Building a learning space for students

New York hall of science makerspace

After my two week trip of New York, Providence and Rhode Island, along with combining a few comments from Makerspaces locally as well as schools who set them up in recent years, I have collated the info and summarised them below.

1) MakerSpaces put off (some) girls. A likely cause could be uncontrolled environments, like MakerSpaces, often provides boys to ‘have a go’ at girls with the projects they have made. A lack of appreciation and comparison with projects made by boys, can lead to a permanent ‘put off’, coming to a MakerSpace.

2) MakerSpaces without programmes do not provide the necessary inspiration to the majority (of people ) who are interested in trying it out for the first time. Only a few people who already know what they want to do, will return.

3) MakerSpaces are better off renamed Learning Labs/Innovation labs especially in a school setting. Again, this is feedback from people who are in those situations.

4) Success of a Makerspace depends on the availability of technicians who can maintain all the gear and run (3D print) jobs etc. when there is a backlog. Unused expensive gear gets outdated really quick and needs regular servicing.

5) Getting the full use of the MakerSpace depends on the manager of that space, and the possibility of collaborations especially with teachers (pre and in service) during downtime. This allows teachers getting confident in trying out the gear and making things themselves before trying it out with students.

6) Girls prefer to coming to these programmes in groups rather than individually. There needs to be more opportunities for them to come in groups and make something they would find interesting.

7) (Some) Programmes for under privileged groups lack a platform to demonstrate social concern and a voice for themselves. By creating programmes of learning which are genuine contexts for those specific groups, the learning will be more effective.

The valuable discussions I have had with people running these spaces has helped enormously in shaping our design and decisions as we build our own ‘learning space’. Resources- we will be looking at a sustainable resource plan, buying gear as and when needed rather than a big budget programme, reusing materials readily available, sourcing parts from recycling shops as well as crowd sourcing electronic components whenever possible. These components include using motors from old rc cars and printers, wires and cables from old computers, cardboard and corflute for prototyping, etc. This would not apply to anything that needs mains power as there is a risk of electrical/electronic faults in those components.

Robots made for uni labs

One really good source of projects I have found lately are old varsity engineering projects. University students make/ use a range of tools through their course, like the minions which I found, to complete assignments/lab work. Since they have been in storage as the technology has been upgraded, I decided to use them for outreach as they are in perfectly sound condition. It’s important to create an authentic context for those resources and ensure that the learning programme is adapted for the appropriate age. For example: a pathway of programming transition is needed for block based coding like Scratch to something like Python (Microbit) or C (Arduino). There possibly is some research done in the CSEd world done on this area which I will need to look further into.

Looking forward to 2020 with a new learning space for all groups at the University.