One of the most important elements to operating a successful makerspace is creating a schoolwide culture of making. A maker culture is when students and staff practice and understand how to learn from failure, have a growth mindset, collaborate, communicate, and persevere. They recognize that the makerspace exists for them to experiment, try new things, and explore their interests. Although there are a lot of factors that go into cultivating the maker mindset in any school, I just want to focus on three key strategies you can use to improve maker culture and get more students utilizing your makerspace.
Get Staff on Board
Getting your colleagues excited about the makerspace will be a key component of creating a schoolwide culture of making. They will help give students consistent messaging, and if they understand the need for and the benefits of making, they will create more time for it with their students. So, communicate with the teachers at your school. Important questions you’ll want to address right away might include:
- What is a makerspace?
- Why is it important?
- What is in the makerspace?
- Who can use the tools in it and when can they use it?
- Are there any special procedures students (and staff) need to follow when using the makerspace?
If you have a makerspace, you likely understand the importance of experiential learning. This is true for adults as well. So, give them time to work with some of the materials in your makerspace at a staff meeting. Or, set up some group tours and workshops for staff. Do whatever you can to get them into your makerspace to experience it themselves.
And, weaving making into content area learning will be an important part of getting teachers on board so let them know you’d like to collaborate. Think about ways you’ve supported teachers in past years and brainstorm maker projects you could weave into those units. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just integrate making components where they fit. For specific ideas on how you might integrate making into content areas, check out my blogs Making Poetry: Using Maker Ed in Creative Writing, Making Connections with Literacy and Maker Education, or Ideas for Integrating Science and Making.
In addition, the more opportunities you can give the staff to learn about the specific tools in your makerspace and some of the things you can do with them, the better. If they understand more of your products, they will likely have ideas about weaving making into units and projects you may not even be familiar with.
Stay consistent with your communication or with sharing projects that are being created in the makerspace. This will keep the makerspace at the top of their minds.
Leave Materials Out
Keep some materials out for students. Leave materials that can easily be picked up and manipulated out on a table that students walk by often and put some challenge cards out on the table or make a sign that provides some open-ended direction for those who may be paralyzed otherwise. Leaving materials out invites students to explore and experiment.
When we store materials away or put them somewhere students can’t access, this can send a message that the makerspace and the materials in it are not intended for students to explore and experiment with, but for teacher-directed worktime only.
Leaving projects out that are not fully complete can also invite creation. Sometimes it is less daunting to pick up a project that is started than to start something completely from scratch. And, if there are any time constraints, students may not think they have time to start something new. However, there may still be some time to complete something that another student started.
Embed Student Interests
Creating a culture of making won’t be successful if student interests are not considered. If students do not feel any connection or relevance to what they try in the makerspace, they likely will not return. So, survey your students about their interests. What do students want to learn how to make? Are they engineers? Artists? Coders? Might you hold a workshop that teaches them how to make something they told you they want to learn? What are the hobbies, after-school clubs, and sports that are common at your school? Explore challenges and ideas that connect with what they already know to pique their interest. And don’t be afraid to experiment and veer away from any initial plans in order to figure out what is most engaging for them. After all, the makerspace is meant to be student directed. Let your students lead. And finally, make time for feedback and modify for their needs. They notice when adults listen (and when they don’t).
For a makerspace to be most effectively utilized, it is important to establish a culture of making. Makerspaces are created for students to explore their interests, so make them feel welcomed, lean into their passions, and give them the space to create. For more information on starting a makerspace, check out my blogs, So You’re Starting a Makerspace. Now What? and Building a Classroom Community Through Maker Education.
If you want to learn more or are interested in having me support you in integrating a makerspace, I’d love to help! Please reach out using the contact button below.