Creating a Makerspace

The Maker Movement is a technological and creative learning revolution underway around the globe that has exciting implications for the world of education, Zeina Chalich writes.

New tools and technology, such as 3D printing, robotics, microprocessors, wearable computing, etextiles, ‘smart’ materials, and programming/coding languages are being invented at an unprecedented pace.

The Maker Movement creates affordable versions of these inventions, while sharing tools and ideas online to create an innovative, collaborative community of global problem seekers and solvers. The Maker Movement in education is built upon the foundation of constructionism, which is Seymour Papert’s philosophy of hands on learning through building things and sharing with others. The Maker Movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing.

A place to tinker

A Makerspace is a virtual and physical space that serves as a community hub for the Maker Movement in education – a place for inventing, tinkering and hacking. It’s an innovative and non structured environment where learners can connect, create, collaborate, share, and explore the elements of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and maths) through experiential play.

The aim is for students to acquire skills and knowledge while solving an authentic problem, creating a product or generating a new understanding. Ultimately as 21st century teachers in a digital age, we want our students to turn their knowledge into action, to become creators, not mere consumers of technology.

A Makerspace is flexible by nature, where tools, technology, expertise and networks evolve and change to suit the range of student led DIY projects, sometimes with the help of mentoring from experts in the field. In some schools, these areas are found in libraries, media centres and computer labs. For teachers with limited space, creative use of tinkering tables in the class break out rooms or a dedicated corner of the classroom suffice in providing students with the same learning experiences. Ideally, every classroom has the potential to be a makerspace.

Pop up space

At St Finbar’s we have transformed an unused corner of the library into a pop up makerspace, by upcycling old computer desks into high standing tinker tables, coated in whiteboard paint. We have used old library shelves to store our resources and projects. This year our students have had opportunities to amplify their learning experiences through interaction with innovative materials in our makerspace. Digital fabrications such as physical computing including arduino, makey makey, robotics and electronic modules like littlebits have expanded our students tool box with new ways to make things and new things to make. They’ve learnt to empathise when designing solutions for existing problems through design thinking and to embrace failing as part of an innovator’s mindset.

Making is about the act of creation with new and familiar materials. Essentially, there are different processes to introduce ways of learning and knowing in a makerspace. These include tinkering, making and engineering. During the tinkering phase our students have ‘played’ with different materials and tools to experiment and discover ways of solving simple problems. When making, our students have used tools and materials to follow a task and create a product. The engineering phase extracts learning principles from tinkering and making. This process involves students using a design thinking process to identify and seek potential ways to solve authentic problems, usually resulting in the creation of a new product using a range of tools and materials.

In our agile makerspace we have a range of fixed and pop up learning stations that change based on the learning needs of the project and students. An example of a pop up station would be the take apart tech lab where students take apart old technology to learn how it works and attempt to put it back together. A fixed station is our littlebits lab which is where students can use magnetic electronic modules to create a range of circuits to make things do things, often there is a design challenge left on the table for students to complete with others.

The aim is for students to acquire skills while solving an authentic problem, creating a product or generating a new understanding.

Code club

Making, like creative thinking is not limited to a makerspace and is best integrated in a range of key learning areas. The school has a code club that runs projects from and scratch. Students from all classes have access to these projects and teachers have been exploring different ways to incorporate coding into the curriculum. In the lower grades students have used Scratch Jnr to learn about direction and position. The use of robots like spheros have also been coded to explore angles and shapes in the middle years. In the upper grades students have created a maths fractions computer game. These are just some examples of new knowledge students created using the latest tech tools available. Whilst having access to these tools has amplified learning experiences for our students, they have also experienced great ways of thinking and collaborating with their peers using simple things like cardboard. Our school participated in the Global Caine’s arcade Cardboard Challenge with almost one million makers from around the world. Students created innovative cardboard arcade games using cardboard and everyday recycled materials.

When designing makerspace learning experiences it is vital to consider student learning needs and interests, this can effectively be done through the use of a provocation or prompt. The best prompts emerge from a learner’s curiosity, experiences, wonder and challenge. Last year the Year 6 girls redesigned a school uniform using wearable technology in a design project called ‘Fashion of the Future’ sparked by their interest in Fashion Week.

Another example of making is when Kindergarten students explored architectural principles and materials through the picture book The Three Little Pigs: An Architectural tale. The provocation was from the building renovations that were taking place outside of their classrooms. During this process, students were to design, build and assess the effectiveness of a pig house using a design restraint brief. The buildings were then quality tested by the school builder.

During both experiences students were thinking critically and creatively, collaborating and communicating their learning with others. The school twitter account @StFinbars has been an effective and convenient way for students to showcase their learning globally, their hashtag #stfmaker is a collection of makerspace learning experiences that their parents can also view on the school website.

Zeina is a dynamic educator and international presenter with teaching experience in primary schools and university. In her role as Leader of Learning and Innovation, Zeina leads ‘disruptive’ change in digital pedagogy and personalised learning – creatively integrating technology and design thinking to transform learning experiences and connect communities of learners. In 2015, Zeina was awarded the Brother John Taylor Fellow Research Prize from the Catholic Education Commission (CEC) to further explore innovative ways to develop creative thinking in a Makerspace through a STEAM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths). She also won a ‘New Voice in Leadership’ Scholarship from ACEL (Australian Council for Educational Leaders) for her work in Digital Pedagogy, Gifted Education and Mentoring with pre-service and beginning teachers.
Zeina is a co-founder of #aussieED - Australia’s largest educational professional learning network on Twitter and founder of the #makerEDau twitter chat. She was recently announced the winner of the 2015 Edublogs Awards for the Best Individual Tweeter Category. Connect with her @ZeinaChalich and @makerEDau