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Organising chaos works for Makerspaces

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A Makerspace is meant to have an element of chaos, that's kind of the point, but if real results are to be achieved providing a bit of structure, instruction and direction makes for happier teachers and more engaged kids.

There isn’t a great deal of research on optimising teaching in a Makerspace yet but some of the first has looked into the introduction of Makers Empire’s 3D printing program.

Makers Empire offers a structured approach to teaching 3D printing, providing gamified software, lesson plans, teacher training and ongoing mentoring if needed.

The Australian start up is doing well, from its Adelaide base the company has won over schools in the US, the middle east and here. They’ve put a lot of thought and resources into their offering and independent research produced by the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie University says results are very positive.

A pedagogical structure that balances instruction with open ended inquiry looked to provide the most benefit, part of that is teachers providing an authentic problem for the class to solve which lends focus and direction to the Makerspace activity. The best learning took place when online designs were reified to offline designs and back again.

“When we first started, we trialled our program in schools. This was a few years ago and before ‘STEM’ was an understood acronym. We saw great engagement from students and teachers and wanted to know more. We tested it in a bunch of schools and began talking to people in the South Australian Department for Education who really helped us understand the pedagogy and put together a pilot in around 20 primary schools,” CEO Jon Soong says.

“We are in schools every week – both the learning and technical teams – to understand and see how students and teachers use our program.“

“Makers Empire co-founder, Roland Peddie, was a BAFTA award-winning games designer who noticed the creativity and problem solving skills players showed when customising their avatars. He created an early version of Makers Empire and showed his 4-year-old daughter, who loved it. After he showed it to me, we organised a trial of primary school students and their response – and their teacher's response – encouraged us to develop Makers Empire as a tool for classroom teachers,” Soong says.

Some stats: researchers observed 31 lessons taught by 24 teachers and saw high levels of creativity (71% of lessons), design thinking (64%) and critical thinking (58%). High levels of student engagement were observed in 100% of lessons.

That was backed up with teachers feeling a significant improvement in their confidence teaching in makerspaces after the Makers Empire professional development program:  questionnaires revealed increases in their confidence to teach in makerspaces from a mean of 3.04/6 (approximately ‘neutral’) to 4.4/6 (between ‘mildly agree’ and ‘agree’). This rose to 5.00/6 (close to ‘agree’) after actual implementation of the 3D technology in schools, which makes sense – we become more confident in our abilities after we have actually put theories into practise.

“Teachers are usually really excited about bringing 3D technology to their students and can see great potential in its use,” says Mandi Dimitriadis, Director of Learning.

“We do see a pattern of teachers being quite overwhelmed by the new technology and lacking in confidence in their own abilities to both use the technology themselves and to use it in their teaching. There are, of course, many teachers who are already confident and competent at embedding technology into their teaching,” she adds.

And facilities alone do not a Makerspace create, Dimitriadis says.

“One thing we have definitely learned is that the quality of a makerspace is determined by the learning that happens in it, rather than how big and expensive it looks,” she says.

“A great makerspace is one where students are engaged in intentional making projects. They are using design thinking processes and developing skills to use a range of materials and techniques to design authentic solutions to problems and contexts that really matter to them.”

Dimitriadis has some good advice for any school looking to set up a makerspace.

“I would suggest that all of the teachers who will be using the space sit down together and talk about what they want the space to achieve before they start spending money. For example: will it be a room that classes visit once a week with a specialist teacher, or will be a flexible space that can be accessed on a needs basis? If new furniture is to be purchased, I would look at options that allow for flexible arrangement so that students can work in groups of different sizes and use equipment safely and effectively,” she says.


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