Eduporium Weekly | You Got a Library? You Got a Makerspace

  • Posted on: March 18, 2017 - 4:38am
  • By: alarmand

The innovations in contemporary K-12 education are happening at some pretty high speeds. Things are moving so fast, in fact, that it’s not always possible to completely do away with the old ways of doing things before moving on to something new. These days, teachers and school leaders are doing a lot of repurposing of old tools and one of the biggest makeovers is occurring in school libraries. That’s not to say that school libraries are no longer important in 21st century education. They’re just starting to be used in a different way - as makerspaces.


Why Library Makerspaces have Become so Popular


Usually, makerspaces are created in extra rooms or even incorporated into the blueprint when a new school is being designed. Or, at least that is what we have come to think. Many of the makerspaces that now fill modern schools, however, are getting their start right in the school library. But, why are schools choosing their libraries as the places to start innovation? The answer to that might just be because they are copying the examples set by public libraries. These days, it seems like there is at least one makerspace in every town and, as we said before, one of the most popular sites for launching them are libraries. Whether it’s driving more students into the library or creating a place for teens, technology, and tinkering, library makerspaces seem to be the answer for schools who want to combine maker education and hands-on innovation.


You hear about it all the time. Companies are constantly making sure they are rebranding themselves to stay in front of the latest innovations in their industry. The same is being done in school libraries - only they’re rebranding themselves into all-inclusive makerspaces designed to get kids collaborating, tinkering, and using hands-on technology creatively. Essentially, school librarians are rebranding their message in a way that highlights digital tools as a modern replacement for books. This also helps combat another problem that aging school libraries face: they are aging. We can all remember the back shelves that lined the outer walls of our school libraries with the books that looked like encyclopedias covered in dust. Obviously, no students are using these and they are just taking up space. Now, school librarians are beginning to repurpose this space into something that makers can use for real exploration.


Makerspaces allow each library to offer students something completely unique and far different from their everyday classes. School librarians help make this happen and know how to create spaces that are flexible enough to be transformed down the road to make way for the next innovations in education. Also, makerspaces appear to kids as less academic, providing them with an inviting atmosphere to try fun collaborations rather than tedious learning they’ll never use. The best part about library makerspaces is that teachers and librarians can make them as innovative as they want to make them. Librarians can include robotics, 3D printers, and a number of compact desk spaces for creative crafting. Makerspaces embody versatility and customizability - and that’s why they’re an extremely popular movement in K-12 education.  


Library Makerspaces Guide Students to Successful Futures


School libraries are no longer simply literary. They are digital, kinetic, hands-on, and interactive as educational practices shift to focusing on preparing students for the real world. So significant is this shift, in fact, that many school libraries have been totally repurposed into makerspaces. In makerspaces, students are able to design and work on purposeful projects and try other innovative experiments, like writing code or dissecting the hardware of a computer -  couple of things they wouldn’t be able to do in a traditional school library. Since the real world is all about replication and coding is a large part of that, school librarians are taking it upon themselves to spark the change that is needed in their schools with a little help from the Maker Movement.


Makerspaces help take the pressure out of learning as they create a trial-and-error environment free of grades and test scores. Students don’t have to be tech whizzes when they enter a makerspace - they are there to learn how to use technology, like 3D printers, through experience not by reading a textbook. That’s the thing about library makerspaces; they’re all about keeping kids current. So, when computers replaced pen and paper, libraries were filled with computers. And, now that 3D printers are the next hottest thing, in many cases, they are replacing computers in school libraries and giving kids the chance to develop more important 21st century skills that, in a lot of cases, they do not already have. All of these things - practices that can be linked to real-world success - can be accomplished in library makerspaces.


Many innovative companies are now relying on 3D printers to create custom solutions to the problems they face every day. Even surgical doctors and architects are drawing on the technology to help with their everyday challenges. The part that’s hard to believe is that, despite people in these high-tech professions relying on 3D printing, it’s actually very affordable to buy a printer and very accessible for students to use in a library makerspace. The library already presumably has enough desktop computers or laptops to support a small fleet of printers and this allows multiple students to be printing multiple projects at the same time. With the potential for so much relevant and engaging work to be done in library makerspaces, they have bolstered their reputation of providing kids with the skills and experiences they need to succeed.


Library Makerspaces Help Bolster Community-wide Innovation


Library makerspaces are not just flooding schools with endless amounts of hands-on learning. They have become incredibly popular and effective and, as a result, they are becoming easier and easier to find in public libraries, too. Why? Children like experimenting, tinkering, and innovating. And, now, public libraries across the country are leveraging the Maker Movement to bring kids in and get them learning with their hands. Plus, the librarians who have tried desperately for years to get uninterested kids into their buildings now have something new and cutting-edge to attract them with, which certainly doesn’t hurt either. Both educators and parents are starting to understand makerspaces more - both what is done in them and how they can help provide kids with 21st century skills - and, as a result, they’re popping up faster than we can keep track.


Today’s most cutting-edge companies need people who are skilled with coding, creativity, and inventiveness. They’re always making use of the latest and most efficient technologies, like 3D printing, to save time, money, and energy. When you stop and think about it, these real-world careers really aren’t all that different from what happens in makerspaces every single day. Kids are utilizing complex technology to simplify solutions. They’re finding new ways to get creative and maximize results. And, most importantly, they’re able to start developing real-world skills, like coding, while they’re simply playing with technology. Especially in towns where the schools don’t have the space, resources, or money, library makerspaces are a fabulous alternative to make sure the kids in town are getting this kind of beneficial exposure on a regular basis.


One of the reasons makerspaces are such a great fit in community libraries is because there is no precise definition of what a makerspace should be. Sure, it’s great if librarians are able to bring in a bunch of state-of-the-art 3D printers or CNC machines, but makerspaces are just as valuable if they only feature some yarn, pipe cleaners, and old cardboard boxes. In makerspaces, kids aren’t just making designs and objects, they’re making learning happen in ways that are new and exciting to them. Having makerspaces in the center of town libraries helps add an important element to making - the ability to share. Sure, kids will still gain some of the most important skills they need through hands-on tinkering, but it’s when they’re able to share their projects with their community and see how it makes an impact that really drives change in their learning process. For that reason, makerspaces could very well be the first vehicle kids use to discover how project-based learning can truly impact their community.


Making Makerspaces Fit in the Library


We understand that some school leaders may be skeptical of putting a makerspace right smack in the middle of their school’s library, especially if that library has been used in certain ways for a number of years. The good news is that it’s not impossible to build a makerspace and keep a lot of the traditional library intact. The best makerspaces afford students with a lot of creative freedom and help them create fluid learning experiences. They are intended to be used by students when it is convenient for them to just come in and spend a little while tinkering. When located in a school library, however, this is not always efficient, but there are ways teachers and students can team up to make it work.


One way to address this issue is to add a maker element to common library projects instead of having students focus only on the makerspace part of the room all the time. This allows them to use the library for its intended purpose but also add a splash of Maker Education just to make things a bit more interesting. Another way to combine the two is to make making more like a story. Teachers can create storybooks that help students learn about the elements of a story while also telling them how to make a unique project using a handful of selected makerspace materials. Not only will this combine literacy and maker learning, it will help boost student engagement and, ideally, lead to greater levels of retention.


Perhaps one other reason that makerspaces have found homes in school libraries is because they’re facilitators of creation just like stories are. When in libraries, students are often inspired by the books they read and the messages they learn. With the makerspace now located in the same place, they can harness their creative juices when they are inspired and use them to make something memorable. Allowing kids this opportunity for creativity will hopefully pave the way to making the time they spend in the makerspace more structured. With every project they make and every piece they connect, students are building design and creative skills, which is exactly what they need out of their library makerspace - the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and make something out of anything.


Creating an Amazing Library Makerspace without a lot of Tech


Who said creating a makerspace meant you needed lots of expensive and complex technologies? You certainly do not! Makerspaces get their essence from just the opposite, actually. While it is great to provide kids with tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, or coding kits in the library makerspace, they still get a great deal out of crafting and tinkering with everyday objects as simple as yarn, tissue paper, cotton balls, and glue. And, the best part about this is that teachers probably have a lot of these low-cost, low-tech materials lying around their homes or classrooms - plus, they can ask parents to send in all of their unwanted junk, too! See, makerspaces don’t need the techiest materials and they can even help declutter a home.


The Maker Movement has provided teachers and students with tons of new and innovative ways to learn. Like any new education trend, however, some teachers are apprehensive when it comes to giving it a shot. Some of the common fears they have are the costs makerspaces could create, securing a space, and not being comfortable enough with using technology. Well, we know libraries can be transformed into makerspaces rather easily, so that solves the space problem (if you approach it correctly and work with the school librarian). We also just discovered that makerspaces can thrive with little or no technology at all, so not knowing tech shouldn’t be a deterrent. Securing old odds and ends (literally anything from the garage will do), petitioning parents for donations, and purchasing some inexpensive but artistic supplies isn’t all that expensive either, giving teachers no fears they can’t overcome!


While high-tech makerspace projects tend to get more recognition than low-tech ones, there is absolutely nothing wrong with starting small. Kids are still absolutely able to build creativity and innovation skills when working with low-tech or no-tech materials. Educators need to stop thinking that technology and a surplus of money are requirements for starting a successful makerspace. Did your school get any big shipments delivered recently? If so, then there are probably a bunch of cardboard boxes lying around waiting to go to waste. They can be used in makerspaces. Know any teachers who hang on to school supplies year after year, but never use them? They probably have some glue or tape they wouldn’t mind parting with. And, does your school recycle? Whether it does or doesn’t, there should be an endless amount of empty plastic water bottles kids can use in makerspace projects. And, you thought makerspaces would be expensive and tough to create. It’s so simple.


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Image: © Marin Mommies