Why build a Makerspace?

Maybe a better question is, “What is the purpose of school?” We are very fortunate at Ann Richards School to have a clear mission statement that anchors all our choices:

The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders dedicates itself to prepare young women to attend and graduate from college, commit to a healthy and well balanced lifestyle, lead with courage and compassion, and solve problems creatively and ethically in support of our global community.

So how does a Makerspace relate to that? I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit – the question of efficacy of STEM or Maker education and goals for such – this summer.  In addition to working on this fabulous project and doing other teacher-y summer things, I’m taking classes at the University of Texas in their STEM-Enginnering education program. One of our professors does a great job of getting everyone in class to agree on something and then pulling out research that shows that thing doesn’t work or that no research support exists.  This made me wonder – Is there research on Makerspaces? 


My professor feels strongly that educational practice should be based on peer-reviewed research, so I decided to do a bit of looking in the university journal data bases to find what types of research people had been doing, what their goals were in establishing makerspaces, and how they measured success.  I haven’t found much yet.  Makerspaces or “created content workspaces” are so new that most of the research is exploratory research or design and development research

There was one study on “Makerspaces in Australian Public Libraries” that involved interviews with 3 different libraries in different parts of Australia that developed makerspaces.  The study found that most of the libraries had established makerspaces to foster community engagement.  The participants did find that having the makerspace encouraged community participation and the community appreciated the more equitable access to specialized equipment. 

I found it interesting that one thing the participants struggled with most was

to translate the value and relevance of new and different programs and technologies to those who are used to a more traditional library model.

I think this is a challenge we might have with our makerspace at Ann Richards.  Hence this post – why do we need a makerspace?

With reference to the mission statement above, I decided to focus my research more on problem solving abilities (solve problems creatively and ethically) and overall academic achievement (attend and graduate from college) and see if anyone had studies the effects of makerspaces on these two cognitive goals. 

I found one article that showed a correlation between creativity and entrepreneurship, suggesting that makerspaces allow development of creativity, but not actually determining a causal relationship.

This paper, “Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education: The Democratization of Invention” provided an interesting history of design and engineering in education from Greeks to Dewey through the modern world.  The author made some suggestions about how he thinks “making” can benefit (or harm) education, but he hasn’t done any actual research into effects. 

I could go on for a while, but the short version of the story is that, while makerspaces are nifty and people like to use them, nobody knows if there is actually an academic or educational benefit.  There is quite a lot of work in progress.

Maybe we could apply for an NSF grant and test the theory? If we did do an academic study on our makerspace, what would we test? Current research in STEM (or STEAM) is quite lacking but focuses mainly on identity, perceptions of engineering, and individual disciplinary achievements…but now I’m getting off topic and starting to ramble about the paper I’m actually supposed to be writing for class.  Back on topic…

Even if we don’t know if our makerspace will improve test scores or GPA, we do know that our girls can go farther than they have in the past and that tools will allow them to do so.  We give our girls a tremendous amount of knowledge and the makerspace will give them a place to “play” and “tinker” to see how they can apply that knowledge to solve problems, or just learn something new.

I think maybe this is the larger purpose of the makerspace – to learn and build and test just for the sake of making something new. I found a great TED talk that explains the larger significance of “Making” as a movement and mindset and that I think gives a good summary of why, even if it doesn’t make a difference in test scores, our girls need a makerspace:

Now we just have to figure out how we can connect this great mindset to content.  Good thing we have creative teachers!  Any suggestions? 



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