Makerspace Tips and Advice from the Front Lines

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Maker culture is thriving in schools and public libraries across the United States and beyond. From challenges to success stories, no two makerspaces are alike, and maker facilitators have valuable lessons to share. In their recent edWebinar, Michelle Luhtala, Library Department Chair at New Canaan High School, CT; Ethan Heise, Director of MackinMaker; and Heather Lister, Professional Learning Specialist, had a discussion on their experiences with makerspaces and shared advice for those starting their maker education journey.

When New Canaan High School first began on their makerspace journey, Michelle realized they needed to start with basics like LEGO bricks, markers, and butcher block paper in order to maintain a student-centered mindset. Once students started spending more time in the makerspace and expressing interest in using different kinds of materials, storage and organization became key. Tackle boxes, unused shelves, bins with labels, and photo albums with pictures displaying materials were essential in New Canaan’s makerspace. “I think of (progress) as a bumpy road in my case, at least in our case with the makerspace. We’ve had some really great successes, and focus on the little things because sometimes when we look at it holistically we can get frustrated,” Michelle said, reflecting on her experience.

Makerspace project from New Canaan High School makerspace



Heather offered advice to beginners from her own experience on the bumpy road of facilitating a makerspace. First and foremost, although you may be the driving force at your school, you shouldn’t feel like you have to go it alone. In fact, she would not recommend that. With hundreds, or even thousands of kids using the library space, it doesn’t make sense to design that space without their voice. Have teachers take a level of ownership and collaboration in the space too by getting their input in areas like the furniture design or adding ideas to a Pinterest board. She also added that you should not be too rigid when it comes to your plan. You could save yourself some stress by staying flexible when plans change, potential new makerspace equipment emerges, or old materials don’t work out.

Ethan, who’s gained a different view of planning makerspaces from working with MackinMaker, says it’s a good idea to start by considering themes in your makerspace (for example, coding for kids) which will help assess the materials you’ll need. After that, look into the compatibility of your devices where necessary before purchasing any equipment. Makerspace facilitators should also understand where they are in the planning process. A needs assessment that encompasses factors like time, size, budget, theme, location, and more can help you determine how to move forward. And on the subject of time, understanding how long different projects will take your students is key to making sure you’re getting the right products into your makerspace.

Getting teachers on board with the idea of a makerspace might be a challenge at first, so Heather recommended educating staff as to why you are doing this in the first place, and connecting it to something they’re already doing. Present your ideas at a staff meeting and ask if they’d like to collaborate in the makerspace on a project they’re already doing. That way, they’ll see it’s not something additional to add to their schedule, but something they can work into an existing project. “You will really start to see the power and creativity that comes out of (having a makerspace) and you’re going to have so many unintended benefits, good consequences that come out of this…the benefits so much outweighed any of the pitfalls of obstacles that we had,” said Heather.

This broadcast was hosted by and sponsored by Mackin Educational Resources.

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This article was modified and published by eSchool News.

About the Presenters 

Michelle Luhtala is the Library Department Chair at New Canaan High School in Connecticut and was one of five school librarians named as a “Mover and Shaker” by Library Journal in 2015. She is the winner of the 2011 “I Love My Librarian” Award and the Library Association’s 2010 Outstanding Librarian Award. The New Canaan High School Library won AASL’s National School Library Program of the year in 2010. Follow her on Twitter @mluhtala.

Ethan Heise is the director of MackinMaker, Mackin’s Maker Education division. He has a hobbyist background in open source electronics and has helped start K-12 school makerspaces across the United States. He also works closely with community makerspaces in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Heather Lister, professional learning specialist, is an international speaker and author on the topics of makerspaces, innovative libraries, and space transformation. With her experience and training as a school librarian, mathematics and instructional technology specialist, and school administrator, Heather brings a unique and practical perspective to the world of school librarianship and maker education.

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