Makerspaces: What Are They and Are They Right For Me?

If you fancy yourself any of the following:

  • Tech-savvy
  • Creative
  • Artistic
  • A Gamer, Coder, or Developer
  • Crafty
  • Visionary
  • Leader

And, even if you don’t, this idea is too cool to not dig into a bit further…

MAKERSPACES DEFINED 

Have you heard of “makerspaces?” You should familiarize yourself with the word, particularly if you are interested in engineering, computer science, technology, science, digital creativity (including art), or electronics.

In short, a makerspace is a designated ‘workshop’ where people with common interests can convene, brainstorm, and create varied projects. It simply requires the following: an idea, and a motivated team committed to creatively transforming an existing space into a space where you can exchange skills and execute projects. The definition is intentionally broad, because a makerspace can be created to include, explore, and expand a wide range of student interests.

At its core, a makerspace is a breeding ground for ideas and creativity. You can build a makerspace anywhere, and any space can serve as a makerspace as long as you have four walls, some tools, eager students, and plenty of ideas. You don’t have to be a math prodigy who dreams of MIT to execute on a project in a makerspace. It’s an inherently creative space, not an inherently technological one.

We are constantly telling students: if it doesn’t exist, then build it. If there is a club you would love to be a part of at school that does not yet exist, then start it yourself. Don’t join three other existing clubs just to take up your time. Get the proper paperwork together and create that space where you can explore your academic or intellectual interests. It’s quality, not quantity that matters.

The makerspace is the same idea, but with an actual tangible project to work on. We love this TEDx Talk given by Jamie Leben, President of the Loveland makerspace, on makerspaces and their incredible potential. He compares makerspaces to an exercise gym but for your mind. Or, like a co-working space but with tools.

MakerSpaces

TOP TIPS ON CREATING A MAKERSPACE AT SCHOOL

Articulate Your Mission

Before even gathering like-minded students together to launch a marketspace, identify and articulate your specific goals for the makerspace. What do you want to experience in this group effort? Then, gather those who may be interested and brainstorm a group mission. The group’s goals will likely stem from everyone’s individual projects, so ask each other: what do you want to create?

Some project examples might be:

  • Create an LED light strip from scratch, perhaps for use in your next 3D art installation project
  • Build a rocket and then schedule a launch for the school community to observe
  • Create a simple electric propeller car
  • Build a Raspberry Pi cluster
  • Create an open-source electronics platform, like Arduino
  • Anything you want!

Get Creative With Materials

As we stated above, all you need are interested students, a space, and some materials. It’s important to consider if your school has any resources they might be willing to lend to the makerspace (even temporarily, as a makerspace might only be set up for a certain time each week) for students to use. You might need to start with some creative fundraising, but keep in mind that makerspaces can be anything—you can start with some art supplies, recycled paper goods, building materials, X-Acto knives, and a borrowed laptop. Maybe someone has a bunch of Legos, a drone, or a Go-Pro camera lying around at home that they can contribute. You can also purchase high-tech tools like 3D printers now for as low as $150. In reality, all you need is a mobile cart to store your materials.

Find a Space

Perhaps the art studio is empty after 3pm, or there is a huge closet at school that is currently going un-utilized. Be creative with your space—it doesn’t need to be big, and it certainly doesn’t need to be permanent! Talk to teachers, staff, and other students. Your school or spaces surrounding your school might be vaster than you think.

Find a Faculty Mentor

Having someone on staff at your school who is invested in helping you get this idea off the ground is always an essential and wonderful ingredient. Typically, in order to create a new club or space at school, you’ll need the sign-off from a faculty member who has agreed to oversee the club’s weekly or bi-weekly workings. Schedule meetings with your teachers who you think might be interested in helping you with this project. They can use the space to complete some of their own projects as well!

Spread the Word

Find other students who might be interested in creating or executing a project. It can start with just one or two of you. If you want to see a makerspace in action, take a look at the impressive Longhorn Maker Studios,—a makerspace at University of Texas-Austin—this makerspace at Duke, or The Won’dry at Vanderbilt to get an idea of what a truly decked out makerspace can look like. Students have access to myriad types of technology, including 3D printers, 3D scanners, laser and plasma cutters, and more. UT Austin students use this makerspace to experiment and create prototypes for classes.

HOW MAKERSPACES RELATE TO COLLEGE

How do Colleges View Makerspaces?

This is a great question—how do you convey information about your makerspace on your application and how might colleges view this endeavor? Think of a makerspace as a club that you started. You will include your mission, utilize the additional information section to post links to projects (perhaps creating a website about your makerspace is a good project for a student interested in coding!), and you might even get an essay out of the experience. Colleges always want to know about how you spend your time, particularly if it involves getting something off the ground. It shows motivation, initiative, vision, organization, and commitment. Makerspaces can be particularly valuable for quiet leaders who might not have the desire to take over an existing club or take on a visible position at school.

Remember that you don’t have to have one particular project in mind to create a makerspace, but it can help guide you in terms of start-up materials, and a general vision to get you going. From one project often springs other ideas, and allowing for that expansion of vision and creativity is exactly the makerspace spirit.

Let us know if you need any feedback or guidance on your makerspace ideas. It can seem daunting but in reality, the simpler the better. Start with one space and one idea—you’ll be surprised just how many others are interested in executing on their ideas too, but who just did not previously have the physical or mental space to express and explore the questions that they had.

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