Transform Learning by Creating a Makerspace

Leading Transformational Learning edWebinar recording link


In a recent edWebinar, Michelle Luhtala, Library Department Chair, and Donna Burns, Technology Integrator, both from New Canaan High School in Connecticut, showcased the transformation of the NCHS library from a collection of used reference and biography books into a living, breathing makerspace. Using mostly recyclable materials, equipment and furniture, these educators are providing learning opportunities for students and teachers that have changed the school climate and culture. “Making learning more real for students allows them to learn better in a much more energized school,” said Luhtala.

Redesigning the Space

Through a five-year radical book-weeding process from 2011- 2016, the NCHS library had eliminated all of the library’s free-standing bookshelves. This process created both an opportunity and a challenge for Luhtala and Burns to convert this newly created space into a makerspace. With minimal funding in the early stages of the makerspace, discarded science lab tables and art stools and recycled material were salvaged from all areas of the school. While this space was optimal for student making, organization and storage issues became the prime concern in the second year of the makerspace. The irony was not lost on Luhtala and Burns when they rescued much-needed shelving from the elementary school. Clamping the refurbished shelves together, they created an 80-bin storage system that provided teachers and students easy access to the makerspace materials. The third year was the most significant when the makerspace moved into a new area in the library. Windows and doors were removed to open up the entire space, teacher offices converted into soundproof video booths/virtual reality rooms, and the lower library furnished with flexible caster seating for double classrooms. However, the most significant changes to the makerspace happened when the school district began to allocate funding previously earmarked for library books to the NCHS makerspace. Luhtala and Burns collaborated with the NCHS CTE interior design class on a design challenge project that focused on the makerspace overall area, materials, signage, and work stations while keeping spatial planning and traffic flow in mind. The students’ simple design became the inspiration for profound changes in the makerspace including rolling carts, foldable tables, whiteboard walls and the reorganization of materials and supplies.

Leading Transformational Learning edWebinar image



During the first year, the makerspace was stocked with just basic craft and recycled materials such as butcher-block paper, markers, and Legos. By the second year, when the types of makerspace materials increased to 80, Luhtala and Burns painstakingly organized, labeled and categorized these materials into alphabetized bins. However, they began to think about not only the organizational part of these materials but how to get students to plan their projects before they come to the makerspace. By creating a worksheet template, students spend less time deciding on materials and more time on making. They also wanted to encourage students to take ownership of the space and ensure that elements get placed back in an organized manner. Larger labels were put on material bins, supply carts got wheels, and installed pegboards were hung with frequently used materials such as pencils, erasers, scissors, and paper. By organizing the materials by workflows, such as coding, circuitry and electronics, needlecraft, 2D and 3D elements, Luhtala and Burns discovered that the materials used the least amount of time were the most expensive materials.

Impact of Transformation

The NCHS library is used every period as classroom space with between 200-250 students and students with a free period stop by to create in the makerspace. In the first year, the makerspace became a popular location for the students before, during and after school building projects such as dioramas, monster trucks, and child development sensory boards. Unfortunately, the makerspace did not get much attention from teachers until that summer when NPR posted the NCHS makerspace edWebinar about the year in the life of a makerspace on their Facebook page. NCHS teachers began to make a lot of discoveries about the new makerspace and the start of the second year brought more teachers and classes to the makerspace for whole-class making.  At end of year three, still finding that coding, robotic and circuitry workshops were a little bit elusive, they started experimenting with augmented and virtual reality and robotics. With a new “techxperts” one-credit course, students are empowered with leadership through independent projects and running well-attended lunchtime workshops. One techxpert created a website that introduced and demonstrated coding and robotic resources that could be used in the classroom. This student-designed website communicates to the school community how the makerspace resources can be integrated into their curriculum. Luhtala said that teachers are now bringing their classes to the makerspace with very intentional goals and revamping and redesigning classroom projects with both high- and low-tech options. She emphasized that if a student or teacher is attracted to a makerspace idea, it is critical to feed that interest because it is usually a minimum investment and may spark the attention of other makerspace enthusiasts.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Mackin Educational Resources.

Watch the Recording

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.

Donna Burns earned a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Southern Connecticut State University. She also earned a Master of Science degree in instructional technology from Western Connecticut State University. In addition, Donna attended Sacred Heart University where she completed the Educational Leadership program and earned an Intermediate Administrator Certification and Certificate of Advanced Study in Administration. She began her career in the East Haven Public Schools as an integrated language arts teacher. Next, Donna served several roles in the Bethel Public Schools including Library Media Specialist, Administrative Intern, K-12 Coordinator of Computer Science and Library Media, and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. Currently, Donna is a technology integrator and web content manager at New Canaan High School in Connecticut.

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