Take Your Makerspace from Dream to Reality

Five steps to creating a successful space for passion, creativity, and authentic learning.

May 30, 2016
Laura Ferrell
Assistant Principal
Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School
Oak Lawn, IL
CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Technology Integration

The popularity of makerspaces is undeniable. Whether big or small, these innovative spaces have grown from a desire to provide students with hands-on experiences that allow for passion, creativity, and authentic learning. For those individuals willing to take on the task of creating a makerspace, the to-do list can be daunting. But when you just THINK -- talk, host, invest, negotiate, and knock -- your dream makerspace can become a reality. 

Talk philosophy.

The philosophy behind a makerspace is equally as important as the resources available to students. Recognize and embrace the idea that students and staff may struggle with the creative and critical-thinking processes needed to use the makerspace and that they will need support to make the space transformative rather than only an activity station. Remember that this space -- whether in a closet, a classroom, or a cardboard box -- is something very unique to the traditional model of learning spaces. Collaborative conversations with early adopters will help drive your message.

Host opportunities for student feedback -- frequently!

An early fumble we encountered was not fully capitalizing on the interests of our students. We took our best guesses at what students' interests might be, and we talked to a few inquisitive minds that we felt may have initial ideas. Take time to host focus groups for students. Ask them to share what they're passionate about. Design a space with them, not just for them. 


  • What do you like to do after school?
  • If you could do anything, what would it be?
  • What's your favorite subject, and why?
  • If you had $1,000 to make the school better, how would you use it?
Invest in your own learning. 

A good makerspace accommodates hands-on activities that incorporate many skills and curricula. However, it's an impossible goal to learn everything about every thing that will potentially be incorporated into your school's makerspace. Instead of focusing on every detail of your space, work on making a foundation that supports your current goals and philosophy and can grow and change as your maker movement expands. Common Sense Education has several helpful, teacher-reviewed websites that can aid in the basics. Check out DIY and Instructables, for starters. These sites are valuable resources when explaining the idea of passion-driven learning to students. 

Negotiate time. 

Meshing the free-form nature of a makerspace with the rigid confines of school can sometimes be a challenge. Overcoming logistical issues can quickly become a bigger obstacle than actually implementing the makerspace. To overcome access issues, think about the best way for students to visit, and devote time to their ideas. Clearly define the hours and stick to them, and if there is no permanent space, consider creating a mobile makerspace that can be moved from class to class or easily stored.


  • Is there a safe, secure, and permanent place for our makerspace?
  • Will students be able to access the makerspace before, during, and/or after school?
  • Will all students be able to access the makerspace, or will it only be students in a specific class, club, or grade?
  • Who will be responsible for monitoring the makerspace, and will there be a schedule?
Knock on doors.   

Makerspaces survive on collaboration. To make your space successful, you'll need to create a network of support -- and not only for funding but for volunteers as well. Once you have a good idea of your students' interests, reach out to the various people who make up your stakeholders. Consider drawing on community resources: Reach out to local government officials, businesspeople, retired teachers, college students, and anyone else who shares a passion for making! These ties will make your space a more authentic learning environment and help your students build important relationships with other adults and mentors.

On the flip side, consider inviting folks into the makerspace to learn alongside your students. Having facilitated this type of open-house experience, students tend to take on natural leadership responsibilities and will be more than willing to guide newcomers through their ideas.

Last tip: While lime-green walls and table saws are certainly something to aspire to, know that developing your makerspace will take time.