What is a makerspace and what is the movement about?

The education world has been buzzing about makerspaces and we’ve seen them pop up in schools, public libraries, recreation centers, and museums. We had the opportunity to speak with “expert maker” Laura Fleming to find out what makerspaces are, why they are critical to learning, and what she considers are the key elements for creating a successful makerspace.

Laura first became involved in the movement when she was hired as the library media specialist at New Milford High School in New Jersey. The Principal tasked Laura with transforming the deserted library into a usable space. Laura took time to thoughtfully plan how to use the room and began adding hands-on materials and products, creating an informal learning space that students were able to visit voluntarily throughout the day.

Laura Fleming's makerspace

“I always say that no two makerspaces are alike because no two schools are alike,” says Laura. She believes that teachers should consider how to design a space that is “unique, meaningful and relevant to their school community.” Laura’s makerspace quickly became the most popular spot in the school.

Laura has worked in elementary, middle and high school libraries and she sticks to her core philosophy of creating a space with a “participatory culture,” which she describes as providing endless opportunities for students to be actively involved, “so they’re not just consumers of content in your library, they’re also creators.”

When searching for materials to fill a makerspace, Laura encourages educators to look for products that have a low barrier of entry, meaning that any student should be able to get started with a particular product quickly and easily, emphasizing that products should be intended for students of all abilities.   

Laura discovered Rigamajig two years ago and was drawn to it because of its open-ended, unstructured design. “The Rigamajig encourages tinkering, playing and open-ended exploration for all,” which she states are elements that all makerspace products should incorporate. “I typically do not like products that limit you to step-by-step directions,” she says, “and the Rigamajig allows for that open-ended exploration that is priceless.”

Students build with Rigamajig

Laura believes that kids learn invaluable skills through unstructured play. “It’s really important to allow the opportunity for open-ended exploration because that’s when students think outside of the box… That’s when kids take ownership of their learning and where it feels the most empowering and authentic.”

Makerspaces foster a student-driven learning environment that is often nonexistent in a traditional education setting, Laura explains. “Learning how to embrace failure is something that formal education does not have room for. It can be such a powerful learning experience for them, and it happens often in our makerspace. They have the freedom to take risks and chances, and they learn how to iterate and improve and make things better.” 

Laura stresses the importance of proper planning when creating a makerspace. She developed a framework to guide teachers in the buying process as well as a checklist of what to look for when shopping for products. Connect with Laura and get started on your makerspace today!