Last week, in my Instructional Technologies course, several guests joined us for an ad hoc makerspace. Together, the students and guests helped to set up four stations:
- Stop Animation short film production with The Good School’s Nick Nazmi
- A maker basket full of craft and coding ideas with Cheryl Wolf and Claudio Leon (her student teacher) from PS 363/63 ‘s McKinley Library
- A woodworking/whittling station with David Wells of New York Hall of Science
- A potpourri of crafts from the Darien Public Library’s TEA Room, with Claire Moore (SILS Alum!)
Everyone had a great time trying out the projects for the first hour of class. Students were beaming with pride as they made friendship bracelets, giggling while their marshmallow and spaghetti towers teetered, and filing wood blocks with focus and care.
As with any demo, it’s all fun and games until someone (i.e., me) insists that we reflect on the makerspace movement through the lens of critical pedagogy. Our panelists made a compelling case for makerspaces as sympatico with critical pedagogy: the work is student-driven, collaborative, and process-oriented. At their best, makerspaces are welcoming places where students try new things and it’s ok to make mistakes and even to fail sometimes. Panelists articulated the affordances of makerspaces, and made the case for makerspaces as spaces where equity is possible; however, they also noted that there are challenges to makerspaces, a lot of them having to do with formalizing practices that are often rather informal. For example, within schools, activities must be tethered to the curriculum and to learning standards; do we really want to asses making? We give a lot of lip service to making as a democratic practice, but in the same way that we make critiques of the Internet as a democratic space, so, too can we forge similar critiques of makerspaces. And of course financial and temporal challenges: where is the money and time to sustain these programs, especially in under-resourced communities?
I was left thinking about whether and how makerspaces could involve authentic reflective practice. Is it possible for participants to reflect on the power of what they’ve learned, and transfer that knowledge into other areas of their lives in real, un-hokey ways? This is, in some ways, the classic question one asks of any out-of-school activity, and one that scholars of connected learning ask a lot. Once we start ascribing formalized meaning to these practices, and calling them educative, does it extinguish what’s fun and cool about them? For my next in-class makerspace, I’d like to experiment with such a reflective element, maybe turn this question over to the students: is it possible to “make” a reflective practice through makerspacing? What might that look like?
That’s a question for the next go-round of LIS 680, but for the moment, please enjoy the Storify of our in-house makerspace.