Setting Up Your Makerspace
Step 1: Understand What You Want to Accomplish
Think about how you are going to use this space and what you want to get out of it. Oftentimes, educators get really excited, saying “Oh, we got a grant for this, so we're going to do this and that”, and then they run out and buy something without thinking about the long-term questions. Whether you're an elementary school, middle school, high school, or in higher education, your students will probably have different needs, and therefore, different setups with different equipment are required.
Setting up the makerspace is really a part of the overall strategy, so make sure you have the students in mind. For example, if your goal is to get as many kids using this space as possible, then you’re probably going to want it to be visually attractive and easy to get started. Maybe instead of buying that extra $20k CNC machine, you spend it on great lighting and upgrading the environment to something that students will actually want to enjoy spending their extra time in. Or maybe you do get that $20k CNC machine because you don’t necessarily want a ton of students going there, and just want to focus on giving the few students that do come the opportunity to go above and beyond anything they could’ve imagined. This is entirely up to you and your stakeholders. But whatever you do, make sure you have thought about it.
Step 2: Start Small and Scale Over Time
When you first start out with your makerspace, you probably don’t need a video editing suite with a green room and a ton of equipment. You could add that in year 2 or 3. Maybe. We recommend to just start with something small, like a few simple tools, electronics, and a 3d printer. You can continue to add on other items like a laser cutter or virtual reality sets later. You don't have to go for the home run on the first swing. It’s something that we have to reiterate because it seems so overwhelming to many schools so they just don't get started. If you just start, you will get confidence over time and you can grow your makerspace from there.
Step 3: Choose Your Equipment
Make sure the equipment that you’re getting can hold up to the gauntlet that is called a makerspace. If things are going well, students will be tearing this place apart because they are so engaged. You want to make sure your equipment is super reliable and if anything goes wrong, the manufacturer has a top-notch customer support team ready to help you out. Another key is making sure that the learning curve of your equipment is easy and students of all skill-levels can walk up and use the machine or piece of technology. If you have to “certify” students before they can use a machine, you probably aren’t picking the right brand.
Finally, make sure that you’re only working with the safest technology and brands. The last thing you want to happen is to hurt a student and lose any momentum you may have had towards project-based learning and makerspaces. Laser cutters are a huge hit this year, but a lot of people don’t realize that there is only 1 laser cutter on the market that is UL-certified for safety to protect against fires and electrocution! No surprise that it’s the Dremel DigiLab Laser Cutter.
We’ve got a few recommendations for equipment, brands, and numbers, but again it all depends on your individual situation. Contact our sales team if you would like help putting together your makerspace equipment gameplan.
Operating and Managing Your Makerspace
The biggest thing that tends to get overlooked is what to do after you get your makerspace set up. Don’t let that happen! You want to make sure you have thought about all of this upfront in the planning stages. Here’s a small (but not complete) checklist to run through as you think about what you need to operate your makerspace:
Storage; where are students going to put half-finished or even finished projects?
IT, Electrical, and Infrastructure needs
Staffing; are you going to be teaching classes in there? Is it a free area for students to come in as they please or are there certain hours of operation?
Materials; who pays for the consumables and materials that are required to make projects? Is there a certain allocation per student or class?
Safety checks and regulations
Equipment Utilization; is it first-come-first-serve or is there a reservation system? Who manages this? How do you ensure tools don’t go “missing”?
Maintenance; how often are you going to maintain your equipment?
What Types of Projects Work Well in a Makerspace?
There are three main categories or types of projects that students can use a makerspace for: 1) a passive learning environment, 2) short-term project-based learning & 3) long-term project-based learning.
Passing learning is like walking into a playroom with a bunch of Legos. The students just have fun, playing and creating. There's no agenda or curriculum. It's just an open learning period.
Another idea is to work on short term projects in one to four-week increments, where students work either individually or in teams and must deliver a certain outcome. They can use different machines or different devices around the room to help them with that, but it’s generally a simple to moderately challenging scenario.
The third idea is to work on a semester-long project that takes over a month to complete. Again, it can work as individuals or teams and again they are supposed to deliver a certain outcome or achieve some goal given a scenario. Typically, these are larger projects that skew towards the more challenging side of the spectrum.
In our 3D printer education bundles, we provide 30 k-12 3D printing lesson plans, aligned to Common Core and other major US standards, that students can work on in their fab lab. A great example of this is the boat propeller design thinking challenge, in which students are tasked with creating a boat propeller that will carry a boat across a small body of water. The students will fail over and over, but through each iteration they will learn something they can then incorporate in their next design. After several rounds of collaboration and critical thinking, these students will hopefully complete that challenge and will have learned a tremendous amount during the process.
Makerspaces are places for people to turn their ideas into reality. They generally are communal and have great applications for 21st century learning. There are a lot of things to consider when establishing a makerspace, such as defining your goals, selecting equipment, and managing the day-to-day operations. Even further, there are many ways you can use them to teach. Hopefully, this guide was the first (but not last!) step towards your first makerspace. If you’re looking for more information on any of this, feel free to reach out to us and we’d be happy to help you get started with configuring your very own makerspace.
We can’t wait to see what you make!