This is the first blog article in a series focused on makerspace.
Makerspace has become the current hot topic in education. Along with STEAM it often dominates technology conventions and gatherings. Where did this trend come from?
What is Makerspace?
From the Guerilla Makerspace Project by two Harvard Graduate School of Education students who set up temporary, pop-up makerspaces in unexpected locations
Makerspace can take all forms ranging from large industrial spaces with heavy-duty machinery to a plastic box brought out for an afternoon library crafts program. What connects these extremes is the universal experience of designing and creating– with the emphasis on creating. Makerspaces are places, usually physical spaces, to create –whether hands-on objects or digital products. The making can range from something as simple as using a magnetic white board with poetry tiles to learning how to program a Mindstorms robot to creating ooblick (a non-newtonian solid), slime (a polymer) or playdough (fun). Makerspace may or may not be predicated on STEAM principals but will generally be based on innovation, creativity and ultimately play.
In 1995 Make magazine, a periodical for people who like to remix, recycle and invent made its debut. Full of articles about how to hack just about anything with a focus on developing personal “tinkering” skills it struck a chord with the more technical and playful readers. Makerspace was something that grew from the D-I-Y philosophy that the magazine was based on. People wanted to be able to have access to sophisticated equipment like 3D printers (the poster child of the maker movement), CNC cutters, woodworking, welding and all the more artistic or vocational skills. That desire drove the movement to develop shared working spaces. From this beginning the movement branched out into space and activities at community centers, schools (including kindergartens), private business and especially libraries. For libraries it was a time of disruption—books segueing to digital—space opening up in library buildings as the books left and an identity crisis in the age of Google searching. Libraries embraced this enhanced public service, opening up teen centers and community labs focused on helping people get their hands on equipment and mentoring trainings.
A Seat For Everyone
The library involvement is important to balance potential inequities indicated by surveys conducted by Make magazine that show that the main formal makerspaces events tend to be frequented and supported by white, affluent males. The embracing of makerspace by libraries and schools creates the opportunity to influence that model and opens up the experience and the positive results to a much broader community-older people, children, teens. There has been a particular drive to include girls and women as national surveys indicated that there were very few women involved in this area and a rapidly declining number of women entering the computer science field—closely connected area.
The New Comes from the Old
Like many things this, new activity has a long history behind it. Humans have a tremendous need to create. This is beautifully explained in a video (A World Through the Hands) by Renate Hiller at the Fiber Craft Studio of the Threefold Educational Center in Chestnut Ridge, New York. She uses a stone spindle to create thread, an ancient craft and is able to connect this to spiral galaxies as well as the need for the soul to make with one’s hands.
Around the turn of the last century a system of manual instruction surfaced that was designed to move people rapidly from the farm to the growing numbers and new types of jobs brought about by the industrial revolution. There was the “Russian system” based on making a series of models divorced from everyday life. There were also the Sloyd schools which emphasized making useful household objects using woodworking and sewing that progressed through an increasingly more complicated series of items which grew the student’s knowledge. It was similar to Froebel’s gifts which also had a basis in training children for “occupations.” Sloyd means handwork in Swedish. In Boston the remaining Sloyd School is the North Bennett Street School in the North End. There is another at the Buckingham Browne and Nichols School in Cambridge, MA. Both still teach handwork and fine carpentry.
The focus on occupations has been key in the makerspace movement. The concept has been embraced by the White House as the Nation of Makers — a way to ensure that the future employees of American industry are able to compete and thrive competitively in the world market. There are also many STEAM/STEM grants being offered through various government agencies like The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and other groups.
Curriculum Resource Centers
Curriculum Resource Centers like the Earl Center were (and are) a form of makerspace focused originally on teacher training. Teachers had to produce their own materials and curriculum resource centers provided the materials and the means to physically handle and prepare teaching materials. Teaching is an ever evolving field. Experimenting with new materials hands-on is a way of providing experiential learning Solving problems is key to makerspace and problem based learning. New tools such as 3D printers, once a tool of industrial production – are opening up possibilities that allow people to become creators and co-creators beyond consumers and agents of their own problem-solving. 3D printers are being used in classes as early as kindergarten. These opportunities call for rethinking how things might be done in different ways and demands the development of a culture of constant and continuous learning.
 The Value and Limitations of Froebel’s Gifts as Educative Materials Parts I, II
Patty Smith Hill ,The Elementary School Teacher
Vol. 9, No. 3 (Nov., 1908), pp. 129-137
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/992761