Making Sense of Makerspaces

Finally, I understand the move toward makerspaces. I’ve been concerned that they were evidence of what some critics regard as the diminishing role of the teacher librarian in the digital world. When discussing my teacher-librarian studies in conversation, I am frequently asked, “Are schools still employing teacher-librarians?” Without understanding,  makerspaces seemed to me to be a trendy, almost last-ditch effort to claim validity for the school library. They symbolised a perception by some in the community that the teacher-librarian just fluffs about, not really teaching much and just looking after the books. (Whoa, settle all you TLs!)

Image: Mitch Altman. MakerSpace Urbana, Feb-2012.
Image: Mitch Altman. CC BY-SA 2.0

The shift in thought came when reading Kay Oddone’s claim that makerspaces and libraries share similar characteristics.  I was particularly triggered by her observation that libraries inhabit the only space within the school that is not confined by the curriculum.

Image: 5chw4r7zCC BY-SA 2.0

Makerspaces are Knowledge Commons

The shift for me is in understanding that makerspaces acknowledge students’ learning, knowledge creation and meaning making on their own terms, outside of formal learning. They allow for multiple learning scenarios: individual, one-to-one, small group, whole class, peer-to-peer. In the library environment, the facilitator, or as Steven Kurti dubs ‘spacemaker’, can be present to scaffold learning as needed. Makerspaces can fulfill the some of the characteristics of participatory learning. They foster collaboration, creativity and by bridging students’ home and school life, make learning more authentic and stimulating. They encourage problem solving and allow for ‘mistakes’. They are a knowledge commons for kids.

From my experience, the implementation of makerspaces would need thoughtful planning to ensure support from administration, teachers, students and the broader school community. In order to secure funding for resources, including human resources and time, the spacemaker would be wise to make clear the educational validity of makerspaces. Schools are already extremely busy places, so support is crucial for the introduction and sustenance of school makerspaces.

In their small study, Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas identify several important competencies of the spacemaker. Ringing most true for me is the observation that the spacemaker needs to be an advocate for the makerspace. The spacemaker needs to be able to assure/persuade/affirm stakeholders that the makerspace enterprise is of value. David Raths stresses the importance of showcasing the makerspace through avenues such as open days, blogs and videos. ‘Selling’ the idea of makerspaces and celebrating the achievements of a school makerspace will aid long-term sustainability.

Image: Wesley Fryer. from
Image: Wesley Fryer. CC BY-SA 2.0

Importantly, school makerspaces need to focus on the students. In seeking to outline essential competencies of the spacemaker, Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas note the importance of understanding user needs, including the popular culture and technology relevant to the user group. I know this is where I need to pick up my game and become more attuned to students’ pop culture.

Maker Spaces and Digital Technologies

Makerspaces don’t need to involve digital technologies, but they certainly provide a ready-made environment in which to make best use of digital technology. Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas highlight the need for spacemakers to avoid including technology without understanding why, and which technologies are most appropriate to achieve desired goals.

I guess it’s the antithesis of makerspace philosophy, but because I’m a classroom teacher and bound by the curriculum, I can see potential for makerspaces to provide engaging and creative assessment opportunities. I am mindful, however, that the makerspace remain user-driven so I wonder if the marriage of assessment and makerspace can ever be authentic. I’d love to hear your opinions, ideas and experiences with makerspaces; leave a reply below.

For a variety of makerspace resources, including Makerspace Charter and real-world examples see my Makerspace Resources page.


Vox Pop Year 3

Image: Raphael Jeanneret. CC0 Public Domain.

The Survey

To find out more about the world of popular culture texts in which my Year 3 students are engaged I asked them to complete this quick and dirty survey.  No time to employ the scientific method, and allowing for possible peer-peer influence, I hoped some of the information gathered would help me better understand what my Year 3 students get into away from the classroom.

The Results

The graphs below present some helpful information about my students’ preferences for books, TV shows, movies and other popular culture. Where useful, and for ease of interpretation, I have colour-coded exclusively male and female responses with blue and pink shades respectively. (Yes, goes against the grain but everyone knows this system!)

Q. List 5 things that are really popular right now.

The results from this question, shown in the graph below,  are enlightening for me. The singers, books and mobile devices were predictable, but some of physical toys and TV shows were unfamiliar to me.

A high number of responses indicated the popularity of physical (real-life) toys.  The graph above shows a break-down of the Physical Toys category to highlight specific answers. Responses from boys and girls are coded with blue and pink shades respectively. As shown by the graph, many of the girls are into Shopkins.

Image: lu-lu. from CC BY-NC 2.0
Image: lu-lu. Shopkins army, assembled. CC BY-NC 2.0.

I’ve seen my Year 3 girls playing with these little figurines, but I’ve been completely unaware that these Australian created and manufactured collectibles are such a big craze. Cindy Train (Daily Mail Australia) claims the toy has attracted 13 million fans to webisodes and 400+ million views on fan videos. They’ve taken out the 2015 Girl Toy of the Year Award and even have their own Ekka (Queensland Royal Show) showbag. I feel a post on gendered toys could be in order!


The second highest number of responses to what was most popular things question was movies. The graph below shows a variety of movie titles, but Minions the clear winner. When the most popular movies from the above graph (scoring votes of 2 or more) were broken down to specific titles and collated according to gender, differences in preferences became obvious. Overall, the girls indicated a higher interest in movies than the boys. The takeaway from this data could be that my selection of popular culture movies to enhance student engagement in the curriculum might require more careful consideration than initially anticipated. How to find a movie or movies that inspires all students?

Image: stevepb. minions. Creative Commons CC0. from
Image: stevepb. minions. CC0 Public Domain.

Q. What books are popular right now?

I was also really keen to find out what books ranked with my students. Books nominated by both girls and boys are shaded green. It is clear that The Treehouse series books by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton are the books most favoured by my students, and I know they are excited about the latest title, The 65-Storey Treehouse. The breakdown of responses for The Treehouse series was 5 girls and 6 boys, showing a gender-neutral spread among these readers. These books were selling like hotcakes at our recent Book Fair.  I think there is wonderful scope for using this series to inspire learning and I am keen to explore this idea in a future post.

Overall, I think this survey has been a valuable exercise for me as I feel I know my students a little more. It has also provided me with impetus to continue to follow my students’ popular culture interests.