By Robin Glugatch
The most essential part of establishing a makerspace is instilling a "maker mindset" with the students and staff. In 2015, I attended a makerspace-focused workshop. Upon my return, I suggested devoting half our library to the makerspace, and our administration didn’t bat an eye. Instead of rows upon rows of books, desktop computers, and desks, the school has transformed the once individually focused workspace into a collaborative makerspace complete with materials as low-tech as cardboard and as high-tech as the Topcat audio system by Lightspeed Technologies. We started small, with a 5x5 Lego wall, dry erase paint on our tables and some crafting activities. The rest was built using donated materials and with a contribution by our parent-teacher association. We also incorporated library books and monthly take-home challenges to promote creativity and thinking outside of the box.
Here are some tips on how to create a makerspace on a budget.
Create a makerspace “wish list” and send it home with students in a letter. Parents and family members came through and supported the makerspace in any way they could. We had many volunteers who came into the space to teach skills such as sewing, calligraphy, cake decorating, and robotics.
Involve the community. I asked many store managers in our area if they could contribute to our program. Many stores donate the items that don't sell when they are on clearance.
Approach vendors and offer to pilot new products whenever you can. To make sure all our students were getting the most out of the experience, we added a microphone and ceiling-mounted Topcat amplification system to every classroom and to the makerspace. The systems ensure that all students can hear teacher and librarian instruction over the noise inherent in a collaborative classroom or workspace.
Keep your options open. We never planned out every piece of equipment and technology beforehand, because technology is always changing (along with teacher wish lists) and we didn’t want to design the makerspace around things that might not stick around long anyway. Instead, we asked the students for their input and empowered them to be a part of the decision making.
Embrace high- and low-tech materials. The options to include materials in the space are based on our students’ interests, and donations have expanded beyond my wildest belief. Our students enjoy creative exploration using Legos, sewing machines, fabrics, cardboard, duct tape, toilet paper rolls, and more.
Keep donors updated. We created a website for our makerspace so donors can stay up to date on the fun projects students are doing. I’ve found they’re more likely to donate again once they’re able to see the ROI on their donation.
In a school where students have so many different learning preferences, strengths, and weaknesses, our makerspace lends itself beautifully to shared learning, exploration, novel engineering, and working with multiple modalities. Our teachers and students are inspired to think creatively and, for a school that values inclusiveness, it has brought us all together in a way that isn’t just meaningful, but exciting.
To learn more about creating a makerspace in your school, click here!