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Five common mistakes to avoid when building a maker space in your school

By Andrea Buforn on Nov 5, 2018 4:00:46 AM

Topics: For educators

This article is an abridged transcript of a segment of 'We Make the Future' featuring Nicholas Provenzano. Listen to the whole episode here

Nicholas Provenzano has been in education for the past 16 years. He’s a Google Certified Educator, Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, a TEDEd Innovative Educator, and was recognised as an Emerging Leader by ASCD. He has a Masters in Educational Technology through Central Michigan University.

Maker spaces are spreading across the globe, but often administrators and teachers make the same mistakes when trying to integrate them into their learning environments. Here's my advice on what not to do...

  1. Don't keep the maker space locked up

    Some people think that maker spaces have to be in a classroom that is locked up over the course of the day and only accessible to students when the teacher takes a class there. That is not a maker space, it's a regular classroom.

    A maker space needs to be a space that's free for kids to come through at any point of the day and a teacher can bring their class into it at any point of the day. Learning happens whenever. We need to advocate for places that are open and accessible. That's why I think libraries are so great because they are always staffed by librarians. They always tend to have the space and a library, by its nature, is a learning hub.

  2. Don't spend all your money without talking to the students

    I've seen this happen many times. Some institutions might think "we've got this grant, let's spend it all!" and no one even sat down with one of the students to ask what they want to do. They buy all of these 3D printers, and a laser cutter and a CNC machine and kids look at all of this stuff and say: "we really just wanted some makey makey and some play-doh." Before you buy anything, ask them, give them options.
    There's nothing wrong with buying 3D printers, it's just that maybe the students are not ready for that level of making. When they're ready, it is possible to try to find a way to raise funds for the new equipment.
    Dust is cool if it's sawdust because you're working, but not if it's because the tools are not being used.

  3. Talk to the teachers

    You need to talk to teachers. Don't skip the part where you talk to teachers and provide professional development or just tell them that you're building it and why.
    I've been in education for the past 16 years, and sometimes we're told "here's this thing I want you guys to use, learn it and good luck" and they wash off their hands of the situation.
    You need to have teachers as a part of this conversation. If you're going to build the space, talk to one of those early adopter teachers, bring them into the meeting, grab some of those kids and say "hey this is what we're doing, what do you think".
    You need to get those teachers on board so they can tell other teachers. If you're going to have student involvement you need teacher involvement too. Maker spaces are a little weird. If you don't get them up and running right away, it's so hard to get teachers and students using the space. There needs to be a lot of excitement around it.

  4. Don't forget about the ongoing costs

    There's the belief that you have X amount of dollars to buy something and then you're done, but a maker space needs a perpetual budget for supplies. You bought a laser cutter? That's awesome! You spent 7,000 dollars on a laser cutter but don't forget you'll need a budget for wood and all of those things that you'll be cutting, and the same goes for 3D printers. Those are the things that long-term are forgotten about because you're excited. You'll need a few thousand every year and if it's a busy maker space, then you'll need more than that. 3D printers break and that's going to cost money to repair.
    But you can be creative with your budget. You can tweak budgets here and there, holding fundraisers or asking community members to help.

  5. Don't look at the maker space as a silo

    There are so many people in your community that have the skills, knowledge and connections that can support the learning that goes on in maker spaces. Yesterday I had a phone call from my brother who said that he had had dinner with a contractor who was wondering if our maker space wanted his old tools. Then, that can lead to him coming in to run a mini session for those kids that are interested in using that drill press or design. Sometimes we forget to tap into the community.
    If it's possible, open up your maker space to the community whether it's one weekend a month or whether it's an after-school type of thing or maybe a "Parents & Kids Making Night" where kids can come in and show off the 3D printer and the laser cutter and things like that to their parents so that they have a better idea of what their kids are working on.
    I think sometimes we look at a school like it's this silo when we really have this whole community around it that can totally be engaged and supportive of the space.

In 2017, Nicholas Provenzano started a new position as the Middle School Technology Coordinator and Maker Space Director at University Liggett School where he was tasked with building a Maker space and program to support making and project-based learning for students in grades 6-12.

Nicholas is the author of a new book, entitled, The Maker Mentality. Using his personal experiences as a maker, maker space director, teacher, and bonafide nerd, Nicholas breaks down the key aspects of The Maker Mentality and how each part of the learning community can work to make a positive change in their school’s culture.

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