A revolution in learning? Watch this space

The makerspace – allowing pupils to explore design from start to finish – is not only fun, but helps develop key learning skills

By Joslyn Adcock, Senior Marketing Manager at LEGO Education

When you think about STEM, do you think of tinkering, creativity and design? It’s often been said that these subjects require creativity, and yet, elements of the arts have not often entered the realm of STEM. Recently, we’ve seen an emphasis in the education sector to incorporate arts more effectively with STEM subjects, in essence transitioning from STEM to STEAM.

Although the arts are essential to encourage creativity and tinkering when children are designing and coding, it can be quite difficult for teachers to incorporate the arts within these lessons. One way to do this is to introduce makerspaces into the classroom. A makerspace is simply an area for creativity which can be set up anywhere, anytime, and uses a variety of materials for designing.

Why educators should include makerspaces

The makerspace is a vehicle in the classroom which allows pupils to explore a process for designing from start to finish. It’s also an opportunity to encourage children to learn key skills for the future including collaboration, creativity, innovation and perseverance.

The makerspace isn’t a new idea to the education sector, but we are seeing a revolution unfold. Originally, the makerspace builds on the constructivist ideology, with the primary goal to encourage learners to test out their own knowledge practically by creating and interacting with objects – essentially tinkering. When children are able to do this, it allows them to think critically about an idea and physically test it out for themselves.

It’s important that pupils are able to let their creativity flow naturally, with tasks almost having no deadline or end goal. Keeping an activity open ended allows children to find a spot in the classroom with a range of materials and build something from scratch based on the smallest of briefings. This doesn’t have to include fancy technology, it can simply include materials such as felt tips, plastics, and tissue paper to create their ideas.

Preparing pupils for the future

Not only do makerspaces offer children the opportunity to have fun with their designs, it’s actually a very useful way to encourage the development of key skills.

When children enter the later stages of education, there is a constant focus on their ability to develop ‘skills for the future’. This is inclusive of skills which equip them for their future employment, encompassing skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, creativity and perseverance.

So, how can teachers include makerspaces in the classroom?

Defining the problem

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The first step teachers should do is provide a simple, open-ended brief for children. For example, something that aims to solve a problem is an effective way to get children thinking about their design. An example task could be asking children to build community defence systems which will protect the community from a natural disaster, or for younger children, how can they help Mr Bear travel around with his broken foot?

The key thing with the arts is the encouragement that no child’s design is wrong or is there is no right answer. Teachers should focus on being the practical guide for the task, but children should let their imaginations run wild and come up with a solution, thinking by themselves and then working out how this can practically be achieved.

Brainstorm

This is where collaboration comes into play. Once children have thought about their designs, teachers should encourage children to discuss their designs in small groups. It’s a great way for them to bounce ideas off each other and even see if they can improve their design based on ideas shared within the group.

There are also obvious benefits to this with regards to social skills. For example, children will gain a deeper understanding of working in teams, sharing ideas and taking turns. It also goes beyond collaboration, as it will allow for them to process constructive criticism and try again when things don’t go right the first time around, which is a key skill for the future!

Go make!

Here’s the fun part! Children can now get hands-on and design their idea. A makerspace activity is open-ended, providing children with endless opportunities to improve their designs should they wish to. During the designing phase, pupils can be thinking about their design analytically. For example, does their original design fit the criteria and will it practically solve the problem?

If pupils feel that they need to amend their design, they easily can do so. With activities often remaining open-ended, teachers have the discretion to continue the lesson beyond a one-hour time slot, should they wish to make this an activity which runs throughout the term. Stepping away from the project can often be a good way to remain objective and return to it with a fresh pair of eyes. Again, this teaches pupils the skill of perseverance, that no first prototype is going to be the best one, and a design can always be improved.

The idea of makerspaces can be a daunting thought to those who are used to more traditional environments of learning in the classroom. However, the benefits a makerspace offer are already making their way across the education sector. In order for teachers to fully embrace makerspaces, teachers need to think of themselves as the mobilisers of Makers, inspiring pupils to reach their full potential and become Makers.

The makerspace isn’t a revolutionary idea, it simply helps bring learning into the 21st Century. It’s also a great way to be inclusive, and also exclusive, to technology, should a teacher wish to use a makerspace with a variety of educational tools. Makerspaces allow for true creativity to be explored but also provides opportunity for key life lessons which will be relied upon in the future.

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