The Makerspace Phenomenon

By Cathy Collins

The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.   — John Maynard Keynes

Makerspaces are all the rage these days, and a hot professional development topic. I had the opportunity this past month to immerse myself in the world of makerspaces on two occasions: through attendance at Eric Sheninger’s “Makerspace” workshop at the “Leading Future Learning” Conference sponsored by EdTechTeacher and MassCUE on March 6th, and through hosting of a “Makerspace” workshop sponsored through MSLA’s southeast region at my own Sharon High School Library.

Our library is currently undergoing a renovation process toward a “Learning Commons” model. I am excited about creating a makerspace, and was anxious to learn more about what’s happening around the country.

I am a big fan of Eric Sheninger, former principal of New Milford HS and current K-12 Director of Technology & Innovation in Spotswood, NJ. His Makerspace presentation did not disappoint. Sheninger kicked off his presentation by highlighting the ways in which the maker movement is driving innovation in manufacturing, engineering, industrial design, hardware technology and education.

For those who may have missed this important new trend in the ed tech world, a makerspace is a defined as a physical place where students can create real-world products/projects using real-world tools. It is meant to be a shared workspace featuring innovative tools that are not typically available outside of school. Makerspaces at their ideal are inhabited by a community of student tinkerers, inventors, creators and “Do it Yourself-ers.”

These student tinkerers, at their best, are guided by natural inquiry and self directed learning. Making can be tied to different content areas, though makerspaces themselves are informal in nature. Students use problem-solving and diagnostic skills to come up with creative solutions. Educators involved guide from the sidelines, encouraging independent learning and creativity.

Sheninger’s presentation included a solid list of helpful resources ranging from suggested makerspace items, to articles, books and website links to further knowledge.

On March 26th, Laura Gardner, the Southeast Director of MSLA, and I welcomed 28 fellow librarians to participate in a Makerspace workshop at Sharon High School. After introducing the topic and talking about what a makerspace looks and sounds like, we had an informative and lively Skype session with Diana Rendina, a middle school librarian in Tampa, Florida, who has created an amazing makerspace in her school library. After plenty of Q&A, we enjoyed a round table sharing session about what we were doing or planning to do in the makerspace realm. Paul Shiff, from Hub Technical, also shared about upcoming presentation possibilities at the Fall Conference, as well as grant opportunities.

Ms. Collins has worked as a Media Specialist/Librarian for 14 years in locales ranging from California to Kathmandu, Nepal. She currently works as Librarian/Media Specialist at Sharon High School in Sharon, Massachusetts. She serves on the Executive Boards of both the Massachusetts Library System and MassCUE (Massachusetts Computer Using Educators). She earned National Board Certification as a Library/Media Teacher in 2009 and is the 2014 recipient of the AASL Intellectual Freedom Award. Her writing contributions include a chapter featured in the recently published ISTE book, “Literacy in the Digital Age,” Library Media Connection (“Survival Tactics for the Warrior Librarian,”) NEA and other education-related blog posts and journals. She served as a project consultant for the learning layer of the multi-media e-book, “Searchlights and Sunglasses: Field Notes from the Digital Age of Journalism.”

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