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Makerspaces, Diversity and Progressive Education

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“I am calling on people across the country to join us in sparking creativity and encouraging invention in their communities.”

– Barack Obama, White House Maker Faire, 2014
A recent buzzword in technology is “makerspace”, and to ignore this movement would be to ignore the future of STEM. If you’ve ever visited a makerspace, you probably have a specific idea of what a maker space is based on that experience. However, makerspaces come in many different sizes, focuses and price points. According to http://www.makerspaces.com, “a makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools.” This may seem really generic, but the main points are, “collaborative work space” and “making, learning, exploring and sharing”. A makerspace is a space to make things…together. The focus can be on new technologies for building and manufacturing, or on garage-style work.
We start with the idea that makerspaces are filled with advanced technology or high-end equipment. In reality, equipment used in makerspaces vary in prices. They can have state-of-the-art 3D printers, CNC machines, and power tools, or it can have Legos, K’Nex, paper and glue. A makerspace can focus on woodworking and building or CAD and technology systems. It’s up to the person or people who create and use the space. That’s the beauty of a makerspace. It is not only a space to make things, it is also a space you make!
Dale Dougherty, the founder of Make magazine, said “The maker movement has come about in part because of people’s need to engage passionately with objects in ways that make them more than just consumers.” He explains that a maker is not necessarily an inventor, but more of a tinker. I believe that engineering came out of tinkering and the idea of playing with something until something happens. Formalized research with educated hypotheses comes a little bit from reading about what has been done and a little bit of tinkering. There is always a level of guess work involved with scientific research, and as my advisor says, “You probably won’t have a good research question until you go in the lab and play around with the equipment a bit first.” Makerspaces are created just for that!
Furthermore, constructionism is the foundation of the makerspace. This movement focuses on hands-on problem solving and collaborative learning. Through both formal and informal practices, students are able to gain new technical skills that enrich their learning while building soft skills, such as, communication, teamwork and leadership.
A major critique of the maker movement its continuation of the stereotype of a white, male science. In history, white men have dominated the mainstream perspective on science and technology, and it has been difficult, to say the least, for women and people of color to find representation in STEM-related fields. Although steps have been taken to combat this, women and minorities are statistically underrepresented and under-served. In truth, the purpose of this very blog is to showcase topics in STEM from a non-traditional perspective, that of a black female. However, I have always believed that one of the most significant ways to increase the number of women and minorities in STEM fields is to increase their exposure to STEM early on in their academic careers. Introducing makerspaces to diverse communities and promoting diversity in the maker movement is a way to spark interests in youth of all ages.
Essentially, makerspaces are beneficial to everyone, and the next steps in the maker movement should be to increase access to minorities and the economically disadvantaged and to encourage participation among these groups and with women.
So, how can you get one in your community?
The first step is to decide what are the needs and interests of your community or school. That may be robotics, manufacturing, building, etc. Look at your budget, and research what you can get for free FIRST. Some examples of free software is the Autodesk Suite (which includes art, engineering and design software for students), and both Python and Java programming software. However, a lot of equipment is very expensive and may need to be long-term goals. 3D printers vary in price but industrial and commercial-grade are normally expensive. If you want a 3D printer that can be utilized by many people and last many years, you will probably want to invest in better equipment. I would also suggest looking into grants and sponsorships with companies in order to fund your makerspace, and I will speak on this later.
If laptops or desktops are purchased, they should follow engineering specifications. Some recommendations, based on various universities are listed below:
– Windows 10 operating system, 64-bit version
– 6th generation Intel Core i5 or i7 (i5-6300u or faster) processor
– 8 GB RAM
– 256 GB or larger hard drive; solid state drive (SSD)
– 15″ or larger LCD monitor
Many makerspaces also have machine shop tools and equipment. Obviously this is based on your students needs, but if you’re intersted, some great equipment would include hand drills, Dremels, tool kits, saws, sandpaper, calipers, soldering irons, and arduino sets.
I plan on talking more about specific software, equipment and tools in the future, but remember that what you put into a makerspace is based on what you plan on getting out of it, and with makerspaces, you always get out of it more than you ever planned!
Below is some resources that I used to write this article, as well as, some additional websites that you can use to create your own makerspace!
  • Rosenfeld Halverson, E., & Sheridan, K. M. (2014). The Maker Movement in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4).
  • Dougherty, D. (2012). The Maker Movement. Innovations, 7(3).
  • Bean, V., Farmer, N. M., & Kerr, B. A. (2015). An exploration of women’s engagement in Makerspaces. Gifted and Talented International, 30(1–2), 61–67. http://ift.tt/2rppOvd
  • William Barrett, T., Nagel, R. L., & Grau Talley, K. P. (2015). A Review of University Maker Spaces. American Society for Engineering Education.
  • http://ift.tt/1Tka957
  • http://makezine.com/
  • http://ift.tt/1CAzccy

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