Makerspace 101: Focus on People over Products

The most popular makerspace question goes something like this: “What should I buy for my makerspace?” Follow up makerspace questions only serve to specify exactly what to buy, such as “Should I buy 3D printer X or 3D printer Y?” (for my opinion on whether or not to buy a 3D printer, click here). In this post, I want to highlight what i consider the basics of makerspace equipment with a focus, first and foremost, on the people that make up a makerspace over the products.


The basics

So, what should someone buy to stock their makerspace? The canned answer is that it depends on who’s using the makerspace and what for. I don’t like canned responses, so I’ll give a better answer.

Anyone who runs a makerspace can agree that a makerspace exists to help students with projects – both academic and personal. Students need supplies with their projects, posters, models, and dioramas. And, since many students don’t have access to these supplies, the makerspace would be a great place to have it. Thus, some basic supplies to buy are: scissors, white glue, glue guns, paint and paint brushes, modelling materials (cardboard, construction paper, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners), utility knives, cutting mats, and tape. Exactly what quantity of each item depends on what students tend to use. In our library makerspace, students tend to use cardboard and glue guns the most, so that us what we tend to acquire. Focusing on the people and not the product does not necessarily mean we have the right answer at the start. We set out and purchased an arbitrary quantity of basic supplies. Rather, it means putting something out there, observing how it is used, and adjusting along the way. We purchased basic supplies we know people will need, and we’ve adjusted what to buy more of depending on what we’ve observed from our users.


Beyond the basics

Should I buy LEGO or KEVA planks? Raspberry Pi or Makey Makeys? Makerbot or Dremel 3D printer? All of these are great choices (and I would love to have access to some more of it too). However, much of the equipment can stand idle for long periods of time. I don’t think I’m alone with this problem. Collecting dust, these items end up residing in the back corner of a cupboard or storage room.


To prevent this from happening, we need to focus on what teachers will ultimately use. Yes, I said teachers. Although student interest is a big part of a library makerspace, it is teachers who ultimately drive it. A survey done at our school indicated that the top way students learned about the library makerspace is through their teachers. Not friends. Not peers. But, teachers. Teachers will book the library makerspace to use for a class project. It is teachers who will initially lead a workshop on crocheting, 3D printing, or green screen digital production. It is the teachers’ enthusiasm that will attract students to the space.


What are teachers passionate about?

If you want to know what to stock the makerspace with, talk to the teachers who will use and run it. Currently, we have a lot of crocheting equipment because one of our team members (Lisa) enjoys crocheting and is hosting after school workshops on how. Another team member (Caroline) has an entrepreneurial background and is highly skilled at crafting. Thus, we have a lot of crafting materials for her workshops. We have other tools and gadgets like 3D printers and robotics kits, but without leadership, which needs to come from teachers, interest in these things come and go. And, I have led enough clubs after school to know that interest often fades if gadgets are merely left out and set up for students to fiddle and tinker with.


What if I don’t have a team of teachers running makerspace?

At Rebels Makerspace, we’re constantly collaborating with individual teachers on how we can incorporate “making” into their lessons. This year,  we’ve had science students make atomic models in our makerspace. We’ve had geography students make topographic models too. And, we’ve had English classes come in to create scale models that capture the mood of a specific scene from a novel. Teachers are the experts in their subject areas. They often have a good idea as to what they would love to have their students make – if only students had access to the resources. Thus, a makerspace doesn’t need lots of teachers helping out. It only needs teachers who are interested in incorporating making into their classroom. Find those teachers. They will tell you what needs to be in the makerspace through the projects they plan to run.
Stocking a makerspace can be a confusing and uncertain process. Asking “What will people use” is simply too broad and vague. By collaborating teachers (who will use the makerspace if they know it will support their classroom) on project ideas for their students, then figuring out what to buy will be a smoother process.

Posted on May 10, 2017 in Insight

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About the Author

Kent is one of the creators of the Rebels Makerspace, a design and science educator, and Science Department head at Burnaby South Secondary.
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