Making Space for Inquiry-Focused Maker Spaces at School

In contrast to the community-based Makerspaces that began as adult playgrounds for tinkering and whimsical inventions, the maker movement in education is founded upon inquiry-based learning within a hands-on focused environment (Kurti, R., Kurti, D., & Fleming, 2014). Consequently, maker education should be considered an evolution of constructivist philosophy that views learning as a highly personal endeavor that is student-driven and requires educators to act as inquiry facilitator rather than simply a disseminator of knowledge.

As an essential element of inquiry-based learning is to address the individual interests, needs, and skills of students, it is imperative that teachers have access to a variety of material and resources to differentiate the learning experience. Thus, inquiry-focused maker spaces need to be stocked with a wide array of hands-on and digital resources. This can include, but is not limited to a variety of resources to support STEAM learning such as laptops, web-based reference materials, digital cameras, robotics and circuitry resources, 3D printers, as well as traditional construction, art, and craft materials.

Ann Richards School, Austin, TX
As students proceed through the inquiry cycle, they often require different physical spaces to facilitate the process. Ideally, as students transition through the exploring, investigating, processing and creating stages they would have access to a physical space that was best suited to the task they were engaged in. This would result in the merging of what has traditionally been considered the library learning commons, computer lab and shop class into one unified location. A large space with modular centres that are connected by movable walls, large windows or pocket doors would serve to create a reconfigurable learning environment that would be ideally suited to fostering an inquiry-focused approach to STEAM learning.
Photo by Zoe Branigan-Pipe
Common to both the maker movement and inquiry-focused learning is an emphasis on authentic learning and real-world problem solving. Consequently, inquiry-focused maker spaces should facilitate community connections and permit community use of the space outside of school hours. Having an external facing door would allow extra-curricular and community groups access to the space while also allowing the school to access community resources to support the continual acquisition of learning materials and ongoing enhancements to the location.

Google Offices, Dublin Ireland
Not only do these types of spaces facilitate progressive approaches to learning, they also mirror the workplaces created by innovative companies seeking to create an environment that is conducive to collaboration and creativity.  Thus, making space for inquiry-based maker spaces in schools could help students develop the self-regulation, critical thinking and cooperative skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace.

Kurti, R. S., Kurti, D. L., & Fleming, L. (2014). The Philosophy of Educational Makerspaces. Teacher Librarian, 41(5), 8–12.

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