Leave the crafts for summer camp and bring real makerspace skills and conceptual learning to your classroom with these strategies.

When the makerspace movement in education began, teachers’ intentions were in the right place, but they didn’t always have the resources and expertise to make the most of these incredible spaces. Though schools might invest in the best makerspace materials for their classrooms, if they are simply instructing students to build crafting projects the entire point of making working machinery and systems through STEM concepts is lost.

makerspaceWithin a true makerspace, students are supposed to create working items that serve a purpose or solve a problem. When students use simple materials to create tools that offer great solutions, they are able to see the process from the earliest planning, through building, into testing a prototype, identifying weak areas, fixing problems, and celebrating the success of a fully functioning piece of equipment.

Creating More with Cardboard

While we’ve seen students have fun in “makerspaces” using materials like old CDs, film canisters, and toilet paper rolls to make trophies, this activity falls into the fakerspace category as it’s more of a crafting project than a STEM solution. Instead of just recycling these materials, have students use them to create their own car designs, then race them down a ramp to see whose goes farthest. During the initial brainstorming process or when students are ready to iterate their designs, teachers can guide students by asking questions about forces, motion, acceleration, and aerodynamics so they can see how those concepts tie to their creations.

Though using cardboard and glue to create a DSLR camera model could be a fun art project, a true makerspace project would have students make a working piece of equipment. By providing some guidance to students about ways to create a working camera using cardboard, teachers can relay optics concepts while teaching perseverance and engineering skills.

After introducing optics concepts and ensuring students have a firm grasp of the fundamentals, they can make a working camera with cardboard, a needle, a piece of metal, tape, and photo paper. Building and using their cardboard cameras will help students understand concepts about light, matter, and photons in a much more concrete way.

21st Century Makers

makerspaceWhile creating a working cardboard camera is a simple project on its surface, the exercise teaches complex STEM concepts while deepening other soft skills. By assigning true maker projects, teachers will allow students to cultivate their confidence by taking ownership over project management. When assigned as group projects, makerspace sessions can generate camaraderie and promote teamwork and communication among students–skills that are necessary when they graduate.

To maintain interest in makerspace activities, encourage students to engage in projects outside the classroom. For an added twist, assign different makerspace projects to celebrate STEM holidays, such as these math holidays. Though students will have a different teacher when they begin school this September, outline maker projects that they can perform over the summer to keep their minds sharp and occupied. Share project ideas with parents and students over social media or email, inviting them to share progress with projects. Students can help each other solve issues with projects, support the successes of their friends, and share additional projects while enjoying STEM over the summer.

Just getting started with a makerspace in your school? Discover the basic materials every makerspace needs – and they’re all probably in the junk drawer in your house!

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