Makerspaces are experiential learning environments that facilitate creative activities, problem solving, collaborative learning, and in-depth exploration of disciplinary concepts. These spaces generally support active, hands-on/minds-on learning experiences that promote learner agency, self-regulation, and product-oriented learning. Makerspaces commonly include technology such as 3D printers, cutting machines, laser printers, heat presses, dyers, and computers with various design software. Makerspaces also include less technological resources such as general arts and crafts supplies. In P-16+ educational settings, makerspaces are commonly found in library or lab settings; however, they can also be housed in mobile carts or within individual classrooms.
Although makerspaces are an emerging movement, “making activities” (e.g., tinkering, crafting) date back to humanity’s beginnings (Gerstein, 2019), and educational foundations for makerspaces begin over a century ago (Blikstein, 2018). Experiential learning (Dewey, 1902), child development through playing and building with authentic materials (Montessori, 1912), student empowerment as changemakers in a malleable world (Freire, 1965), and using tools to construct and externalize knowledge within tangible artifacts (Papert, 1991) are key pedagogical underpinnings of makerspaces (Blikstein, 2018; Gerstein, 2019b; Sanders et al., 2019). Fleming (2015) captured how these ideas connect to the essence of a makerspace: “If you build it, they will come; and if you let them build it, they will learn” (p. 16).
The maker movements’ recent foundations are often associated with its contemporary advocates (e.g., Dale Dougherty, Neil Gershenfeld, Sarah Davies, Cory Doctorow, Chris Anderson, Mark Hatch, David Lang), a convergence of ideas, and opportune conditions (Ochs et al., 2019; Turner, 2018). As many countries envisioned workforces fueled by innovation, there was increased support for environments that could prepare learners to become creative problem-solvers (Blikstein, 2019; Hsu et al., 2017). Additionally, the integration of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); the growth of do-it-yourself communities; and the incorporation of 21st-century skills spurred interest in makerspaces (Gerstein, 2019b). Moreover, the availability of advanced and affordable digital fabrication technologies, tools for children to use when making, and research all contributed to the maker movement (Blikstein, 2019). Figure 1 represents what some makerspaces might look like.
Fayetteville Free Library Makerspace by Leah Kraus and Mike Cimino, used under CC-BY License / image obtained from slide presentation.
Instructional Uses of Makerspaces
In P-12 settings, makerspaces provide formal and informal learning opportunities. They foster exploratory learning, disciplinary content knowledge, and multi- or transdisciplinary content knowledge. Makerspaces are touted as places that facilitate innovation, creativity, engineering design, probleming-solving, computing, and collaboration (Sharma, 2021). For example, Gurjar (2021) described a preschool makerspace that supported children’s expression and creativity; Hughes et al. (2017) integrated Arduino and Chibitronics to teach computational thinking and mathematical ideas through creating and programming digital tangibles; and Davis et al. (2021) observed the intersection of literacy and media production in K-16 play-based makerspaces. As seen in Video 1, makerspaces can foster self-regulation and growth-mindsets for learners.
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Post-secondary makerspaces often focus on various content knowledge and skills (Breaux, 2017). For example, some have been used to prepare in-service and preservice teachers for integrating makerspaces into their P-12 instruction (e.g., Dousay, 2017; Heredia & Tan, 2021). Neumann et al. (2021) described using the Maker’s Workshop framework with preservice teachers to support their ability to guide, plan, and implement maker lessons, and helping these students align maker lessons/activities to required educational standards and curricular goals.
Makerspaces are often located in school and community libraries. Library makerspaces are intended to build upon consumption of knowledge opportunities with opportunities to collaborate, tinker, and create (Fleming, 2015). Given the diverse needs of learners who traverse library makerspaces, it is critical to design makerspaces with accessibility in mind, carefully attending to the physical layout and availability of resources (Ochs et al., 2019; Steele et al., 2018). In many communities, librarians and media specialists serve as champions of change who encourage participation in the maker movement, lowering barriers to making in their communities (e.g., Maker Lab in the Chicago Public Library, Hack PGH).
In other cases, makerspaces may be stand-alone areas built into educational environments. For example, the STEM Action Center in Utah has its own Innovation Hub, a makerspace with 2,000 square feet dedicated to project-based, career-focused, hands-on learning (see Video 2).
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Makerspaces in Research
Most of the empirical research on makerspaces has been conducted in the United States and published in the field of education (Mersand, 2021; Sharma, 2021). Sheridan et al.’s (2014) seminal article on makerspaces and learning described how makerspaces could be used as learning environments. As a result, much of the research on makerspaces that followed focused on specific makerspace variables such as the various facilitators, roles, tools, and conditions that makeup makerspaces (Mersand, 2021).
Since the early 2010s, informal learning contexts (e.g., after school programs, libraries, workshops) have been the primary setting of research on learning in makerspaces (Halverson & Peppler, 2018; Mersand, 2021; Sharma, 2021). This trend is likely due to the tension created by standards-based curriculum in formal contexts (Rouse & Rouse, 2022; Sanders et al., 2019). Recently more scholars have shifted their focus to formal learning contexts (i.e., classrooms) to better understand how students learn in makerspaces (Rouse & Rouse, 2022).
Whether set in formal or informal learning contexts, the learning outcomes reported in makerspace research are most often affective outcomes (Mersand, 2021), such as attitudes, beliefs, development of maker identities, and increased engagement (e.g., Chu et al., 2015; Davis & Mason, 2016; Kafai et al., 2014). While some scholars report on outcomes associated with skills or content knowledge (e.g., Bull et al., 2017), such cognitive and psychomotor outcomes are not commonly the primary focus of makerspace research (Mersand, 2021; Rouse & Rouse, 2022).
Experiential Learning, Learner Agency, Problem-based Learning, Project-based Learning, Self-efficacy, Self-regulation, Third Places
Blikstein, P. (2018). Maker movement in education: History and prospects. In M. J. de Vries (Ed.), Handbook of Technology Education (pp. 419–437). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-44687-5_33
Breaux, C. (2017). Why making? Computers and Composition, 44, 27–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2017.03.005
Bull, G., Schmidt-Crawford, D. A., McKenna, M. C., & Cohoon, J. (2017). Storymaking: Combining making and storytelling in a school makerspace. Theory Into Practice, 56(4), 271–281. https://doi.org/10.1080/00405841.2017.1348114
Chu, S. L., Quek, F., Bhangaonkar, S., Ging, A. B., & Sridharamurthy, K. (2015). Making the maker: A means-to-an-ends approach to nurturing the maker mindset in elementary-aged children. International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, 5, 11–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijcci.2015.08.002
Davis, D., & Mason, L. L. (2016). A behavioral phenomenological inquiry of maker identity. Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice, 17(2), 174–196. https://doi.org/10.1037/bar0000060
Davis, S. J., Scott, J. A., Wohlwend, K. E., & Pennington, C. M. (2021). Bringing joy to school: Engaging K-16 learners through maker literacies and playshops. Teachers College Record, 123(3), 1–23. https://doi.org/10.1177/016146812112300309
Dousay, T. A. (2017). An evolving makerspace for teacher education. International Journal of Designs for Learning, 8(1), 69–81. https://doi.org/10.14434/ijdl.v8i1.22672
Fleming, L. (2015). Worlds of making: Best practices for establishing a makerspace for your school. Corwin.
Gerstein, J. (2019a). A framework for implementing maker experiences. In Learning in the making: How to plan, execute, and assess powerful makerspace lessons (pp. 64-78). Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Gerstein, J. (2019b). The precedent for maker education. In Learning in the making: How to plan, execute, and assess powerful makerspace lessons (pp. 3-11). Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Gurjar, N. (2021). The Italian makerspace. Childhood Education, 97(3), 48–53. https://doi.org/10.1080/00094056.2021.1930924
Halverson, E., & Peppler, K. (2018). The maker movement and learning. In F. Fischer, E. C, Hmelo-Silver, S. R. Goldman, & P. Reimann (Eds.), International handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 258–294). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315617572-28
Heredia, S. C., & Tan, E. (2021). Teaching & learning in makerspaces: equipping teachers to become justice-oriented maker-educators. Journal of Educational Research, 114(2), 171–182. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220671.2020.1860871
Hughes, J., Gadanidis, G., & Yiu, C. (2017). Digital making in elementary mathematics education. Digital Experiences in Mathematics Education, 3(2), 139–153. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40751-016-0020-x
Hsu, Y. C., Baldwin, S., & Ching, Y. H. (2017). Learning through making and maker education. TechTrends, 61(6), 589–594. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-017-0172-6
Kafai, Y. B., Lee, E., Searle, K., Fields, D., Kaplan, E., & Lui, D. (2014). A crafts-oriented approach to computing in high school: Introducing computational concepts, practices, and perspectives with electronic textiles. ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE), 14(1), 1–20. doi:10.1145/2576874
Neumann, K. L., Alvarado-Albertorio, F., & Ramírez-Salgado, A. (2021). Aligning with practice: Examining the effects of a practice-based educational technology course on preservice teachers’ potential to teach with technology. TechTrends 65(6), 1027–1041. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-021-00672-y
Ochs, J., Powell, R., & Czirr, L. (2019). Resources for makerspaces. Choice, 56(7), 835-843.
Rouse, R., & Rouse, A. G. (2022). Taking the maker movement to school: A systematic review of preK-12 school-based makerspace research. Educational Research Review, 35, 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2021.100413
Sanders, R. K., Kopcha, T. J., Neumann, K. L., Brynteson, K., & Bishop, C. (2019). Maker’s workshop: A framework to support learning through making. TechTrends, 63(4), 386–396. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-018-0328-z
Sheridan, K., Halverson, E. R., Litts, B., Brahms, L., Jacobs-Priebe, L., & Owens, T. (2014). Learning in the making: A comparative case study of three makerspaces. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 505–531.
Steele, K. M., Cakmak, M., & Blaser, B. (2018). Accessible making: Designing a makerspace for accessibility. International Journal of Designs for Learning, 9(1), 114–121.
Turner, F. (2018). Millenarian tinkering: The puritan roots of the maker movement. Technology and Culture, 59(4), S160–S182. https://doi.org/10.1353/tech.2018.0153
Fayetteville Free Library - This library-based makerspace offers an overview of makerspaces and some training resources for using various maker technologies.
The Maker Lab at Chicago Public Library – This is an excellent example of using makerspaces in a third place.
HackPGH - An exemplar of a makerspace as a community-based workshop
Maker Resources for K-12 Educators - A vast array of resources to support the many elements of successful makerspaces (e.g., designing, facilitating, sustaining, developing educators)
Nation of Makers - An American nonprofit that supports maker organizations.
Makerspaces: Remaking Your Play and STEAM Early Learning Areas by Michelle Kay Compton and Robin Chappele Thompson (2021) - A makerspace book for early childhood educators