There are photos that float around the internet these days of new, shiny makerspaces that are starkly decorated rooms with bright colors and fresh paint.Um, I may have even taken some photos like this of our maker space when we opened it. The floors are spotless, the tables sparkly, and the materials are no where to be seen. Nobody is talking about managing a space filled with stuff. I know, I know. Making is NOT about the stuff. But at the end of the day, the details do matter. It’s like an art room combined with a science room, mixed with an engineering space.
But then reality sets in. There is STUFF. Cardboard. Fat markers. Thin markers. Permanent markers. Dry erase markers. Duct tape. Masking tape. Clear tape. Cardboard. More cardboard. More cardboard. And that? It’s the tip of the iceberg.
I didn’t have a system – because I didn’t really know what we’d be using. So the space has devices, cords, printers, laptops, desktops, robots for our youngest learners, robots for our older learners, vinyl cutters, a 3d printer. Stuff to create with. Stuff that needs to be visible, accessible, and easy to use.
My “starter” plan for organizing and trying new things built up like a giant cardboard volcano until the mess exploded into areas where we needed more organization. I spent a few days buried in thought, like the lost citizens of Pompeii under a mountain of stuff.
Back to basics. Labels. A place for everything and everything in it’s place. Giant plastic boxes for “scraps” that are like treasures chests of creativity for kids to dig into. A storage closet for extra cardboard. Accessible tools for creativity.
But also? Clean spaces to brainstorm. Spots where materials aren’t everywhere. Kids are just like us. Some need a pile of cardboard to crawl in, and others need a small pile in a plastic box to thumb through while they sketch. I love the freedom with which kids are using devices, and taking care of them. Because they have a place. The other “stuff” needs a place, too.
If the space is going to be a space for all learners, and THAT is exactly what a makerspace needs to be… for students, teachers, learners… then it needs to have a skeleton. A frame. A frame that can only happen after you figure out what your school needs. There is no instruction book for that. And that? It can be a challenge. It’s going to evolve as making in your school evolves, and you have to let it, while you refine it. I’m sure it’s like icing a cake in a grocery cart moving through a crowded store while you try to make roses that look at least a little rose like. Learning can feel like that sometimes.
The ownership of a learner to get their own supplies? It matters. If we as teachers are truly going to step back and let kids explore, then we have to support them with an environment that not only offers this type of learning, but invites it to happen.
And when we notice that maybe we’re smothering some of the flames with a flow of a room that’s not working? We climb out from under cardboard mountain and we look at what the learners need to create… and then we make labels. Lots of labels. And scrap filled treasure boxes. And maybe a few more labels.