This week we were treated to an exceptional presentation by Kristen, Gilles, and Meenu. To be quite honest, this was one of the presentations I was most excited to take part in, as it has strong ties both to my teaching load, and my areas of interest. Coding and Makerspaces have been involved in some of the most exciting, experiential, constructivist-based learning that I’ve been part of, and I am a high proponent of their use in the classroom.Read more: Week 11: Let’s Create! Investigating Makerspaces
This week we were asked to take a deeper dive into the coding or the makerspace portion of the presentation. As my school is in the very initial stages of creating a high school makerspace, that is the direction I decided to take.
I think it’s important to frame my discussion. A couple of years ago, I was asked to take over my high school’s Drafting and Computer-Aided Design Program. For those who may not know, the bulk of the drafting programs work with CAD or BIM programs. We use these programs to make 2D and 3D mechanical drawings of parts and buildings.
As part of this program, I’ve been able to expand from just designing, to creating. We now have access to two 3D Printers, and a CNC Router. In the future, I’d love to expand into laser cutting, and resin-based 3D printing.
Starting earlier this year, a couple of the teachers in the building came together to discuss creating a makerspace-like area. Our vision is more directed towards the high school end, and as such, would be technology heavy, but not technology exclusive. We’d like to involve things like woodworking, electronics, robotics, computer science, and welding into the area as well as utilizing some of the tools I mentioned above. I picture it as a space that has possibilities to create, to cross curriculums, and to engage the imagination of what’s possible. A place where the student has access to experts in different fields, can conceive an idea, and act on it.
However, I know this type of makerspace is not a one-size fits all. Tailoring a makerspace to your age level, is important. It doesn’t have to be tech-driven as our goal is. Specifically in the younger grades, you could get just as much engagement (or arguably more,) from low or no-tech options. Lego, popsicle sticks, rocks, glue, construction paper, glitter, clay, textiles, cardboard, or sewing materials are only a short list of the type of items that can engage a student’s mind in the same way as I described above.
The design of these spaces can be directly tied to the amount of benefit your students receive by engaging in them. While many low/no-tech options can be easily tailored to many learning levels and styles, it often becomes slightly more work with high-tech options. However, with careful planning, particularly when teaching the basics, it is very possible to get all students engaged and benefiting from the high-tech options, while also giving great opportunity to push your higher-level learners to extend their knowledge further by taking their creations to the next level.
Additionally, I think it’s important to realize that becoming a “techie” is not a necessity for employing a makerspace within your building. Prior to starting my contract that included those drafting classes, I had never opened up a single piece of CAD software. 3 years later, I’ve employed 3D design and 3D printing skills across 4 grade levels, gained great experience in 8 different design programs, 3D-Printed hundreds of items, and gained confidence with a CNC Router (which was new to us this September.) I say this while also confidently saying that I am an expert in none of the above. In my case, all it took to get started was a high interest, and a willingness to work hard, and a couple of repeated asks for budget money.
Finally, one of my favorite parts about makerspaces is the community of people that engage with them. From my experience, I’ve met some of the friendliest, and hardworking people I know through these initiatives. Whether it is connecting with people locally that run 3D printers, or CNC routers, speaking to people on online forums, or meeting them in person at places like the Saskatoon Makerspace, it really is a tight knit community that will go out of there way to assist one another. An added bonus is the open-source movement being alive and well throughout the ‘maker movement.’
One of our assigned viewings for the week does a wonderful job of portraying this. Jamie Leben describes the community within makerspaces. In his words “Makerspace’s build community, so you can come for the tools, and stay for the people.”
Have you ever implemented, or taken part in a makerspace? What was your experience like? Was there any super engaging or must have items? Let me know below!