21st Century Learning in America: Makerspaces Now Trending

America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs, many inspired by the Industrial Revolution. A new thinking and tinkering revolution, The Maker Movement is  moving into education systems worldwide.

The Maker Movement is contrary to the heavy undercurrent in many states toward a testing-based learning environment, where there is one right answer for each question.  Maker-based education stresses creative, collaborative thinking that produces new solutions to traditional problems, and new ideas to solve future problems.

Almost two decades of the 21st Century are already in the rearview mirror, American education needs to assess where it stands on the Maker Movement and in my opinion, increase its commitment to quality, proven makerspaces ideas.  

Change is always hard, but change in our education system seems to take much longer than other areas. Terry Heick, writer and presenter for TeachThought.com, illustrates the dynamic shifts required in perceptions and actions in order to change from current systems to Makerspaces curriculums.

One of the many reassuring aspects of Makerspaces is that they provide opportunities for all four of the core requirements for success as defined by The Partnership for 21st Century Learners in 2001:

  • Collaboration
  • Creative Thinking (Innovation)
  • Critical Thinking (Problem Solving)
  • Communication
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Even with research on your side, it is a big step to stop what you have been doing and dedicate your time to a new philosophy.  Reorganizing your space, time, schedules, materials, and purpose.

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher, blogger and writer for Maker Education, gives some valuable advice to those making the leap to developing a Makerspace, in her post titled “9 Ways to Inspire Student Inventors”.

  • Supplies…” don’t think you have to have expensive things. Think about how you might be able to repurpose space or supplies within your own building.”

  • Motivation and time…” Students need a reason to create.” Just saying we are going to create is too loose with no constraints to master and no strategies to follow. Davis “loves the challenge approach, like physics teacher Ben Owens, who has his students build full-size trebuchets to throw pumpkins for the Pumpkin Chunkin’ Contest every autumn.”

  • Coming up with ideas…” Part of what makes a fantastically creative school is exposure to ideas.  Teacher Kevin Slick, our interviewee this month says, “Look what this person did,” or “I wonder how they did that” will spark many more ideas than the teacher who says, go in there and create”.  Davis also suggests regular visits to the sites like  Make (https//makezine.com/) to spur curiosity and ideas.

  • Mentors… with technology advances like the Internet and global connectedness, mentors for your students can be anywhere in the world.  Community members are great for creating lasting relationships, but the diversity needed for mentoring may not be available. Sources like those in our Curator’s Corner by active teachers, who are masters of makerspaces, can also become a teacher’s personal mentor, supplementing reading, online chats and webinars.  

  • Show and share work… Davis says, “Often the greatest inventions happen when one student shows another something and the students level it up… so help students share and compare.”

  • Redefining invention…anything a student invents, or originates, is an invention. It can be a poem, a song, a dance, not just technology. “Making and creating come in all types and forms, and we need to encourage them all, not just the kinds that are seen as popular. This is why the A has been added to STEM to make STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. We can include all these things because they all promote creativity” (Vicki Davis). 


  • Failing successfully…Motivational speaker John Maxwell says, “it’s not whether you make a mistake, but whether you keep making the same mistake that determines if you’re successful… If you fail and fail and fail and never figure out why you fail—then, in my opinion, you really have failed. However, if you fail and find out what doesn’t work, and then learn and try different approaches, you’re more like Thomas Edison, who found 10,000 ways the light bulb didn’t work.”

  • Handling fear…Everyone starting out on a new adventure feels some uncertainty or faces fear before taking the first step. The important thing is to take that step and with it bring your students into 21st Century Learning!

  • Don’t wait until you are ready! “Your students need a Makerspace NOW, not in five months once you’ve figured everything out. Start small and build from there. “ (Diane L. Rendina) Further help to get you started are, RenovatedLearning blogger Diane L. Rendina, Makerspace Planning Workbook, a 5-page questionnaire to help set your goals and purposes for starting a Makerspace. Once you are clear on that, Rendina’s advice is succinct, “ Be prepared to advocate for your space! Know the research on why Makerspaces are so beneficial and essential to the 21st Century Learner”.

Remember, it’s all about the kids!