The Curiosity Commons blog, via Makerspace Playbook: School Edition, defines a makerspace as “a gathering point for tools, projects, mentors and expertise. A collection of tools does not define a Makerspace. Rather, we define it by what it enables: making.” The blog notes that “each makerspace is uniquely designed to meet the needs and interests of the community that created it. Another reason for the difficulty with defining makerspaces is that they are found in such diverse environments. For example, there are community makerspaces established in warehouses, garages, churches or community centres. There are museum makerspaces, hospital makerspaces, as well as makerspaces located in public, academic and school libraries. Each one has its own unique environment, atmosphere, clientele and purpose.”
This NewsBreak will focus on school libraries and makerspaces. School libraries, particularly those with a practicing librarian, are a vanishing breed. In some instances in which school libraries and librarians have been eliminated, they have been replaced with a makerspace staffed by an aide—either because of budgetary constraints or, even more problematically, because of a lack of understanding of the roles the library and the librarian play in successfully supporting students.
A makerspace combined with a credentialed librarian can be an invaluable resource for both teachers and students, particularly if the teachers and librarians collaborate to provide tools in the makerspace that support the curriculum. Imagine the benefit to the learning process if a teacher and a makerspace librarian work together. For example, while the teacher is conducting classes on electricity, the makerspace librarian is showcasing a hands-on area focused on making circuits.
A School Library Supervisor’s View
Cathi Fuhrman, current president of the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association (PSLA) and the library department supervisor for the Hempfield School District in Lancaster County, Pa., has been working in the district since 1994. She says, “The school library has always been a place of exploration and free choice for students as well as project-based learning.” As such, having a makerspace in the school library means that all students get an area to learn and “to experience STEM and creative problem-solving activities.”
Although the time a student spends in a makerspace “is not necessarily connected to an academic unit, the learning and growth students experience can directly be transferred back to the content areas,” Fuhrman says. And makerspaces aren’t necessarily tied to grades or assessments. “This allows students to have even more academic safety to try and fail and then re-try and keep trying until they get it right. This helps students develop the grit and perseverance they need in many aspects of their daily academic and personal lives.”
Fuhrman believes that makerspaces in schools should be staffed by school librarians. As educators, school librarians get to know their students—they “truly understand the community of learners in a school.” They can collaborate with the school’s technology specialist and teachers to foster independent learning and facilitate content instruction in the makerspace, she says. And yet, makerspaces function best as just one aspect of a school library. It “has many other impacts on the success of students including literature and text access, digital skills, information literacy, media literacy, news literacy and digital citizenship skills.”
School libraries “have become the place of personalized learning meeting the needs of all students and preparing them to be career and college ready,” Fuhrman notes. “I am constantly explaining to stakeholders that school librarians are the district’s biggest bargain. Who else in their schools can not only teach research and information literacy, but also make sure that the learning commons and makerspaces are integrated and embedded in the curriculum? What one teacher knows the whole school curriculum? The librarian.”
Studying How Makerspaces Help Students
The maker movement in schools is not only growing, but it is also being championed by librarians. In a 2017 School Library Journal article, Linda Jacobson writes, “Since 2014, when [School Library Journal] conducted its first maker survey, maker activities have increased by four percent at the elementary and middle school levels. Fifty-five percent of elementary school libraries and 61 percent of middle school libraries provide maker activities for students. At the high school level, however, maker programs in libraries have dropped seven percentage points, to 49 percent.”
Measuring the impact of makerspaces on students is difficult. Kara Yorio reports for School Library Journal (registration required) that as of May 2018, “The MIT Teaching Systems Lab, in collaboration with nonprofit maker education training and resources organization Maker Ed, is working on just that—how to embed assessment into maker activities to quantify what the students are learning, while not destroying the pedagogy in the process.” The 2-year grant project, Beyond Rubrics: Assessment in Making, is funded by the National Science Foundation. A team of research scientists, maker experts, and school representatives “are working together to create a way to evaluate making. Robert Pronovost—San Mateo [County, Calif.] district lead for this project and innovative learning and technology integration coordinator for the [county’s] 23 school districts—sees establishing assessments as key to maker sustainability.”
Makerspaces definitely add an invaluable resource for students of all ages, as do school librarians as managers of makerspaces. Considerable literature exists in support of makerspace design and direction. One of the best volumes is Diana Rendina’s 2017 book, Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.