At Mackenzie Middle School in Lubbock, TX, makerspace has transformed learning through innovative, self-directed, and meaningful experiences for all of our students. What exactly is a makerspace, and what value can it bring into schools? 

The STEM Initiative Spurs Innovation

Under the umbrella of the STEM initiative, the makerspace is an avenue that schools are utilizing to inspire students. More and more makerspaces can be found in elementary and middle schools where Ozobots, Spheros, sewing machines, and 3D printers are humming in the hallways. Fab Labs and TechShops are prevalent at the high school campuses with 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, milling machines, 3D scanners, and engravers, which are better suited to the big kid environment. Most students would agree, the makerspace is less of a location and more of an experience. Although most makerspaces are located in the school library, you can find them on mobile carts or in classrooms, as well.

TK is working on her very first sewing project while Abby is providing guidance and support. (Photo by Mrs. Teresa Carter)

In the maker world, students have the opportunity to build, design, create, manipulate, destruct, and construct. It is a gathering spot for students that desire more hands-on learning experiences. Ultimately, it brings joy to the learning environment, which is what’s missing from most of our schools. Doug Dougherty, an early founder of the maker phenomenon, believes that “the maker movement has the opportunity to transform education by inviting students to be something other than consumers of education. They can become makers and creators of their own educational lives, moving from being directed to do something to becoming self-directed and independent learners.”

Brianna was our first student this year to complete a print on the 3D printer! (Photo by Mrs. Teresa Carter)

Even President Barack Obama has helped spur the initiative as he presented to the National Academy of Sciences in 2009, stating, “I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent—to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.”

The Imperative for a Makerspace

One reason that the makerspace phenomenon has gained momentum is due to the academic deficiencies of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In 2015, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or PCAST, found “that many American students decide early in their academic careers that the STEM fields are too difficult, uninteresting, and unwelcoming.” In another study by the Department of Education in 2016, STEM 2026: A Vision for Innovation in STEM Education research study believes that “the current student-level maker movement that is sweeping the country, at local, regional, and national levels, offers a promising approach and mechanism for building student interest and engagement in STEM.” Simply put, “the maker movement demonstrates that playfulness and ingenuity can fuel STEM learning in education contexts.”

Students participate in a STEM enrichment activity after school with our TTU-NSBE partnership. (Photo by Mr. John Martinez)

Beyond the data that highlights the need for more STEM professionals, the movement is also about equity. Providing all children with the opportunity to prepare themselves for an ever-changing global society begins with technology. When children of poverty or underrepresented children do not have access to STEM, then schools place them further behind. Paulo Blikstein, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, believes that “educators should be intentional in creating opportunities so that minorities and low-income students feel a sense of belonging in these spaces.” As we move deeper into the 21st century, schools continue to be left in the 20th century. The STEM initiative and the maker movement gives us another reason to be innovative leaders for our students and for the future of our country. Are you ready for change?

Is the makerspace a resource that your students would enjoy? What first steps will you take in building a makerspace for your school? How does the makerspace spur innovation in the classroom? What does it mean to be a transformational leader?

John M. Martinez Jr. serves as the principal of Mackenzie Middle School in Lubbock, Texas. He is the 2018 TASSP Texas State Principal of the Year. To learn more about our makerspace, check us out on Facebook @MMSLibrary.

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