Makerspaces – environments that facilitate innovation in Secondary schools

What is a Makerspace?

A Makerspace can be defined as a ” location where people gather to share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, and build” (Educase, 2013, p. 1). People come together to create, collaborate, make things and innovate. Makerspaces facilitate cooperative learning, project-based learning, experimental hands-on activities, independent inquiry and students as producers of knowledge. They are generally in a community environment like a library, community centre, business or educational campus. Makerspaces and makers collaborate together in digital and physical spaces.

The Makerspace concept has emerged from the ‘maker culture’ where there is a strong emphasis on technology. This ‘maker culture’ is associated with the Make magazine and blog as well as the Maker Faires, Hackerspaces and DIY (do-it-yourself) websites.  Makerspaces are also related to the hacker culture that is based around technological experimentation, development of computer hardware and exemplar idea making. The maker movement has even been suggested as our best hope for reigniting progressive education, which is an exciting prospect! (Libow Martinez & Stager, 2013)

Makerspaces were firstly associated with academic institutions; mainly universities but now they are being incorporated into schools and public and school libraries. Libraries are a natural fit for a space that encourages learning, creativity, access to technology and collaboration. Libraries are “democracy engines” (Altman, 2013) that give access to knowledge-making, space and time for creativity and opportunities for all to learn together.

The do-it-yourself (or even better do-it –with-others) mindset is the tell-tale sign of the maker movement. Makerspaces bring together people who share a wide range of interests including textile craft, robotics, woodcrafts, electronics, digital fabrication, mechanical repair, writing, gaming or any sort of creation. It is a diversified culture of making, but is unified by a shared engagement to collaboration, open exploration, curiosity and creative ideas. There is a spirit in Makerspaces to transform the patron to a producer rather than consumer (Peepler & Bender, 2013). The makers or Makerspace users include inventors, artists, innovators, crafters, designers and youth or school groups (Belbin &Newcome, 2013). The complex knowledge networks that are developed through Makerspaces are because of the diversity of people that identify as makers.


The concepts and theories behind the movement of Makerspaces

Seymour Papert is considered the father of the maker movement. His journey is one of learning through tinkering and his life work has centered on creating tools, theories and coercion-free learning environments. Papert’s message is that learning happens by actively constructing knowledge through the act of making something that is shareable (Libow Martinez & Stager, 2013).

A number of publications including Professor Neil Gershenfeld’s Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop- from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication and the Make and Wired magazines have alerted the general population to the tinkering revolution. Physical computing with microcontrollers like Raspberry Pis, 3D printers and cutters and programming have had significant implications for classroom practice and school reforms. Open content, websites, social media and networks have helped spread the concept of Makerspaces around the world.

The idea of a Makerspace is steeped in the current learning theories of creative and critical thinking, Connectivism, Blooms Taxonomy of Educational Objectives and Design models. The concept of Libraries as Learning Commons shared by the whole school (Loertscher, 2013) helps explain how libraries can be an optimum environment for Makerspaces.

The concept of a Makerspace is supported by Ken Robinson’s (2011) theory that knowledge creating organisations that are part of a culture of innovation are of great importance in allowing individuals to be creative. Creative and collaborative cultures are powerful. Robinson’s (2011) principles of developing creative organisations focused on how to achieve every participant’s creative potential and expand and strengthen the team or organisation’s architecture of collaboration, diversity and fairness. A Makerspace can be the foundation of an organisation’s architecture of collaboration.

Creative thinking is seen as one of the highest order thinking skills in the continuum of increasing cognitive complexity as represented in  Rex Heer’s and Iowa State University’s Model of Learning Objectives ( a revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives).  The ability to design, assemble, generate and reflect are all essential thinking skills in a Makerspace community. Makers integrate metacognitive, procedural, conceptual and factual knowledge when engaging in design projects too (Heer,2012).

This creative thinking and knowledge making take place in a collaborative environment which often exists in a physical and digital environment at the same time.  The principles of  Siemen’s (2005) theory of Connectivism (a theory of learning for the digital age); outline that:  learning and knowledge rest in a diversity of opinions; that learning is a process of connecting nodes of information sources; that nurturing and maintaining connections are needed to facilitate continual learning; and that decision making itself is a learning process. These principles are evident in the dialogues that occur between makers.

Libow Martinez & Stager (2013) in their discussion of Makerspaces describe a very simple design model called TMI -Think, Make Improve. They place a strong emphasis on the doing without ignoring the talking that makers do. Connections can be made with Papert’s view as tinkering as a source of ideas and models for improving the skill of making – and fixing and improving and making mental constructions.


Design Thinking guru Kim Saxe’s D. School design thinking model is more complex and better suited to a Secondary school Makerspace. At Nueva School, Saxe has taken the D. School design thinking model and has re-created it as a learning design model which sees students undertake inquiry in a way that insures they have an empathetic real world context (Amos, 2014).

How can Makerspaces be incorporated into the Secondary Library environment and digital learning culture?

Makerspaces are “a very powerful fit with the library mission. After all, libraries aren’t just about print literacy; libraries and library staff are about ‘understanding the world we live in’ literacy”( Foote, 2013 p.26)

 The inclusion of Makerspaces in a school library represents the ‘changing shape’ of libraries. It also reinforces the notion of the school library being seen as the learning commons of the school and helps future proof the library and teacher-librarians.

The Principal of New Milford High School, Eric Sheninger (2014) recently shared his view about the Makerspace his staff have established in their Library –

“The Makerspace in the library is an oasis for student self-directed learning. It serves as a rejuvenation center for inspiring of love for both formal and informal learning. In my opinion, a space like this should be a priority for all schools in the twenty-first century; and you do not have to break the bank to create one.”

.Makerspaces can be temporary programs or events, or they can be a permanent part of the library, a physical area that is specifically created for the school community. A Makerspace may even be a ‘pop-up’ program or event that the library staff hosts or promotes elsewhere in the school environment (Foote, 2013).

In providing a specific space that is designated to creating and connecting with other people, the community are at the starting point of learning that can result in creativity and innovation. Permission is given for people to explore their own curiosities about explore how projects can be developed. It is also important for people to feel safe to try something new so that this can lead to spectacular things happening

In order for a Makerspace to be successful partnerships need to be forged, plus awareness and advocacy are essential. The leader needs to explain the reason for the change as well as the benefits.  Activities facilitated need to be relevant to the school community and the project needs to be clearly promoted.

The Makerspace Playbook: School edition (Maker Media, 2013) is a great guide to the background and practicalities of setting up a Makerspace in a school. Included are twelve important steps to setting up a Makerspace

1. Get listed as a Makerspace

2. Get connected

3. Spread the idea

4. Identify student making communities

5. Set up a website or blog

6. Set ground rules

7. Come up with own identity

8. Find funding

9. Set a deadline and meeting dates

10. Use a Makerspace starter kit

11. Document your work and achievements


The benefits and learning outcomes of Makerspaces in school libraries.

To put it simply young people “should engage in tinkering and making because they are powerful ways to learn” (Libow Martinez & Stager, 2013, Introduction).

As Educators we aim to inspire students to be engage with their learning. We also want students to become inventors and innovators leading to a creative and productive economy. Educators are also about building complex and collaborative knowledge networks.

There are three impact areas of Makerspaces

Inspiration: inviting students to participate in the creative economy and to direct their own future

Innovation: serving as a catalyst for grassroots invention

Education: building a connection between the community and learners. (Maker Media, 2013)

There are many strong potential learning benefits to bring Makerspaces into a school Library;

– the paramount benefit is to bring STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and Math) into the library curriculum and program.

-opportunities for creative and critical thinking eventuating in innovation

-the support of inquiry and questioning, problem solving and collaborative learning

– opportunities to flip the role of novices and experts -younger students may have more expertise than adults or older students (Foote, 2013.)

-enhanced community engagement with the Library

-the transformation of the library’s image from a place where works are consumed to a place where works are created

-new connections made with community members where traditional Library programming has failed

-allow for opportunities for community members to connect with others over shared interests.

-facilitation of knowledge creation and the provision of equal opportunity to access materials, information and materials

-access to new and emerging technology

-future-proofing of libraries (Slatter & Howard, 2013).

The learning outcomes of critical and creative thinking in Makerspaces align perfectly with Australian Curriculum’s guidelines in embedding these general capabilities in the curriculum. The Australian Curriculum describes that when students are able to develop capabilities in creative and critical thinking, they learn to develop and evaluate knowledge, analyse concepts and ideas, seek alternative possibilities, consider alternatives and find solutions to problems (acara, v.6.0, 2012).

A different learning space like a Makerspace in a school library can reinforce the learning that is happening in the classroom or it can open up powerful experiences where students can take control of ‘hack’ their own learning experiences. As Libow Martinez (2013) suggests, ‘Making lets you take control of your life, be more active and be more responsible for your learning.’ Makers have the potential to become confident, competent and curious citizens.


When the powerful benefits and learning outcomes of Makerspaces combine with the positive influences of a Library environment, what results is creation and most importantly innovation. The current and future contexts of education are demanding new strategic directions for Libraries including; new skills, new knowledge, new global connections and new learning communities (O’Connell, 2014, p.17). School Libraries and teacher-librarians that implement the new strategy of developing a Makerspace in their Library to match the needs of their learning communities will help develop educational contexts that include knowledge networks and learning spaces encouraging young people to be innovative, creative, social and critical life-long learners.

Recommended Websites for Makers and makers of Makerspaces


acara (2012). Critical and creative thinking . Retrieved 2014, from Australian Curriculum; general capabilities:

Altman, M. (2012, November). The Hackerspace Movement: Mitch Altman at TEDxBrussels. Retrieved May 2014, from YouTube:

Amos, C. (2014, May). Hack Your Classroom: Week 3 – Introduction to Design Thinking. Retrieved June 2014, from Teaching and E-Learning: A blog about teching, learning, e-learning and leading change:

Belbin, N., & Newcombe, P. (2013). Fab Labs at the Library. Education Digest 78, 65- 68.

Davies, A., Fidler, D., & Gorbis, M. (2011). Future Work Skills 2020. Phoenix: University of Phoenix Research Institute.

Educause. (2013). 7 Things You Should Know about Makerspaces. Retrieved from

Foote, C. (2013, Sepetember). Idea Watch: Making Spaces for Makerspaces. Retrieved May 2014, from Internet@Schools:An Educators Guide to Technolgy and the Web:

Heer, R., & Teaching, I. S. (2012, January). A Model of Learning Objectives based on A Taxonomy of Learning, Teaching, and Assessing:A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Retrieved May 2014, from Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching:

Libow Martinez, S., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Torrance: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.

Loertscher, D. V. (2013). Makerspaces in the school library learning commons and the uTEC maker model. Teacher Librarian, 48.

Media, M. (2013). The Makerspace Playbook: School Edition. Retrieved May 2014, from

O’Connell, J. (2014, June). Preparing for the Impact of Web 3.0. Retrieved June 2014, from SlideShare:

Peppler, K., & Bender, S. (Nov.2013). Maker movement spreads innovation one project at at time: lessons learned form the grassroots spreading of the “maker movement” can help us reimaginr schools and foster a mindset of creativity and innovation in educational settings. Phi Delta Kappan 95.3, 2.

Robinson, S. K. (2011). Out of Our Minds Learning to be Creative. United Kingdom: Capstone Publishing Ltd.

Sheninger, E. (2014, May). What’s in a Makerspace? How we built our Makerspace. Retrieved June 2014, from Corwin Connect:

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism:A learning theory for a digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 3-10.

Slatter, D., & Howard, Z. (2013). A place to make, hack and learn:makerspaces in Australiian public libraries. The Australian Library Journal, 272-284.

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