Creating a Makerspace on a Budget
The ultimate goal of any good teacher is not just to teach his or her content, but to mold young men and women who will be productive, contributing members of society who can solve problems and, hopefully, make the world a better place. It’s not always important that a student can, in isolation, recite the Pythagorean Theorem or a list of prepositions. Instead, it’s important to use the tools and the knowledge learned in the classroom to positively impact the world around us.
And that’s where Makerspaces come in! A Makerspace is a way to bring rote learning to life, to teach students to become lifelong learners, and to encourage problem-solving skills.
What is a Makerspace?
Makerspaces are “community centers with tools.” It is a physical location – in a school or, in a broader sense, in a community – where people gather to brainstorm, solve problems, and create art and technology. A good makerspace will have an expert (or teacher) available as a guide, monitor, and coach, but most of the time users (students) will get guidance, inspiration, and advice from their co-users.
Makerspaces are special because they are designed to promote self-directed learning and independence. In the classroom, makerspaces are used when a teacher presents a problem, challenge, or question, and the students hypothesize, experiment, create, and design to solve said problem. Students learn by creating, doing, and teaching along side their classmates.
These special areas, in an educational setting, are often equipped with computers and tablets, 3D and traditional printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies, and tools. These are all useful and sometimes essential tools to teach students how to problem-solve in simulated real-world scenarios. However, these items are also extremely expensive, especially for a school that is trying to start their makerspace.
So how can schools create makerspaces without breaking the budget?
Makerspaces on a Tight Budget
Even though it’s nice to dream of a makerspace with fancy gadgets and expensive technology, the truth is that you truly can start a makerspace, even with a small or nonexistent budget. By following these five tips, you can start a Makerspace on literally any budget!
- Spread the word
Tap into the community. Chances are, parents will be excited about innovation and hands-on experiences for their children, and they may have untapped resources they’d be willing to share with you. Maybe they’ll buy some of the things you want, or maybe they’ll suggest an alternative item that they would be willing to donate to your Makerspace. Or maybe they already have a lot of what you need and would be willing to loan or give it to your school or organization. Whatever the case, community support will go a long way in helping you procure the materials you need.
- Look for – and ask for – donations
Legos, craft supplies, leftover construction materials, old and refurbished technology – there is so much out there that might be yours if you just ask the right people or advertise in the right spots. Keep your mind open to items you hadn’t considered. While you might not necessarily get a class set of iPads or tablets, you might find that someone has something else that could be just as beneficial to your students’ developing imaginations and your burgeoning Makerspace.
- Utilize existing supplies and materials
Scavenge your school and the classrooms of your fellow teachers. Maybe the physics teachers have unused building sets, maybe the art teacher has supplies that they are willing to part with. Start small and gradually build up your reserves.
- Take advantage of crowdfunding or teacher support sites
GoFundMe and Kickstarter are two popular crowdfunding sites, but for teachers there is truly no greater financial resource then DonorsChoose.org. At Donors Choose, teachers put up proposals and ideas for classroom supplies and activities, and benefactors choose the projects they wish to find, in part or in full. If you’re hoping to start a Makerspace, create a DonorsChoose project, and you may be pleasantly surprised by the funds you receive!
Scavenge the items in your school that are going to be thrown away! Cardboard boxes are treasures for a Makerspace, and other items that may be perceived as garbage can be disassembled or repurposed by creative young imaginations.
Makerspaces are all about student exploration and creativity. And while it might be nice to have fancy technology and expensive accessories, what it comes down to is nurturing student independence and fostering problem-solving skills. Don’t let a lack of funds prevent you or your school from investing in strategies that will benefit your students. It might be tough to find a way to achieve your goals of creating a Makerspace in your school or district, but it will be worth it in the end.