School libraries are powerful places of thinking and learning. It is the place where curricular needs and personal interests are expanded and cultivated. It is where students can think, share, and grow knowledge. With the expansion and incorporation of makerspace thinking, along with equipment, tools, technology, supplies, and resources, the learning also expands to creating and doing. This is when scholarship is taken to the deeper and more personally invested level of learning we educators are always seeking for our students. Making takes the traditional learning and mental thinking into real-world application with hands-on development and action. As Dr. David Sosby of the Northwest Invention Center stated, “Research and experience consistently show that learners stay engaged, exhibit more curiosity, and learn more effectively when they are addressing challenges that they meet with kinetic action.” This is the power of making.
Building understanding as a maker is intellectual flexibility while learning from experts by reading, seeing, and consulting before doing, contributing and sharing. So the question becomes, how do we do this in a school setting? How do we grow a maker environment? How do we teach the next generation to not just be consumers of information, but contributors as well? This can be done by developing intentional levels of learning and support through makerspace opportunities: guided, independent challenges, and self-directed.
Guided: Learning and Building Knowledge
I often say, “Students don’t know what they don’t know.” A young person needs to know something exists, something is possible, so I start by exposing them to tools, ideas, and resources. Before student makers can become independent, they need guidance, direction, and training. Often, students need developmental, lower level, basic skills experiences to broaden their horizons, develop a core base of skills and understanding, and learn about things they otherwise may not even know exist. This is where there is a very specific activity. Everyone does the same thing with a predesignated outcome. Students sample skills and experiences while basic skills for the concept are introduced. There are step-by-step instructions with personal guidance and training throughout. For example, to introduce electronics, all participants make a greeting card with LED lights and while doing so learn the basics about electrical polarity and conducting electricity.
Independent Challenges: Deepening Knowledge and Advancing Skills
Once a student has established basic skills through a guided project, she is ready for an independent challenge. In a challenge task, a student takes what has already been learned to further develop related skills and deepen knowledge on the subject through research and completing another make presented by the makerspace coordinator. The challenge is phrased as a task with a final goal in mind, as well as some recommended, preliminary resources. For example, digital learning pathfinders to facilitate personal growth can be made through digital tools like Symbaloo. From there, it is up to the student to research how and what to do, work out necessary steps, plan for tools and supplies required, and experiment with thinking and making. Taking learning to the next level, the student may successfully complete the make, or may fail, but learn from that failure in order to try again. To see examples of makerspace pathfinders for a variety of topics, click here).
Self-Directed: Experimentation and Personal Inquiry
here to better understand how students begin by using, but with the right resources, guidance, and mentoring, can progress toward tinkering and experimenting. With a lot of hard work, passion, and support, some students may even achieve the level of creating and contribute something new and purposeful to the world.
- Gallup, Inc. “2013 Gallup-HOPE Index Forum.” http://www.gallup.com/services/176750/2013-gallup-hope-index-report.aspx
- Preddy, Leslie. School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6-12. (Libraries Unlimited, 2013)
- uTEC Maker Model: https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/13oahzpAKMVWJPkoWBid93Z4F_eKAxVraGgX-Uwisw-o/edit?usp=sharing.
- Wolfe, Patricia. Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice, 2nd Ed. (Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2010)