Themed Making

In my makerspace book, Worlds of Making:  Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School, I outline a framework for creating and rolling out your own makerspace.  At the heart of that plan, is my planning process. That planning process is a thematic one, and in a recent piece for School Library Journal, I expanded upon why a thematic approach to planning your makerspace is beneficial. These reasons include:

  • Offering a personalized approach for planning your makerspace

  • Streamlining the ordering process, by giving you a much more targeted lens

  • Providing opportunities for your students to take their learning deeper

  • Ensuring that you have available a suite of multi-modal materials to meet the varying learning styles of the students who will be visiting your space

Makerspaces take many forms, but in my opinion, opportunities for open-ended exploration are key.  I define a makerspace as:

Screenshot 2016-05-13 at 4.46.36 PM

There are some who feel that it is the technology in a makerspace that pushes students outside of their comfort zone, but in my opinion, it is the opportunity for open-ended exploration.  I believe very strongly that makerspaces should foster and nurture open-ended exploration.

Although I believe in a thematic approach to planning makerspaces in K-12, it is important to note that themes in no way should be seen as limiting.  Students should not be required to limit their making to just the themes you have in place. Sometimes their making takes them in directions you just can't predict. Makerspaces should encourage students to make and that making should have no limits or ceiling.

In a recent maker-related presentation, my own students outlined exactly what themes are and are not.

What a theme IS:

  • A launchpad to kick start making and creativity

  • Meant to inspire students and to spark ideas

  • Helpful for those who might have trouble working with zero guidelines

What a theme is NOT:

  • A rule

  • A restriction

  • A ceiling

Some of our makerspace themes have included Robotics, Engineering Inventions, Molecular Gastronomy and Wearable Technologies.

Library & Instructional Technology Specialist, Jonathan Werner, crafted a detailed plan for the launch of their makerspace at Cape Elizabeth Middle School.  In that plan, he highlighted their planned makerspace themes, which include:

  • Robotics
  • BreakerSpace
  • Programming
  • 3d Printing & Design
  • Construction
  • Wire & Metal Craft/Jewelry
  • Electronics
  • PaperSpace
  • Games
  • Book Art/Printing/Publishing/Bookbinding/Block Printing
  • Claymation
  • Movie Making
  • Recycled & Upcycled Art
  • Fabric & Yarn Arts
  • Gardening & Growing
  • Inspiration Station

I recently learned about Library Media Specialist, Michelle Shaw's makerspace themes, which include:

  • Bridge Design
  • Sewing
  • Extreme Mazes & dot to dots
  • Solar Panels
  • Circuits
  • Coding
  • 3d Printing & Design

Rather than centering makerspaces around kits or items such as Legos, Ozobots and Snap Circuits, well-planned makerspaces focus on the themes and skills those things support. For example, the makerspace at Belgrave Heights Christian School in Australia includes innovative themes such as Construction, Engineering, Faith, Geography and Book Week.  The Pleasant Valley School District in California has themes that include Stop-Motion Animation, Music, Electronics, Building, Nature, Robotics, and Reverse Engineering. 

The Islip High School Library has a makerspace centered around the themes of Hispanic Heritage, Propulsion, Holidays, Sports, Seasons, Music, and 'For the Birds'. The creator of this makerspace, Librarian Gina Seymour, believes that makerspaces can support societal themes, such as compassion, empathy and social justice through the creation of authentic contents and products.  She emphasizes that there is no need for a high tech makerspace in your school and that all you need to support themes such as those are inexpensive supplies and children/teens who wish to take action in their community through engaged self-expression.

As you can see, when taking a thematic approach to planning a makerspace, you not only ensure that your makerspace is unique and authentic to the wants and needs of your school community, but that you can also allow opportunities for open-ended exploration. Although we tend to see themes that are common amongst many makerspaces, such as Engineering or Design, it is important to note that makerspace themes can encompass most anything.  

What are your makerspace themes?  Be sure to tweet them to #worldsofmaking.