by Brenda Faz, Tech and Makerspace Teacher, Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro

Service Learning, Critical Thinking, and All That Good Stuff

Makerspaces: they have shown up in schools all over the world, they come in all sizes and colors, and they can serve a purpose and sometimes that purpose is to look pretty and attract incoming students and families. But with a push in the right direction, this “buzz word” can transform an otherwise time-filling space with a place for problem solving, creativity, and service learning. 

What is a Makerspace?

Let’s begin with the basics. If you’re new to Makerspaces, don’t fret. They haven’t been around that long. Most agree the term “maker” was coined with the 2005 launch of Maker Magazine. With the first Maker Faire and the launching of Etsy in 2006 with an ethos focused on individuals’ production and direct consumption, the movement took off. As with most innovative movements, it slowly but surely made its way to education. Makerspaces are in part a way to return to basics. A space for innovation and creation, fused with creativity and independence. In a way, similar to the woodshop and mechanical workshops that we so reluctantly took part of in the 80s and 90s, these innovative spaces have made a loaded comeback. 

Workshop 2.0

Makerspaces now come in all shapes and sizes. They are in fixed classrooms, mobile carts, and even entire floors that include libraries and technology centers. They come with all kinds of trinkets and machines that include:

  • robots
  • 3D printers
  • electronic circuit kits
  • programmables
  • laser printers
  • power tools

With the rate at which innovative tools are being developed, the education world usually tends to lag a bit behind every other sector.  The standardizing of makerspaces and makerspace integration has yet to be done. However, this standardization need not occur on a widespread level as the constructivist nature of makerspaces and its theoretical foundations allow for ambiguity and diversity. 

Makerspaces and maker environments can be observed in a variety of ways for specific and broad purposes:

 Lab Rotation

In this context, students attend a makerspace class in a separate environment than their core subject classrooms. Elementary students may rotate two to three times per week and are taught by a teacher other than their classroom teacher. Maker projects, depending on the school structures, have differing learning outcomes and themes. Specialists can develop units, in conjunction with classroom teachers, to incorporate content area learning outcomes. Specialists can also use Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) design and engineering standards or International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards in conjunction with or in lieu of content area collaboration.   

Integrative

An integrative approach to the maker movement would be one in which classroom teachers incorporate a maker environment into their curricular units. Classroom teachers develop units either in conjunction with a makerspace or STEM teacher, or with their own departments that allow students to create with curricular connections. 

Mobile Carts

Carts can be considered a compromise between a lab rotation and an integrative approach to the maker movement. In school environments in which either classrooms are not available for a stand alone makerspace classes or staffing will not allow it, a mobile cart is ideal. A mobile cart also allows for grade level or departmental collaboration and integration on a self-serve basis. Usually carts would be allocated to specific departments or grade levels and shared amongst them.

Constructivism Equals Makerspace-ism

But what made the movement a pedagogical hit and not just a passing phase? The maker movement is deeply rooted in constructivist pedagogical practices. Constructivism, according to Piaget (1968), argues that students construct meaning and understanding through the experiences and ideas through which they engage. Piaget argues that students construct knowledge and meaning through play. In a makerspace, students play. Both teachers and students have begun to see the value in constructivist-infused environments, when properly executed, they are also known as makerspaces. 

Why Design Thinking? 

For many, the word makerspace might send them running for the woods. The term and all its implications can be daunting as they differ greatly from many traditional classroom environments. Where do you start? How about introducing Design Thinking (DT) as the framework through which you plan. 

Design thinking is a way to think critically, solve problems, and systemize your thinking. Therefore, makerspace and DT allow for the implementation of a pedagogical roadmap to constructivist environments. 

    • Empathize – Students look at all aspects and perspectives of a problem. Ideally, students would look at the task through the lenses of the individual who is directly affected by the issue(s).
    • Define – Students figure out what is the actual problem they can help solve. 
    • Ideate – Students work collaboratively or individually to push out all their ideas and blend them into a few possible solutions. 
    • Prototype – Students sketch, measure, and build their prototypes. This phase works very closely with the Testing phase and work as a cycle within each other. 
    • Test – Students test their prototypes before completion and throughout their construction to determine readiness for final project and publication. 
    • Publish – Students document their planning and construction process, as well as their final outcome. Depending on the medium chosen by teachers and students, publishing could take place on internal or external mediums. 

Service Learning as a Learning Outcome? 

My somewhat generic statement to most of my students when introducing what is a makerspace and why DT is the following: 

You’re training for jobs that may not even exist right now. Therefore, you must train to think, solve problems, and persevere. The only way to be prepared for the unknown is to train for it now.

The world in which students will find themselves as adults is littered with yet to be determined obstacles. Though our world is more interconnected than ever, it also provides an enormous amount of stimuli and distraction. This, in turn, distracts our student population from engaging in social action. Through curriculum embedded service learning objectives and engaging students in discourse on meaningful topics, students are trained to empathize with the people and the world around them. As a result, constructivism becomes the system through which student activism and civil engagement thrive. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brenda Faz is a technology and makerspace teacher and integrationist, currently at Escola Americana do Rio do Janeiro. She has worked at various international schools around the world, including Yangon International School and the American School of Dubai. Her background includes ESL education, elementary classroom teacher, and elementary technology teacher. When not knee-deep in power tools and iPads, you can find her either running or surfing on the beaches of Brazil. Connect with Brenda on Instagram: tech.makered.faz.

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