Would you like to create a custom t-shirt, build a 3D topographical map from wood, design a bumper sticker, construct an off-the-wall musical instrument, make an interactive stuffed animal, or customize a robot? All this and so much more is possible in OC’s new makerspace.
However, even with these examples, some of you might still be thinking, “These are interesting projects…but what exactly is a makerspace?” A great question, so let me explain. First, let’s look back. Two of the last three years Mike Hilbert (Co-Director and Facilitator) and I spent Mondays working with a group of OC teens at NextFab in South Philadelphia. NextFab describes itself as, “a network of collaborative makerspaces for creators of any skill level or interest.” Those Mondays provided the teens, Mike, and me with training and ample time to use a variety of machines. Our two years there culminated with the design and fabrication of the Open Connections sign at the top of the driveway. The experience also left us wanting to bring the makerspace experience to OC.
Our idea became a reality this past year we when we received a generous grant from the Crystal Trust Foundation that funded the creation of our own makerspace. Makerspaces have become very popular with many schools, libraries, and community centers looking to create some form of one. While there is no single definition for a makerspace, one that I particularly like is: a makerspace is a physical space in which people with shared interests, especially in computing or technology, can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge. Many see this as a partial return to the DIY (do-it-yourself) era when the magazine Popular Mechanics was treasured and Radio Shack stores were goldmines.
Our makerspace houses a variety of diverse technological equipment and materials. We currently have laser engraver/ cutters, a 3D printer, Lego Mindstorms, programmable microcontrollers, a printer/cutter, a heat press, sewing machines, and Makey Makeys (see the sidebar for descriptions of these equipment/materials). I’ve been drawn to makerspaces for as long as I have known of their existence, and I believe that part of the reason is that these spaces remind me of Open Connections in that they value selfdirection, creativity, freedom, ownership, natural learning, collaboration, and real-work.
A makerspace is a place of possibility and FREEDOM that can bring out the CREATIVITY in all of us. It offers handson learning with a variety of machines and materials that allow the user a degree of freedom that is limited only by his or her imagination. A makerspace provides REAL-WORK opportunities as makers work on projects that are meaningful to them whether they aim to solve a problem, put a smile on someone’s face, or express themselves. This high level of OWNERSHIP can translate into the grit necessary to work through the inevitable challenges that arise with any new creation.
The culture of a makerspace values and nurtures COLLABORATION. This culture recognizes that all of us have different areas of interest and expertise and at any given moment each of us can play the role of the facilitator. This “we-are-all-in-this-together” expectation provides a rich collaborative environment that doesn’t solely rely on the knowledge and vision of any single person.
A makerspace nurtures NATURAL LEARNING. There is no need for grades in a makerspace where each project is unique. Many projects will require academic skills from the fields of science, math and logic, and all projects will provide opportunities to develop real-life skills of time management, problem-solving, and flexible thinking. In the end though, “success” will be determined by the young person, through his or her own process of reflection and evaluation.
I am looking forward to sharing this new resource with all of you. I am excited to see what the young people create and, more importantly, the learning that naturally occurs along the way.