Why Maker Matters

From libraries to classrooms, maker spaces are revolutionizing K-12 education

In an effort to move away from rote learning and toward student-led, hands-on education, schools are turning to these next-gen learning spaces as a way to produce better outcomes.

Research shows a clear connection between the goals of makerspaces and better results across disciplines, including science, technology, arts and math. Far from a fleeting trend, makerspaces spark the innate curiosity of students and encourage experimentation and teamwork, preparing them for a future in the workforce.

“Providing environments that are fun, curious and engaging and offering choice for those students allows them to identify as STEM learners,” says education researcher and strategist Dr. Julie Zoellin Cramer, a consultant with LPA.

The challenge is to design makerspaces that work, spaces that function as a tool for educators to produce better students. We now have a better idea of what works—and what doesn’t. LPA’s studies of completed spaces provide a road map of the type of design choices that can make a big difference. At this point in the evolution of makerspaces, research can drive the discussion more than hypotheses.

The studies show connectivity is essential—not simply between students and teachers, but connections to tools, technology and the outdoors. A successful makerspace is a place to find ideas and creativity, where collaboration is encouraged and nurtured. And we know that makerspaces can help develop students to handle real-world problems.

“These creative environments allow students to express ideas, challenge each other and collaborate to find the best solution possible,” says Associate Principal Kate Mraw, a leader in K-12 school design at LPA. “With this style of education, students develop skills like collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication.”

In this report we look at three new makerspaces that illustrate the different ways design can produce better results. San Diego’s Monarch School is a leader in the makerspace movement, providing access to technologies for students impacted by homelessness. In Irvine, California, Tarbut V’Torah blends the arts into engineering and science. And in Tyler, Texas, the new Cumberland Academy makerspaces use transparency and connectivity to contribute to the school’s culture of collaboration.

Each school has special characteristics—and special challenges—which helped inform the guidelines and goals of the final designs.

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Monarch School, The Launch Pointe
San Diego, California

The Launch Pointe at Monarch School features a specialized lab space to support hands-on tinkering and digital learning. Students circulate through zones inspired by design thinking as they work through the creative process. Each zone has a different name and purpose, targeting a diverse K-12 student body.

“Mission Control” is a college and career exploration center, where students find internship, employment and higher education opportunities. The space includes areas for private interviews with local industry partners. In the “Control Panel” zone, students focus on project goals. Four control panels allow students to connect devices to screens and solve problems. A writeable wall encourages students to share project ideas and work together as a group.

Another zone gives students the opportunity to work with power tools and design furniture; other areas are designed to promote collaboration and brainstorming. The focus is on developing real-world skills. The “Platform” zone allows students to work on presentations in a formal atmosphere, with a stage, projection wall and theater lighting.

All the spaces are designed for flexibility and efficiency, allowing students and teachers to create the environment that works for the immediate project. Built-in work tables, mobile carts, flexible furniture and tables with varying heights allow students to develop their designs and take ownership of their spaces. “The Pod” zone can be easily rearranged to house the entire high school for celebrations and announcements.

“While the space was always meant to be adaptable, students have really made it their own,” says Rene Barker, Monarch School’s Operations Manager. “At any one time you may see two, three or more activities happening simultaneously.”

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Tarbut V’Torah, Upper School
Irvine, California

At Tarbut V’Torah (TVT) the curriculum integrates visual and performing arts with science, engineering and digital media education. The school serves K-12, focusing on college prep rooted in Jewish values.

The school is broken up by grade levels, with makerspaces customized to fit the academic needs of each group. Tinker spaces, which primarily promote creativity, are targeted for elementary students. At higher levels of education, students focus on solving STEM-related, real-world problems. Each space is designed to promote education in environmentalism and sustainability, as well as the core subjects.

“The driver of the design was keeping a child’s perspective in mind,” explains Associate Ozzie Tapia, project designer at LPA. “We envisioned a building that would spark curiosity and be used in creative ways, maximizing access to the supplies and tools available to ‘make’.”

To help create flexible areas, TVT features column-free spaces with polished concrete floors, moveable walls and and accessible, overhead electrical systems. The design allows the school to change and adapt to technology and new teaching methods.

TVT’s makerspaces also feature separate areas with very specific purposes. Clad in warm wood materials, the Huddle is a zone designed for small group discussion and presentations. A large lab, workshop and studio surround the central shared space. There is an emphasis on connecting students to nature, with outdoor gathering spaces and flexible learning environments, giving students the opportunity to participate in hands-on, project-based learning indoors and out.

Cumberland Academy High School
Tyler, Texas

Flexibility, access, collaboration and engagement (FACE) are the driving themes that inform the design decisions at Cumberland Academy. The school’s recent expansion integrates dynamic science and maker labs with a variety of classroom types to support active learning. By co-locating the interactive labs with classrooms, the school’s goal was to merge disciplines and establish the roots for a lifelong learning experience.

In the 3,600-square-foot makerspace, transparency is key, and boundaries are dissolved. Students flow through a workshop zone, anchored by a large stool-height table and readily available digital technology. Art labs are on either side of the workshop area, separated by glass, roll-up garage-style doors.

This story originally appeared in Catalyst, a quarterly publication that takes a deep dive into the new ideas, industry leaders and cutting-edge initiatives changing lives by design.