When something peaks my curiosity, especially something I do not know a lot about yet keeps getting my attention, I began researching almost obsessively. Over the last few months “makerspaces” have constantly grabbed my attention. Maker labs, Hackerspaces, FabLabs, or whatever name they are hiding under are becoming more common than they were just a year ago. I have a love for STEM and when researching Project Lead the Way for a totally different reason, information about the labs/spaces kept coming up during the research. This of course kept sucking me in.
I had already read a few articles/blogs about them when I attended EdcampSTL in February. While there the Disruption Department had set up a lab during the edcamp. I bet they thought I was a weirdo because I just kept walking in and observing instead of participating. Not that I didn’t want to (and I later did, those that know me know my love for LEGO MINDSTORMS/NXT so I could not resist playing for too long!) but I really just wanted to take in how the lab worked, if it worked smoothly, if there was a calm in the midst of the chaos, and what exactly were people ‘making.’ I left even more obsessed. I wanted to find out if schools in the Bham area have these opportunities (which sadly I cannot find) and how are schools/communities getting funding.
The day after I got back from St Louis I was flipping through the IEEE Spectrum magazine that comes in the mail here and noticed an article about Makerspaces. The author of the article was none too happy that DARPA was behind the funding of markerspace.com in schools. I could see the concern of the author thinking DARPA will not only steal kids’ ideas (if it is made through the DARPA software it is open source) and recruiting them but if you read through the Makerspace Playbook and look through their kits it really focuses on exactly what it takes to build a community that has strong STEM skills. (On a side note I totally recommend reading the playbook, I read it twice, all 80 pages.) Remember shop class and old school computer class with codes? Yeah this is so those classes on steroids. Makerspace gives you great resources from what you need to have a lab to best places to get grants. Even has a directory of Makerspaces and their websites (wish they listed by locations because I am determined to visit one).
Another part of this research was to figure out how schools were housing them. Were they come and go as you please, a class set up similiar to PLTW’s middle school robotics courses, do all students go? Well I kind of came up with the answers yes and no to all of those questions. I found evidence that they are set up in libraries, that they are one day events, a ‘class’ kids attend once or twice a week, or an everyday class like PTLW courses. Seriously when I think about the spaces my mind always drifts to they are probably very much like Krissy Venosdale’s gifted classrooms, if you follow her amazing work, her kids are always creating. Also, this is a great article in Edutopia from Mary Beth Hertz about the makerspaces.
What I like about my findings on these spaces are that they
- Fit the school’s environments. They are set up in a way they work for the culture of that school and community. So often we throw new ‘projects’ into schools with out seeing first how they will fit. The successful spaces have done that.
- The spaces are exactly what we need in STEM education. They are teaching problem solving, collaboration, and critical thinking. Even better, creativity is just as important as well. If you ask people in STEM fields what they need students to master before they work for them, these are the attributes they will give you. In August when I had a 1 on 1 conversation with Charles Bolden, the NASA Administrator he said we need more problem solvers and critical thinkers. These spaces cultivate that.
Some awesome stuff happening in the STEM world. Many of you may know more about makerspaces than I do, but I wanted to share with those who did not know they exist. If your school has one, I would love to hear about them (or even see it if you aren’t too far)! Hey these may just be a fad or they may become something more permanent in our education systems. Either way they have paved a way for kids to become better thinkers and take charge of their learning. I believe that teachers can take these ideas and slowly integrate them into the everyday classroom. Now – go make something!