Makerspace: The K-Infinity Classroom

The concept of making, or creating things with hands and tools has always been an inherent part of human nature.

The concept of making, or creating things with hands and tools has always been an inherent part of human nature. This is seen in the age-long practices of arts and crafts groups, science fairs, hobbyists, and practical education. The origin of formal maker movement can however be traced back to the launch of the Makezine or make magazine in 2005 and the popular fairs or ‘maker faires’ that stemmed from them. A makerspace basically describes a location, within or outside a formal learning environment, where learners can experiment with various materials and/or technologies to create inventions. Simply put, it is a space where people can fiddle with the idea of making things. Hence the name.

Why Makerspace?

The future workspace will rely strongly on skills and competencies beyond content knowledge. According to UNESCO, current global changes call for new skills, as captured in the twenty-first century (21C) competences framework. These skills include collaboration; communication, social and/or cultural competencies, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving among others. This is continually placing a demand for an education outside the formal classroom that is unlimited by the rigidity of government-controlled systems, and the politics of formal curriculum changes. This strengthens the need for a protocols-free approach to the acquisition of skills focused on problem-solving. The maker approach addresses this. The maker culture is underpinned by the concepts of making, or learning by doing, which stems from the active learning paradigm. It captures the notion of self-directed learning, collaboration and team work, sharing and environmental sustainability through reuse and recycling in addition to supporting grade-less learning spaces or the K-infinity classroom.

According to John Spencer, current global realities indicate that successful individuals will need to do more than following the age-old formula of ‘work hard at school, go to college, and climb a corporate ladder’. He advances that the current complex global, creative and information economy, demands the higher order skills of ‘iterative thinking, creative thinking, critical thinking’ and the ability to collaborate as well as embrace change. All these are captured in the maker mindset, which is the basis of the makerspace movement.

In addition, research in the field of education has continually supported the fact that learning is more effective because it occurs at a deeper level and learners retain more when they are actively and physically engaged in the learning process. A learning environment that supports making will leads to a maker mindset, and thereby, support the development of 21C success skills.
Some points worth noting by individuals who are interested in exploring making or starting a makerspace include the following:

A makerspace is a gradeless or K-infinity classroom with utmost flexibility

Unlike formal classrooms that are mostly defined by age, a makerspace can be designed to be K-infinity in the sense that individuals at any level of learning can all co-learn within it. Since the learning approach is more like a combination of problem and project-based learning, individuals can decide on what projects is appropriate for them or what problem they want to solve. In this sense, individuals can cross the grade/age barriers and collaborate on the same problems or work in different problems. Problem-solving is the key focus of activities within a makerspace. It can be a space that integrates a wood workshop with a computer lab, a robotic workshop and an art studio and each of this unit can well be the entire makerspace. It can integrate a sewing center and an electrical workshop with a recycling lab. The most important element therefore becomes the flexibility it offers and its ability to accommodate all and sundry

You don’t need technology to set up a makerspace

John Walters agrees with Casey Shea that a makerspace is more of a framework than technology. In Casey’s opinion, dropping a 3D printer into a room doesn’t turn it into a makerspace. By which she meant that technology alone does not define the makerspace. Though technologies could be very important parts of making, makerspaces are not fundamentally technology labs. The most important element of such spaces will be the freedom and flexibility it provides for learners to do. The room for expression and creativity. The room for making mistakes without the judgement of assessment associated with the formal classroom.

If you feel you need some help in starting, you may approach successful makerspace centers for help or you can take one of the many online courses on starting a makerspace like FutureLearn’s course on Build a Makerspace for Young People, Spencer’s Makerspace Master Course

You should start your Makerspace now.

If you keep waiting for the perfect time when everything will come beautifully together, you are not likely to get there. If you have the financial resources to start big, by all means, do, but you really don’t need to have everything together to start. You can begin with just a single project and move on from there. As an example, you can begin with just wood work or cardboard. If you prefer to go the tech way, and you can afford it, you may want to start with basic circuits, Arduinos, breadboards, components, microcontrollers, Raspberry Pi, etc. Gather materials for that first project and grow from there. Have the most basic tools and materials available (cutters, clips, tapes, gum/glue, papers, plastic drinking straws, cardboards, circuits, scissors, cardboard, duct tape, binder clips, etc.). Also bear in mind that there are many useful, but unwanted materials or ‘wastes’ that businesses and individuals will gladly contribute if you only ask.

It is also good to remember you can also make your own stuffs (chairs, tables, workbenches, etc.) from scrap materials; it is makerspace afterall. For a school makerspace, many parents will be glad to ‘dispose’ junks from their stores if you ask them. There are also a number of local, and regional/international grants that you can leverage on to fund your makerspace project if you know where to look.

Further Readings

1.Walter (2016). What Makes a Great Makerspace?
3.EBSCO (2017). Makerspaces: Hands-on Learning for Students of All Abilities.
4.GVC Staff (2019). 50 Best Maker Spaces: These Cutting Edge College Collaborative Spaces Truly ROCK!
7.Spencer, J. (2016). The Maker Mindset. Episode 96, The Cult of Pedagogy (Podcast)