Defining Makerspaces: What the Research Says
Recently, I had the unfortunate experience of dealing with criticism. I was told (not to my face) by a visitor to our school that our library makerspace is not a “real makerspace”. This same person stated that our woodshop is a “real makerspace” because it has power tools. She suggested that I “do some research” on what makerspaces actually are.
Feeling personally insulted aside, what bothers me most about this statement is the concept that some makerspaces are more valid than others and that a makerspace is solely defined by the tools it contains. I do agree that our woodshop is a makerspace, even though we don’t call it that. Our woodshop is awesome, and I’m so glad that we have a space where students can learn how to use saws, drills and other tools to build awesome projects as part of their curriculum. Yes, that is a makerspace.
But is my space any less of a makerspace simply because it doesn’t have power tools? Because it doesn’t have a 3D printer? Because my students build with LEGOs, K’nex and cardboard?
All of this got me thinking about how we define “makerspace”. So I did what librarians do best: I researched. I gathered together my books on makerspaces, I searched our databases for articles, and I crowdsourced the amazing hive mind of Twitter.
For the record, here’s my own definition of a school Makerspace:
A makerspace is a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials.
A makerspace can be anything from a repurposed bookcart filled with arts and crafts supplies to a table in a corner set out with LEGOs to a full blown fab lab with 3D printers, laser cutters, and handtools. No two school makerspaces are exactly alike, nor should they be. Makerspaces are as unique as the school cultures they represent. There is no such thing as one form of making being more valid or better than the other. Makers are artists, crafters, knitters, seamstresses, builders, programmers, engineers, hackers, painters, woodworkers, tinkerers, inventors, bakers, graphic designers and more.A #makerspace is a place where kids gather to create, invent, tinker, explore & discover. Click To Tweet
What the Research Says About Makerspaces
Here’s where my research led me:
I like this definition from Samatha Roslund’s book Makerspaces. I see three important elements to this definition: Place… people… make things. While different possible foci are mentioned, this definition does not limit a Makerspace to a particular set of tools. It’s about a place, about a community. Another similar quote comes from the Educause Learning Initiative article, 7 things about Makerspaces:
“A makerspace is a physical location where people gather to share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, and build.”
Makerspaces are not about the tools; they’re about enabling making.
More on Makerspaces
“… [A] space where kids have the opportunity to make – a place where some tools, materials, and enough expertise can get them started. These places, called makerspaces, share some aspects of the shop class, home economics class, the art studio and science labs. In effect, a makerspace is a physical mash-up of different places that allows makers and projects to integrate these different kinds of skills.” Dale Dougherty, The Maker Mindset, in Design, Make, Play
“Even if you don’t have access to expensive… hardware, every classroom can become a makerspace where kids and teachers learn together through direct experience with an assortment of high and low tech materials.” ~ Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez in Invent to Learn
“A Makerspace is a metaphor for a unique learning environment that encourages tinkering, play and open-ended exploration for all” ~Laura Fleming, author of Worlds of Making
Making, Creativity, and Design
“What do you do in a makerspace? The simple answer is you make things. Things that you are curious about. Things that spring from your imagination… that inspire you and things that you admire. The informal, playful atmosphere allows learning to unfold, rather than conform to a rigid agenda. Making, rather than consuming is the focus. It is craft, engineering, technology and wonder-driven.” Thinkers and Tinkerers
“The most important quality of a makerspace is that it encourages creativity. This can be done with a space full of hand tools, materials, and finished projects. The culture in a space should support the idea that anything is possible.” 3 Key Qualities for a School Makerspace
“Makerspaces provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they deeply engage in science, engineering and tinkering.” Jennifer Cooper, Designing a School Makerspace (Edutopia)
“Makerspaces are collaborative learning environments where people come together to share materials and learn new skills… [they] are not necessarily born out of a specific set of materials or spaces, but rather a mindset of community partnership, collaboration, and creation.” Library as incubator project
(Emphasis in quotes is mine)
The video above is really long by internet standards. But you should at least watch the first few minutes, where students share what their makerspace means to them.
Read up more on Makerspaces
- Check out my Makerspace Resources page for more links, articles, videos and book recommendations.
- Check out my posts on Starting a Makerspace and Growing a Makerspace (note: some posts fall into both categories)
- Read about the Stewart Makerspace Journey to learn how I started a makerspace at a public, Title 1 middle school
- Counterpoint: An administrator once read this article and interpreted it as saying that he didn’t need to fund tools to start a makerspace. Here’s my article on reasons why you need to have tools in a makerspace (just not necessarily specific ones)
- I co-wrote a book on makerspaces called Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace. Check it out 🙂
- Read some of the books mentioned in this article (see links below)
(Note: post contains affiliate links. Actions taken may result in commissions for Renovated Learning)