makerspace.” What do you most often see? That stark modern space with expensive 3d printers. But that? It’s not the reality of what making in the classroom can be. I know the constraints faced by many of us in education, and I’ve lived them before. You make do with what you have, get creative, and repurpose existing materials to MAKE making happen in your classroom. You gotta start somewhere, right?
1.) Make Space: Dedicate an area. Do you have a corner you can spare? A table that’s available? A carpeted spot that you can put an old coffee table on with a colorful coat of paint? That’s all you need.
2.) Organize The Area: Create some bins, boxes, or storage containers with materials. Yard sales and thrift stores are perfect for finding old puzzles, Legos, blocks, fabric scraps, and more. Cardboard is free! Those bins? They could be shoeboxes covered in colorful paper with a label on the end. The idea is to inspire kids to dream, invent, and explore. The materials available are important, and starting with simple materials will allow you to get your feet wet, while students dive in. Labels can be simple printouts on white paper, taped to the boxes with packaging tape.
3.) Go Digital: Start a digital maker space. A blog on your classroom website, an Edmodo group, or even a simple Smore page that you update each month. Post a monthly maker challenge and ask kids to bring their creations in and share them. Making is far more powerful when sharing with others and inspiring your kids to make outside the classroom is a great way to get them excited about learning around the clock. It’s not for a grade, or for a test. It’s just pure fun with creating and problem solving along the way. One idea for the Monthly Maker Challenge might be: Design an item of clothing that solves a problem that you have. Build a prototype. Students could even share on your digital maker space – providing them a chance to share their voice with the world.
4.) Ask for Help: Invite students to share their ideas and materials for making. Kids can bring in recycleable materials, boxes, scraps, and newspaper. Let parents in your classroom know you are dedicating a space to creativity and would love some extra materials that they no longer need.
5.) Reverse Engineering: Add some old tech that can be tinkered with and taken apart. Art created with an old keyboard? Circuit boards turned into a robot? Kids will love exploring the insides of tech.
6.) Integrate the Space: As students get into the space, you’ll find standards are being delved into left and right. When a student builds a light up contraption, she can create a how to tutorial for others to follow. Measurement, collboration, and presentation skills are just the tip of the ice berg to the real learning that can occur. That book you are reading this week? Ask students to design a house for the character and then use LED lights, batteries, and copper tape to make the house light up. Better yet, leave it open ended and ask students to create something that represents the book. You provide the space and materials, students can provide the imagination.
That’s a tiny start that’s manageable and can allow you to provide students the space to freely explore. What might happen over time? New materials can be introduced. Kids will be motivated to create more. The area will flow into the larger classroom throughout the day. And that? It’s the very best thing that could happen. Because the learning that occurs when students are making, designing, exploring, problem solving, and creating? It’s authentic and it’s the stuff great learning is made of.