The Makerspace Movement

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Makerspace, or focusing on a “maker mindset,” involves learning and spaces where students gather to create, invent, and learn. Makerspaces are often found in libraries or other common areas in a school. They are also set up regularly in classrooms and flexible in their design or use.

Ultimately, a maker culture focuses on design and opportunities that both engage and empower students. This creative learning can vary greatly and may include both high tech and low tech examples such as;

  • writing a fairytale using Lego Story Starter
  • coding using an input/output device such as Makey Makey
  • designing 3D imagery with a 3D printer
  • creating a stop motion animation using an app such as Smoovie
  • inventing something brand new from “take-a-parts” or cardboard.
  • composing a song to show understanding of a concept
  • producing a movie using green screen and a platform such as iMovie
  • working collaboratively with a team to build a bridge; as long as possible, in a limited amount of time, using a finite amount of materials
  • creating a beautiful piece of art using a variety of mediums
  • designing a campaign to solve a school-based issue or concern
  • recreating the setting of a novel in Minecraft Edu
  • building a replica of a famous structure

Establishing a making mindset in schools provides for endless possibilities all built upon imagination, creation, collaboration and innovation in an engaging learning environment.

The idea of students as creators is nothing new. Classrooms, libraries, art rooms, dance studios, theaters, band rooms, and industrial arts labs have served as “makerspaces” for our students at varying degrees and in a number of different ways for many, many years. But what is new is the urgency to ensure that our present day classrooms invite a making culture and that moving forward all classrooms shift from a passive learner model to one where students are at the centre in a stance of active learning. This is essential as we strive to meet the diverse needs of our learners in our ever changing world. We know we need to change our focus and our approach in order to meet our learners’ needs and the demands of our society. We need to support our students in becoming the globally aware, creative, adaptive, resilient, digitally fluent, flexible thinkers necessary in today’s reality. Initiating programming that prioritizes students as makers is one opportunity to do so.

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Makerspace is not about a “space” and it is not about “stuff”:  it is about a “making mindset”.  A focus on ‘making” pushes past the traditional structure of student as consumer of information. It is a culture focused on student as creator. It is about ideas. It is about the joy and exhilaration of putting something new into the world and the rich learning that goes with the experience of doing so.

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Makerspace is not about a one size fits all model where all learners are doing the same thing: it is about honouring our students as individuals, differentiating our approaches and valuing the opportunity and structure of having kids learning and doing different things at different times.

Makerspace is not about being stuck in the perspective of “that’s the way we have always done it” such as following traditional instructional structures. It is about shifting that lecture, that worksheet, that textbook assignment or those end of chapter questions to learning opportunities that are more active, more student-focused, and more creation driven. It is about flipping those traditional approaches and opening the door to creativity, critical thinking and problem solving for our students early on and giving students the opportunity to learn THROUGH the creative process.

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Makerspace is not about “sage on the stage” or teacher as the imparter of all knowledge: it is about the teacher as facilitator, “guide on the side” and coach, ultimately putting students in the driver’s seat of their own learning.

Makerspace is not about learning fitting neatly into subject areas and prescribed learning outcomes: it is about offering our students a number of possibilities, putting the appropriate materials and opportunities in their reach, and helping them make the connections.

With a strong basis in the theory of Constructivism (Vygotsky & Piaget), Constructionism (Papert) and Inquiry-based learning, hands-on learning such as makerspace initiatives offer students unique learning opportunities in which they can construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. Using a Makerspace model allows a student to ask questions, find ways to answer those questions and carve their own path while producing something to demonstrate their new learning. Teachers can not only step back into more of a role as facilitators or coaches but quite often as learners themselves.

Supporting our students in developing a maker mindset also gives learners the chance to develop a special skill set that is so necessary in today’s world. These skills include critical & creative thinking, project management, flexibility, agility, innovation, risk taking, and resilience. Giving our students more opportunities to create builds essential skills and competencies which are embedded throughout the curriculum. Learning focuses less on specific content related outcomes and more on drivers of learning, and key essential skills.

We can look to 4 key pillars that serve as foundational pieces of a learning environment that emphasize students as creators:

  • 4 C, Competency focused, Deep Learning – a focus on Critical & Creative Thinking, Communication and Collaboration
  • The Design Thinking Process – steps in a process which students use that has universal application, regardless of what they are creating (bridge, sculpture, poem, tower, campaign, animation etc.)

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  • Reflection & Metacognition – reflective practice gives students the opportunity to think deeply and reflect upon their own thinking, doing and learning and plan for next steps.
  • Personalized, active, inquiry-based learning – students’ individual strengths, interests, skills, driving questions and passions direct their own learning experiences

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When we personalize learning opportunities, let students take initiative and focus on building knowledge through creation instead of only consumption we support learning for ALL. We can look to the example of the Ecole Victoria Albert Learning Commons Makerspace for inspiration. It recently received an Honourable Mention for the CEA Ken Spencer Innovation Award and is a flagship for makerspace development for both Winnipeg School Division and the province of Manitoba as a whole. Vic Al’s diverse community of learners has benefited greatly from the makerspace in their school building. This dual track school of 400 has a high mobility rate and one of the largest newcomer populations in the city Winnipeg. About 70% of the school’s students are EAL and 25% are First Nations. They received 60 Syrian Refugees in 2016 alone.

Renee Sanguin, Inquiry & Innovation Support Teacher at Victoria Albert School explains, “The programming at Victoria Albert School promotes access to learning which is deep, inclusive, equitable and empowering for all. It opens doors for learners in a very personalized and experiential learning environment. The foundational tenets of deep learning driven by Makerspace have transformed the school from a traditional teacher-directed model to one where students are at the heart of all planning and learning. The focus is on “learning skills” that will prepare students for the future of change that is their reality.

The Victoria Albert initiative is an example of a transformative learning environment aimed to help support and prepare our learners with the modern literacies, skills, competencies and attitudes necessary for students today.” (Sanguin, 2016)

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When we focus on learning through the creative process we can approach curriculum and learning outcomes in an innovative way. We can support numeracy by making connections to problem-solving, computational thinking and reasoning. Through coding, robotics and game-based learning students are able to utilize a number of math skills in relevant and engaging platforms. Students also can practice and consolidate a number of math concepts and applications in meaningful contexts while estimating, measuring, building, revising, constructing and applying numerous math skills in real world situations.

In the way of literacy, the possibilities are endless. Using Lego students can build a beginning, middle, and end and incorporate all elements of a story in this unique medium before capturing their story with images, text, and written or oral documentation. Students can ask questions to drive their learning and then find answers by researching, interviewing, reading, viewing and listening. Students have opportunities regularly to capture their work and the steps they have taken through procedure writing.

Learners read instructions. They write instructions. They draw diagrams. They label parts. They storyboard, write scripts, perform and do retakes. They reflect deeply through writing, sketch noting, video or apps such as Adobe Spark or Seesaw. They network and connect through social media, digital portfolios, video conferencing, blogging and more. In a making context, the visible learning that takes place in the way of literacy learning and beyond is endless.

When we offer students opportunities in our schools and classrooms to learn through making, inventing and creating we promote student ownership, student agency and developing autonomous, self-directed learners. It is an opportunity for students to manage their own personalized learning in an active, student-driven, empowering environment. It is a chance to support deeper thinking and foster curiosity with minds-on, hands-on tinkering, and constructing. Makerspaces or promoting having a “making mindset” is a powerful learning opportunity for our 21st C learners as they become creators, critical thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators, communicators and most importantly life-long learners.

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Effective Action

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In past posts I have outlined the extensive work George Couros is doing with us in Winnipeg School Divison.  On May 9th he returned to lead 2 inspiring sessions that encouraged all to reflect, share and be learners themselves in the area of innovation in education. He shared insight into The Innovator’s Mindset and how each of these characteristics can support positive change in driving learning in our schools.  He focused on the importance of relationships, making connections and learning together. He reminded us how innovative teachers and teaching can be transformative in not only engaging our students but empowering them as learners.  It was an inspirational time and a momentous occasion for WSD, as all 2500 educators came together over the course of the day.

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In the continued work George Couros is also doing with the WSD Innovative Teaching & Learning Leaders (ITLLs) from each school, the week also brought a new initiative.  Building on the collaborative reflective blog project they had started in March, this time the ITLL’s began their own own personal, online portfolio.  You can read more about that project on George Couros’ blog post, The Power of the Process. The ITLL’s embraced this new challenge and ran with it. You can see the beginnings of their work here on the WSD: Educational Blogs from Our Community site. Framed around the WSD Principles of Learning , these teachers began the important work of representing themselves as learners in their own personal learning portfolio, using this online forum. The ITLLs have used their blogging to explore topics such as;  what innovation looks like and could look like in their current reality as a teacher, the use of social media in classrooms and as a professional learning network, student as creator vs. consumer, barriers to innovative practice, flexible seating, personalized learning opportunities and the natural integration of technology into core subject areas to name a few. Each of their reflections is anchored in connections to the Principles of Learning.  The digital portfolio is meant to be a place of reflection and the intention if for it to serve as both a growth, and showcase portfolio down the road.

Why? Well, if we are going to ask our students to be reflective and put themselves in a learning stance, we need to model that thinking.  If we are going to one day encourage our students to share their work in their own online portfolio, in turn contributing to their positive digital footprint…we as educators, need to intimately understand that process first. We need to lead by example for the students we serve, for our colleagues and for our ourselves as we reflect and continuously push our own thinking and doing, moving forward to do the best we can for our learners.

Peter Drucker said, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action”. Change can only occur with action. Valuable and effective change can only prevail with thoughtful reflection on that action. For our ITLLs this is an opportunity to take that quiet reflection and give it a voice.

The WSD ITLLs have done an exemplary job throughout both the collaborative blog and portfolio building processes.  As their portfolios take shape, each page is as unique and creative as are each of them as individuals.  Of course they are dabbling with learning all the practical pieces and how to’s in Edublogs… how to change their themes, how to add pages, how to embed their Twitter feed, how to tag, categorize and insert media. But more importantly they are exploring how to best utilize this platform and their posts to celebrate successes, voice frustrations and challenges, pose questions, collaborate, share their voice and experience learning from a learners’ lens.

Their posts are open, honest and reflective and run a gamut of sentiments (vulnerability, humour, frustration, joy etc.) as they reflect on their own learning moving forward. Not only are the ITLLs expressive and resourceful in the types of topics they share about, but they are also original and creative in how they choose to share. Check out just a few of the many examples listed below:

  • Stefane Gautron uses a French song and a heartfelt exploration in his reflection entitled “My Love Affair with Twitter“.
  • Veronique Bedard uses a Videoscribe to explore the topic of: Innovation in Education
  • Dillon McMahon outlines the recent journey he has embarked on in the way of classroom design and environment.
  • Devon King uses a video introduction to welcome us to his portfolio site.
  • Leigh Brown explains how one tweet/idea can turn into an inspiring project with students.
  • Jeremy Midford takes on the challenge of blogging regularly to explore “The Struggle of Innovation”.

One thing that has become clear throughout this project and our work with George Couros is that there are many, many wonderful and innovative things worth celebrating currently happening in WSD.  As more and more educators share their own learning as well as that of their students, whether it be through professional learning opportunities such as this, or through Social Media including Twitter and this blog initiative, we can’t help but be inspired by the continued possibilities moving forward and learn from each other in a networked way.  The guiding question of this project, and our work with George has always been… “How do we move from pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation?” As our pockets continue to grow, one can only be hugely inspired by the limitless possibilities ahead, as we work together to improve learning for all students!