Building Blueprints (Facilities in Focus)

Making Makerspaces

In today’s schools, students are communicating, collaborating and creating in a variety of flexible learning environments. For hands-on activities and experimentation, makerspaces are must-have spaces for schools and go-to places for students within.

makerspace 

PHOTO BY DROR BALDINGER FAIA ARCHITECTURAL PHOTOGRAPHY / COURTESY OF FANNING HOWEY

The maker movement emphasizes learning by doing in a variety of mediums. As it has progressed, countless variations of makerspaces are taking shape in response to the unique needs and cultures of school communities. But this begs the question: With so many choices, how do schools create makerspaces that are right for them?

Types of Makerspaces

Makerspaces come in all different shapes and sizes, but there are some core characteristics they share to be successful. Makerspaces are versatile and flexible environments capable of accommodating multiple activities simultaneously, and they emphasize process over product to promote a problem-solving mindset. But most importantly, makerspaces represent a place in schools where students can be hands on, where they can experiment and where they can make mistakes. Makerspaces are a safe zone for learning by doing, even when that means being loud and getting messy.

Makerspaces differ based on each school’s goals, culture and student interests. Focuses can range anywhere from arts and crafts to agriculture to multimedia to robotics and coding. As such, there is a wide range of technology applications in these spaces. Tech-heavy makerspaces may include 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, power tools, green screens or robotics equipment, whereas low-tech makerspaces may use hand tools, art supplies and Legos.

makerspace

PHOTO BY WILLIAM MANNING PHOTOGRAPHY / COURTESY OF FANNING HOWEY

Spontaneous Making. Independent learning communities with flex studios at Middletown Middle School in Middletown, Ohio, allow for making on the go.

Effective makerspaces aren’t necessarily those with the most technology or digital devices. They are, instead, spaces where students feel socially and emotionally connected to their peers and can collaboratively or independently explore at their own pace. Technology enhances this experience, but doesn’t drive it.

Makerspace Must-Haves

While each makerspace is unique to its school community, there are certain amenities that support a learning-by-doing mentality. Whether it’s a small renovation or new construction, consider incorporating the following into your next makerspace:

  • Flexibility: A makerspace is a changing program, so don’t box yourself in. Fixed equipment and casework should be universal enough to accommodate change. Also, don’t forget to provide plenty of soft seating and mobile furniture.
  • Power & Plumbing: Make sure your students have the infrastructure they need to support hands-on learning activities. When providing power, consider overhead electrical drops. This strategy keeps the floor clear and supports flexibility of movement.
  • Whiteboards: While students use technology to collaborate more than ever, don’t forget to include some old-school whiteboards to encourage brainstorming and dreaming out loud.
  • Lockable Storage: Makerspaces often include expensive equipment, especially at the middle and high school level. Provide plenty of lockable storage to keep items safe after the making has subsided.

These must-have elements mean that certain areas within a school are more appropriate for conversion to become a makerspace. In elementary schools, old computer labs located near the media center are prime candidates for conversion. At the high school level, look for underutilized career-technical spaces. They are often equipped with the appropriate power and plumbing, and their higher ceilings give makers more room to move.

But whatever your approach to creating a makerspace, to make an impact you must make sure that construction follows instruction.

makerspace

PHOTO BY JAMES STEINKAMP PHOTOGRAPHY / COURTESY OF FANNING HOWEY

Endless Possibilities. Makerspace at Round Lake High School in Round Lake, Illinois, features movable furniture, overhead power extensions, computers and art supplies to support a wide range of activities.

Making an Impact

To create a maker culture that supports school goals, administrators must understand the long-term direction of the school’s curriculum, including what skills they want students to leave with at graduation. Once the groundwork for this direction has been laid, leaders should collaborate with staff and students to dream up what activities will best develop those skills. If teamwork, complex problem-solving and coding skills are valued to prepare students for future careers in technology, makerspaces should support robotics and STEM activities. If the focus is readying students for careers in the local agriculture industry, makerspaces should support the grow lights and aquaponics systems needed for agronomy and horticulture learning activities.

Student involvement in the process is critical for understanding student interests and how the environment can help them explore those interests. Giving students a voice in the direction of their education will not only lead to better engagement, but it will create a more representative maker culture where learners are comfortable exploring their passions in an experiential setting.

Whether large or small, basic or innovative, makerspaces should be unlike any other space in a school. They can be loud, messy and even a little chaotic at times, but what’s important is students have a flexible space for hands-on learning that supports everything they are making. Especially mistakes.

makerspace 

PHOTO BY WILLIAM MANNING PHOTOGRAPHY / COURTESY OF FANNING HOWEY

Future-Ready. Robotics activities at Memorial Middle School in Hilliard, Ohio, promote the school’s STEM curriculum.

About the Authors

John Gladden, AIA, is a principal and project designer in the Dublin, Ohio office of Fanning Howey, a national leader in the planning and design of learning environments.

Brandon Biniker is an interior designer in the Dublin, Ohio office of Fanning Howey, a national leader in the planning and design of learning environments.