Rethinking the “Maker” in Makerspace

Recently, I wrote about the very early stages of adding the makerspace movement to our new school and library learning commons space.  Our next step was to meet with interested staff and have a collaborative discussion about the whole concept.

Luckily, some wonderful colleagues came out and we had an enthusiastic and reflective conversation. We decided that the best way to really gather student interest observations and encourage staff engagement is to host 3 days of exploration.

I am beyond excited to launch this event.  I have no idea how it will play out or what the long term commitment to this type of learning experience will be.  Over the past year or so I have also learned to seek out the thoughts and questions of colleagues I admire and trust.  The shift for me has been to not simply look for cheerleaders who say yes to everything but, to look for passionate educators who will challenge thinking and ask probing questions.  Where this might have scared or intimidated me in the past, I now see this as essential to effective practice.

One such mentor suggested that the very nature of the word “maker” might need revision.  Not to devalue the community grassroots history of the original maker movement.  However, as my colleague pointed out, “maker” and “makerspace” has become very mainstream and dare we say, trendy. At first I thought – oh goodness – how do I take the maker out of makerspace?  But then I stopped.  I thought it out.  As soon as anything is mass market produced in a “kit” you have to wonder.  When you search makerspace on the web it takes a lot to separate the authentic dialogue from the sales pitch.

The essence of the rethinking was:

  • Do we always have to “make” or complete the product?
  • Does “maker” imply product over process?
  • Is it not the imagination, problem solving and, maybe more so, the exploration of the world around us that really makes a “makerspace” experience thrilling for kids?
  • Is the lens of inquiry still at the heart of the play if we label it a “MAKERspace”?

Now you might argue this is semantics.  But I argue that language matters, impression matters and perception matters.  As an equity and mental health advocate I stand up for the importance of the words we choose and how they make people feel.

This new adventure is no exception – I would hate the idea that a student disengages from this experience because they think we value finished product only.

No answer just yet.  Our 3 day event is just prior to our March Break.  So far our staff are preparing exposure to a wide variety of low tech and high tech experiences.

  • sewing
  • creating with paper
  • sock puppets
  • creating with yarn
  • K’nex
  • Lego
  • cardboard arcade
  • intro to coding
  • electronics disassembly
  • creating with felt
  • AND most importantly a Graffiti Wall for feedback and other suggestions

Whether this aligns with the “trendy” definition of a “makerspace” has become secondary to me.  I am more curious to see where the students lead us and how we can RETHINK and redefine the learning for ourselves.

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