What is a Makerspace?
A makerspace is a place where you can walk in with an idea and walk out with a finished project. It’s a place where people can go to create, innovate, solve problems, and work together with others. In many places, you may hear it used interchangeably with ‘hackerspace’, ‘Fab Lab’, or many other similar names. You don't need certain technology to consider something a makerspace. It is a much more abstract concept that can take many forms.
A makerspace is especially made great by its community. Whether it’s students or non-education related, the community of innovators and entrepreneurs that come together to share ideas and problem solve together is what makes the best makerspace. Historically, makerspaces have existed without a formal name for decades, but have recently come to the forefront of society, especially as project-based learning continues to pick up steam in the education world.
On that note, a makerspace is also a powerful learning environment, where students can do things without any fear of failure. Failure is actually expected and helps them grow by learning from those failures. It’s not the standard textbook, where there is a right and wrong answer. Usually, there are many ways to complete a project to achieve a goal. Making in a makerspace is a great way to get students excited to learn without even knowing it!
Why are Makerspaces Important in Education?
There are many drivers that are causing makerspaces to gain in popularity. One major driver is the STEM movement, which is tied to STEM careers that are growing at a huge pace and bringing more jobs into the marketplace. We don't yet have a graduating student body that is truly ready for the real world, as they just don't have the skills upon graduation. Going forward, we are looking for educators to start preparing students earlier and earlier to get them to acquire the skills that are necessary for a successful career ahead.
Some of those required skills are hard skills, but some are soft. Many times, these soft skills are actually 10x more important than the hard ones, because the hard skills can sometimes be learned on the job. Here, we are specifically talking about the four C's: creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Gaining these skills are the core of what makes the makerspace important to K-12 and higher education because that's where you go to build those skills. There's not a textbook in the world that can teach these skills, so the only option is to learn by doing.
The US, in particular, has a huge lack of young people going into a lot of technical skills, and makerspaces expose the students to a lot of those technical skills. Palmer Hamilton, a Dremel DigiLab partner, put a makerspace in an inner city middle school a while back, and after doing so, the teachers saw their science scores increase 20% from the previous year. The really interesting thing was they did nothing else. No large overhaul in teaching system, no new curriculum adoption. Nothing. Just implementing the makerspace and incorporating technologies such as digital fabrication got students engaged in the classroom and learning with greater passion.
There is also something to be said about using makerspaces just to get young people interested in careers they never thought of. In a different makerspace location, there was this young woman who was previously into art, drawing, and design. Why not take that passion and start designing objects in CAD? Fast forward 3 years and plenty of time spent in the makerspace, and now that young woman has her engineering associate's degree and is designing medical parts that orthopedic surgeons use. All because she got inspired and introduced to something she would have never been exposed to before.
Lastly, it’s important to note that makerspaces are not only about STEM!! A makerspace can touch every academic discipline at your school. It's not just for the engineering students or the robotics teams. It’s also for the arts and humanities. A number of entrepreneurial businesses utilize technology found in a makerspace, so even finance and marketing can be incorporated into a makerspace if you get creative.