This content was written for and originally posted on the personal website of Laurie Stach.

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ProtoWorks space at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.

The Makerspace Movement is playing a critical role in upgrading the education system to the modern age.  Instead of just learning from a textbook or lecture, students are able to problem solve and put their ideas into action in the physical world.  These spaces fit with concepts like Active Learning and Project Based Learning that have become popular for more modern schools.

Pioneers of the Makerspace Movement suggest that students just need the space and time to let their creativity flourish.  Students are able to create their own products or ideas through physical prototyping that can then be shared and improved upon.

What is a Maker Space?

A maker space is a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials.  It’s much more than just a physical space with tools and machines, though.  A maker space builds and supports community, and accelerates learning via experimentation, making the culture and practices just as important as the machines within the walls.

What is Needed
  • The physical space – this can often be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in starting a maker space – finding open and appropriate space within which to host the maker space.  The main things to consider are the location within the school, the amount of space (square footage), and access to ventilation (for a laser cutter and to use ABS plastic on a 3D printer in addition to PLA plastic).  A lot can be done with only a few hundred square feet, though if more space is available, it can be advantageous to add an area with couches and a table.
  • The tools and materials – I’ll have a separate post that includes a shopping list of tools and materials, though in general, I recommend some basic electronics, bench tools, and desktop 3D printer and laser cutter.  The most used machines in our maker space are the sewing machine, followed by 3D printer, then laser cutter.
  • The setup – there are several logistics involved in getting a maker space up and running, including:
    • Roles – to build the proper community in a maker space, students should ideally be involved in running the space.  The head of the space should be an administrator or teacher of the school, with an executive committee of students who manage different machines plus safety and community building, plus mentors who help staff the space, run trainings, and provide guidance during regular hours.
    • Safety – safety is more than just the rules of being safe, but a culture that is instilled in the space.  The proper training is extremely important to building a safe mentality, supported by having proper signage.  The most common rules are around dressing appropriately for the space, using proper safety equipment for the machine being used, and using the correct tools for the specific need.  The most common injuries occur when people use a tool for a purpose for which it is not intended, such as a screwdriver for chiseling, then accidentally hitting their hand.
  • Culture – The setup is important to building the right culture of community and support among makers.  Students must feel a sense of accountability for the upkeep and safety of the space, particularly the more experienced makers since they will pave the way for the emerging makers.  This can be done through having the experienced makers as mentors or part of the executive committee, and through having makers share their projects.
  • Getting people started – One of the challenging parts of running a maker space once it is set up is getting students over the hurdle of starting to make.  Many people are intrigued by making, but aren’t sure where to begin.  This can be alleviated through having example template projects, workshops, and resources.
    • Projects – students can more easily get over the hurdle of making if provided with some potential projects to start get the juices flowing.  Once they have 3D printed or laser cut or otherwise built something on their own outside the training, it becomes easier to become more creative about their own projects.  This can be done either through having some example templates on the website or in handouts, or holding workshops that provide basic templates that the student can customize and make on the spot.  Examples of these will be provided in a later post.
    • Resources – a website should be complete with helpful lists of needed softwares, file repositories such as Thingiverse and GrabCAD, the process for use, and potential projects.

 

Check out Laurie’s site for more updates and blog posts!