Sunday, January 4, 2015

Leading the Maker Movement

Over the past year more and more schools across the globe have embraced the concept of making to learn.  This phenomenon trickled into schools as the Maker Movement became more popular and natural connections to learning became quite evident.  To begin to understand the educational value of making we must look at the roots of this movement.  A recent article in Newsweek sums it up nicely: 
THE MAKER MOVEMENT is a global community of inventors, designers, engineers, artists, programmers, hackers, tinkerers, craftsmen and DIY’ers—the kind of people who share a quality that Larry Rosenstock says “leads to learning [and]…to innovation,” a perennial curiosity “about how they could do it better the next time.” The design cycle is all about reiteration, trying something again and again until it works, and then, once it works, making it better. As manufacturing tools continue to become better, cheaper and more accessible, the Maker Movement is gaining momentum at an unprecedented rate. Over the past few years, so-called “makerspaces” have cropped up in cities and small towns worldwide—often in affiliation with libraries, museums and other community centers, as well as in public and independent schools—giving more people of all ages access to mentorship, programs and tools like 3-D printers and scanners, laser cutters, microcontrollers and design software.
Image credit:

As the Maker Movement has gained steams schools and educators alike have begun to incorporate makerspaces as exploratory centers for students to invent, tinker, create, and make to learn.  A makerspace can best be defined as a physical place where students can create real-world products/projects using real-world tools.  In 2013 I was fortunate enough to hire media specialist/teacher librarian Laura Fleming, who took the initiative to create a makerspace in our school. Through her work I discovered some guiding principles that might just help you begin to create a makerspace in your school or integrate the process of making across the curriculum.  It is first important to understand three underlying qualities that essential in ensuring that students make to learn:

  1. Making is a process – As with any process, making requires the ability for educators to give up control and trust students. It can be messy and unpredictable, but the products students create, problems they solve, and questions they answer become learning relevant learning experiences they value. Making is guided by a student’s natural inquiry and self-directed learning. Specific skills are require of students, the first of which is knowing what tool to use and how to use it safely. The second involves problem-solving and diagnostic skills that are required to figure out why something won’t work, come up with a creative solution, and not get frustrated. 
  2. The right educator makes the difference – The process of making requires patience on behalf of an educator who will not have all the answers nor know how to help students out every time they experience a problem.  This is quite ok as it is near impossible for someone to have all of the required content knowledge to assist students as they make to learn. The right educator helps students diagnose a problem so that they can create a solution.  He or she guides students through the inevitable highs and lows of making something while tying the process and embedded concepts of various maker projects to different content areas.  This educator understands that there needs to be a fundamental shift from transmitting knowledge to enabling a student to create his/her own solution.  The right person is a coach, models when necessary, and has the mindset of a maker educator.                                                                                                                        
  3. Identify the perfect space – This can be a challenge as available areas to set up a makerspace in many schools are few and far between.  The perfect space must encourage creativity and support the idea that anything is possible. It should contain comfortable seating, have limited rules and control, be flexible, have ubiquitous access to WiFi and technology, and infuse prompts and guides to promote inquiry. Possibilities include the library/media center, classrooms, or a common area of the school. You can even develop a pop-up makerspace or a makerspace on a cart. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination. 
Once you understand the essential qualities to create the perfect makerspace or environment for your students it is time to begin planning.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel here are there are many resources available. For a curated list of online resources related to makerspaces check out this Pinterest board. To learn more in depth about the concepts associated with making be sure to purchase the book Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez.  Laura Fleming's World's of Making website has everything you need to get started, including suggested items to outfit the space with. She also has generated a step-by-step flow chart pictured below that will assist you in your makerspace planning. 

For a maker culture to succeed and thrive in a school, leadership matters. I learned some of these lessons unbeknownst to me as they were only brought to my attention after making to learn became an embedded component of our school culture. Selecting the right person to lead the initiative is pivotal.  Once that is done give him or her the autonomy to make decisions related to the space and process.  Ensure that there is a mutual understanding of the freedom to execute on innovative ideas and create a space that is always in a state of controlled chaos.  Provide encouragement every step of the way, as there will be times when equipment does not work or fellow colleagues attempt to undermine the process due to their own insecurities.  Finally, make sure there is an allocated budget for the maker educator to establish a space that attracts students.  In simple terms, get out of the way.


  1. This is a terrific illustration of the process and successful design of the goals and the space itself - with purpose and freedom within a structure for learning. What can be done though to caution schools and districts that do not see the vital connection between the qualified teacher-librarian, the thriving school library as place and programming, and the makerspace design and facilitation? Some students are loosing the librarian and library programming, so essential for learning and overall success in education, as well-meaning administrators and district leaders get excited about tech and swept away by the makerspace hype and choose to eliminate one completely and replace it with the other. This is a real threat to students that a makerspace will not be incorporated into thriving school library programs but used as a substitute in order to attract parents and secure tech funding. This is happening now in CA; how can we caution administrators and remind them of the intrinsic value of the librarian and school library programs as a necessary platform to support the Maker Movement?

  2. Hello- just thought I’d jump in here. Such an insightful comment and I think a legitimate concern. Libraries have always been about the democratization of information and resources, I think now makerspaces have allowed us the opportunity to broaden what that can mean. The Maker Movement has provided the opportunity for our students to move from consumption to creation and turn their knowledge into action. Libraries provide access and freedom to the necessary resources, materials and supplies to do so. The form and function libraries take has evolved and will continue to evolve over time. A well-architected makerspace does not mean that the librarian has to be pulled away from other pieces of library programming that are important for their school community. It is important to note too that not all makerspaces are about the tech. Proper planning of a school makerspace will ensure that you have your makerspace stocked with the supplies, resources and materials that best support the needs and wants of your school community. With that being said, with purposeful planning, libraries and makerspaces can nurture each other and co-exist to the mutual benefit of each other. As librarians, it is up to us to advocate for our entire program (as well as our professional organizations) and not just one piece of it. In my own book on makerspaces, I emphasize that a library is still a library, and can still do all of the things a relevant school library should do.