Friday, April 13, 2018

Project Based Learning Helps Makerspaces Thrive #MakerEd

There is more to a makerspace than the tools that are in there and the pre-packaged projects for students to explore. I'm not knocking pre-packaged projects. I love them and have some in my makerspace that are perfect for students. I'm saying there is more to a space than just those projects. To really get the most out of a makerspace and the investment of time and money that went in creating it, there needs to be consideration given to the instruction that is happening in the classes surrounding the space.

I've written about Project Based Learning before (here and here) and have always been advocate of bringing it to as many classrooms as possible because of how positively it impacts the students in my classroom. When I took the leap to bringing a makerspace to my last school to enhance PBL, it was the best decision I could have made to support it. You see, a makerspace is about the tools that allow people to explore and express their ideas. That is what PBL is all about as well.

One of the best parts about the makerspace I have been helping build with the students and teachers at my new school is that it has started to make an impact on the lessons in the classrooms. It has been fun to see teachers explore the makerspace and see how it might influence their lessons. Right now, the 8th grade science students are gearing up for their end of the year project and the makerspace is primed and ready to support them and their work. It's the support aspect that I think throws some people new to the areas of project based learning and makerspaces.

Makerspaces are not designed to magically make STEAM connected to all content areas and for students to start designing using 3D software. There will be some students that are drawn to the space and will explore the different tools, but most students will not just venture to the space on their own without a specific goal in mind. Like many things that are popular in education, makerspaces is seen as a silver bullet to bring up scores in STEAM areas and create smarter and more creative students. That, of course, is nonsense. A makerspace is a tool that needs to be used to support sound instruction. (Shocker!)

To truly get the most out of a makerspace, there needs to be a culture of project based learning in the school. When you have a culture like this, having students and teachers in a makerspace will be a natural extension of PBL. With PBL, creating something to demonstrate understanding is part of the process. The Maker Mentality is already there for students and the makerspace provides them with the tools to dive deeper in different ways. Whether in Language Arts, Social Studies, Maths, Science, or a Language class, if students have become comfortable with the PBL model, they will be comfortable using a makerspace to create things that can help them demonstrate understanding in their various classes. It is tough to think about, but a makerspace is one large tool, filled with smaller tools that support student and teacher learning. It is the perfect tool for project based learning.

I made sure to have a full section on Project Based Learning in my makerspace book because it is important to get the idea out there that a makerspace is perfect to support this instructional model. There needs to be time dedicated to see how instructional practices can be be changed to allow students and staff to get the most out of the makerspace that goes beyond the pre-packaged units. When this happens, an entire school can be transformed and the culture of learning will be better than before.