By Elizabeth Wroten
Notes From the Makerspace: Technology in Makerspaces Not Necessary
On 05, Nov 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
So things are chugging along in my after school makerspace. There’s always a lot of banging and glueing and pandemonium. There is never enough duct tape. Or wood scraps. Or wheels. I am constantly reminding them to stop wasting water or stop stabbing each other with their creations. Every time I say something I thought I would never say. We are working on leaving the room as we found it (so I don’t have to spend a ton of time after they leave cleaning and sorting), but other than that it’s great.
I read a blog post today, though, that talked about a librarian hesitant to jump into makerspaces. She got some good inspiration and is off looking for more inspiration and ideas. I want to share how I recently worked a makerspace into my library and library curriculum in case any one out there is wondering about one way to approach this concept and I will in my next post, but what I want to address today is something this librarian mentioned that had kept her from really looking into them: a malaise around or fear of needing lots of technology and also not knowing how to teach coding. I want to get this out there before I even start talking about what I did. Technology is not essential or necessary to have a makerspace. The only technology I currently have in my makerspace is broken down computers and appliances for the kids to harvest for parts or explore the innards of.
The other important thing to know and understand is that makerspaces are about letting the kids make discoveries and learn on their own. You do not need to provide the content, only the space and supplies. You can certainly answer questions and point them in the right direction, but I think the most important part of makerspaces is how they are student inquiry driven. It’s a place for teachers and parents to step back and let their kids go.
Kids will ask you for what to do next and what to do, but if you refuse to tell them they eventually come to rely on themselves. My line is “That’s not my job, that’s yours. Take a look around and see what you can use.” This looking to adults for what to do and fear of making mistakes is something we have taught them in traditional schooling and it takes some unlearning, but I can tell you from experience all kids come along and start figuring things out for themselves. They stop needing you except to remind them that the glue is in the same place it’s been in for a year.
I do occasionally put out some set activities for the kids, but they never do them (except the slime kitchen which they LOVE with a fiery passion). They have their own ideas that need expression and they go for it. It’s amazing to see what they can create with some cardboard and tape. It’s amazing to see the stories they create to go with their inventions. And it’s most amazing as an adult to realize they don’t care if their broken computer with a speaker glued on top that they call a state-of-the-art sound system doesn’t actually work. It does in their mind and in the narrative they have created. (This really happened last week.)
None of this is limited to the preschool set either. I have fifth graders who are just as into cardboard and tape and imagination as my second graders. And there’s a makerspace elective in the middle school that’s come to this point too. The teacher used to give them a challenge or task every time they came to class, but one day he gave them a loose challenge that involved cardboard boxes and their enthusiasm and creativity EXPLODED that day. He was so amazed he’s stepped back a lot and simplified even more and gives them a lot more freedom. And those kids are all the way up into eighth grade.
So sure, makerspaces are nifty if they have technology in them, but only if it allows kids to get creative and helps them bring their ideas into being. It’s by no means necessary. And please, please, please do not make it seem like you are the one giving them the ideas or that you have all the answers. They get plenty of that everywhere else in their lives. Give the kids the tools, space, and knowledge to figure things out themselves and find their own creativity, intelligence, and strength.
As a side note, I do teach the kids how to use our tools (drills, saws, hot glue guns) if they don’t already know. I will help them do things like cut large pieces of wood or whatever that it would be too time consuming, physically taxing, or developmentally inappropriate for them to do. I also do some front loading with new students where I step back gradually from helping them find what they want to do in the space and think about how to solve problems. I am, though, always intentionally vague with ideas I give them. It’s a process and some kids come along faster than others, but they all get to a point where they see me as an interference.