We celebrate the arts every year at our school through an Arts Week that brings together speakers and activities through many of the fine and performing arts. We had some AMAZING speakers (photographers Aaron Huey, Andrea Bruce, and Cory Richards and Micmac filkmaker Jeff Barnaby) on our assemblies that sparked a ton of great conversation. In the Learning Commons, I try to get our students as active as possible in some sort of inquiry.
This year, we invited a local makerspace owned by a graduate, Derek Gaw of Makerlabs.ca. I know that it was inspiring for our students to hear a graduate’s career path through Stanford’s Computer Science program, seven years in Amazon’s web development and other programming gigs, through to wanting to get back to building physical things and his discovery of Techshop in SF. I think that any time that our students get to hear about folks following their creative passions and actually making a go of it, it’s gold.
What was even cooler was watching lights go on in kids heads as they were shown laser cutters, CNC routers, vinyl cutters, 3D printers and projection mapping techniques and some of them took the opportunity to get to try out their skills by working through and making their own basic designs. It’s always great when you see teenage boys getting excited and genuinely curious in their learning.
I spent much of the week, when I wasn’t geeking out and thinking of all the cool things that I could make, working through rationale for makerspaces in the school Learning Commons. I mean, my gut tells me that the two are a natural match, but what are the real justifications? Why not put these tools in the woodshop, an art studio or some other more traditional work space?
One argument for the inclusion of makerspaces in a school Learning Commons involves equitable access to learning tools. When we take tools and silo them off into specific spaces and attach them to specific courses, we limit our communities exposure to them. Derek is a prime example. Maybe he wouldn’t have taken advantage of them when he was a teenager, but the opportunity didn’t really present itself for Derek to get his hands on the kinds of tools that he works with on a daily basis now. To do so, he would have had to take woodshop or technical theatre to build sets. His elective time was taken up with other things and he couldn’t have devoted the kind of time that he needed to take a full course. For obvious reasons, our woodshop doesn’t have an open door policy for anyone to walk in and try out the band saw. So, those opportunities were closed.
A marriage between a makerspace and learning commons would potentially give those students who had an hour to play, that opportunity for that initial exposure. There would have to be some investment in tools and staffing, but this open access and spirit of exploration is what libraries and learning commons have always been about. This opportunity, like browsing through a serendipitous find on a library book shelf, can be the catalyst for much deeper and longer investigation that can lead to certain coursework, extra-curricular pursuits or even long-term career implications.
There is the also the potential for a library collection (physical books, curated libraries of websites, databases, community created and/or curated resources) to support the activities going on in the makerspace. Recognize that inspiration for making can come from DIY manuals, but also from literature, art books, maps, or just about anything that can spark creativity. The idea that someone can have all of these resources at their fingertips as they are in the process of making is very powerful.
Perhaps the strongest connection between library learning commons, especially in a K-12 school environment, is that of genuine inquiry. Making is inquiry and the library learning commons’ raison d’etre is inquiry. Traditionally, making in a library has revolved around the circle of reading and writing: reading to write and writing to understand. Tinkering in a makerspace is the same kind of inquiry through different modes of expression and different thought processes. One might read about something and then go try it out. One might experiment with a certain tool or idea for making something and then need to research more about different components, skills or concepts related to this experimentation.
In a school, we are charged with developing research and writing skills. In this day and age, research, thinking and presentation skills are becoming more than about simply reading and writing. As technology allows information to be more at one’s fingertips and tools for making are accessible to individuals, the skills to see a path of inquiry from start to the end of production is more and more possible. The music industry is an example of how making skills have come into the hands of the individual. No longer does one need to get the assistance of an industry that deals with management, production, marketing and distribution. An individual with interest and some degree of talent, can record their own music and distribute it on YouTube, SoundCloud or a multitude of platforms. A school learning commons with a media studio can create a community around that exploration and music making that can teach each other, be an audience for each other and an inspiration for each other. Making of all sorts can experience this same sense of community enrichment around equitable access to tools and information.
I’m still not 100% sure that this justification is enough, but I think that it is a strong argument for the inclusion of makerspaces in the school learning commons. I would love feedback and discussion around this. Arguments against are as valued and valuable as arguments for. Looking forward to making something of all this!