Don’t Build a Makerspace Until You Create a Culture of Learning

Before you begin reading this post grab a piece of paper sitting next you(you read with a notepad right?) and draw your classroom or what you imagine your classroom to be if you are not yet in charge of your own learning space. Go ahead I will wait…….

There is so much buzz around the topics of Makerspaces, STEM, STEAM, STREAM, PBL, Deeper Learning, Personalized Learning and more. I want to let you in on a little secret that all great educators know and it requires zero acronyms or major funding.

Secret – It all starts with treating people like people.

That’s right. Maybe that secret was a bit disappointing to you. Perhaps you were wanting for a tool or an app to solve your problems(which will never work because tools only work if you change your habits of mind). This very simple secret is at the heart of teaching and making an impact in the lives of students.

If you were to go back to your room layout that you sketched what do you see? Something that hopefully you see is that learning spaces are not about the room. You can make the smallest, ugliest, or most unlikely space a powerful learning space if you can deliver as an educator. Learning spaces do the following

  • create a feeling of safety
  • create comfort in trying new things
  • not being ashamed for being wrong or failing
  • excite the student to learn
  • create an unique atmosphere unlike any other room

The same goes for makerspaces. You don’t need fancy equipment like 3D printers, laser cutter, CNC machines to have a makerspace(although these tools are awesome and you can do some great things). It starts with the culture of the room.

A school does not need an engineer, a STEM endorsement, and/or some isolated room for a class in makerspace nor a 20% time. I can display image after image, project after project about how we need to transform culture of schools to infuse the culture of makerspaces into all classrooms. I stress time and time again the goal of discussion around makerspaces should not be about what 3D printer to buy or how much money you need to get started. You start with mindset. You start by changing the culture in your school to what makerspaces are after. The culture of bringing learning alive. The culture of allowing more than one answer to projects where you are not following in lock step. Students create their own paths. Students create their own learning opportunities. It is not hands on learning as the learning starts in the mind. The hands simply form the ideas.

Once that happens you being using consumables and everyday materials. As the culture continues to take shape you will slowly develop the need for the next level of tools. Over time you begin to establish a place where perhaps the tools are housed, but that is not the goal.

So often, people ask for a resource list, a curriculum, and how to organize the room. These are the wrong questions. We should be talking about what is missing in the classrooms and how we can find entry points to slowly make change in learning that is open ended, contains trial and error, documentation of learning, charting our own paths, and being able to showcase where we ended up.

I want to drive home the notion of two very important things.

  1. To change our learning spaces requires no money
  2. To change our learning spaces start with our inner selves

Start small and change something that is easy.

Try teaching from a different wall.

Get away from the “front” of your room.

Move the desks to face a different direction.

Play music when they walk in.

Once you do small things you can step up the challenge by removing your teacher desk, upgrading furniture, painting, etc.

What I want to learn from you is how do you design your learning space? How is your learning space branded where kids don’t feel like they are walking into another pastel prison like they have been doing their whole education career?

To close, I want to connect learning spaces and the secret about treating people like people. Let me make something very clear – the secret to education and helping students become learners has nothing to do with the curriculum you have, the technology provided, the schedule of your day, or the lack of (insert whatever). The secret is building a relationship with your students from day one. The secret is making sure they know you care. I am not talking about being their friend. They don’t want that. They need someone dependable. Someone who shoots it straight. Someone who will make them better because that is how they know you care. The secret is building a culture in your classroom where it is safe for them to be them and for you to be you. The secret lies in all the thing you cannot draw on that image I asked you to do in the beginning. It is the void, the white space, the places a pen or pencil cannot reach. It is right there in your heart, your mind, and your gut. If you can develop the relationships, make connections, laugh with them, hold them accountable, and make them feel like a person, then everything else will fall into place. If you don’t establish that, then everything else falls flat.

So often we spend time on all these teaching strategies, systemic changes, new textbook, new curriculum, new technology, blah, blah, blah. None of that matters if there is not a vision, a culture of learning, and a safe place to learn. It starts with you in your classroom. These are things rarely taught. Think about yourself. How do you want to be treated? How do you want to be viewed? Think back to your favorite teacher and ask why? Think back to your teacher you did not care for and ask why?

I LOVE technology, I love STEM, I love PBL, and I love Deeper Learning. I love being treated with respect and making people feel like they belong because if that is not established then these education acronyms stand for nothing.

As much as I love tech and makerspaces I realize that no tool or amount of money will result in a love of learning if schools don’t first address the culture. So often we jump to steps 2,3, and 4 and ignore step 1 which is taking time to build the culture so everything else will fall into place.


This is the 5th post in my Deeper Learning blog post series. Feel free to read previous posts here

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One thought on “Don’t Build a Makerspace Until You Create a Culture of Learning

  1. Aaron- I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this blog. Soooooo true. Educators need to spend more time building that culture than buying the latest “thing.”