My Biggest Challenge with a Classroom Makerspace

Thursday, 8 August 2019

What I love about the maker movement is its focus on process over product.

Children are immersed in the engineer design process as they work on projects that teach them how to plan and develop ideas, test and evaluate designs, and best of all, adopt a growth mindset.

All are important future-ready skills that our kiddos need to develop.

My Makerspace Challenge

And while I'm cool with the whole nonlinear, messy "process," there is one question I keep asking myself.

What do I do with all the stuff children make?

And I'm not the only one asking.

Parents wonder about this too.

Both parties want to respect the integrity of children's work, but find the storage and display of paper tube rockets and tin foil boats a bit of a challenge.

So here are a few solutions I've "tinkered" with in trying to answer this question.

Choose Quality Over Quantity

Probably the most important thing I've discovered, is that how I set up, plan, and use my makerspace center affects the amount of stuff children make.

In thinking beyond just arts and crafts activities (often labeled as STEM), and being more intentional about the purpose of each project, I've improved the quality of the experience, while reducing the quantity of products.

When planning, I first look for opportunities within curricular units or inquiries that lend themselves well to a makerspace challenge.

Next, I plan challenges, such as this paintbrush project, that require children to apply design thinking steps and include other tasks around the actual "making" such as sketching designs, running tests, and recording evaluations.

This not only teaches my kindergarten kids to stick with a task, rather than flitting from project to project,  but also results in a longer, richer experience AND less products in the end.

Invite Collaboration 

This next idea was inspired by the children I teach (where all my best ideas come from!).

I challenged the kids to make a slide as part of our force and motion unit.  When they kept asking for marbles, I knew they were more interested in designing "chutes," similar to the marble runs they enjoyed during choice time, rather than a model of a playground slide.

We began to watch Youtube videos of some amazing marble runs, and one child asked if we could join ours together to make a big one.

Children were then given the choice of taking theirs home or making it available for the jumbo marble chute.

Most opted for the latter.

One child's response was, "My mom doesn't really know what to do with it anyway so she'll probably just throw it away."

So this idea of each child making an individual project, that would then contribute to a larger whole, not only brings greater opportunities for thinking and problem solving, but reduces the number of products that parents would have to "secretly" dispose of when their child wasn't looking. #beentheredonethat

This idea of a collaborative project could also be done with children working in pairs or small groups.

Use Non-Consumables

While consumable materials offer more freedom and creative opportunity, non-consumable materials such as building sets (think Legos, Knex, Magnatiles) can also be used in challenges.

In fact, I've noticed that by limiting the materials, children stretch their thinking and are more innovative as they try to make the material work for what they are making or building.

And when they are finished, they can just take their creation apart and put it away.  Easy peasy!

Go Digital

Technology provides answers to this problem in two ways.

First, children can use technology as a tool for making.  My kiddos have used this Geoboard app to create both mazes and flags.

Second, digital portfolios, such as See Saw, allow children to take photos of their creations and create a digital gallery they can use to document and share their work.

This solution can also be shared with parents, who might be inspired to create a digital album to chronicle and showcase their child's work for any given school year.

Makers Gonna Make

I have no doubt that children love the makerspace and truly enjoy making stuff.

But, by being intentional about the type of challenges I offer, I am adding more value to the "product," itself.

If I let kids just "crank stuff out," I am missing many educational opportunities to build future-ready skills that my children really need.

If you are looking for ideas on how to set up a makerspace in your primary classroom, this  Discovery Center Start-up Guide can help you with those first steps.

Please let me know if you have other solutions for my "makerspace challenge."  I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for stopping by!

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