Palmer Hamilton
lakeland maker space

Making it Right

Oct. 4, 2021
How designing a tailored maker space can create a successful learning environment

The thought of adding a maker space or learning lab to a school building can be intimidating. Very often, school leaders know they should have one, but don’t know where to start.

Unfortunately, many schools provide space for a learning lab without understanding all the necessary steps involved in creating an effective learning environment. They hire a company to bring in maker space “stuff,” but they don’t understand the importance of proper planning, execution, training and support in building a successful maker space.

For a maker space to be an effective learning environment, a school needs to follow essential steps and make sure that nothing is missed in the process. By following these steps, facility planners and school administrators can feel confident that their maker spaces have been designed and built to fit their specific needs.

Step by step

The process for establishing a maker space starts with an in-depth conversation with a maker space designer about the goals a school envisions for the space. Frequently, school planners have not articulated their goals beyond the fact that they believe they need to have a lab. Through this initial counseling with a designer, schools learn what elements, device inclusions, timeline and complete classroom would be ideal for them.

Very often, a school’s geographical location affects the design of its maker space. For example, in rural areas of the United States, there is often a greater need to include agricultural learning tools because that is the demand in that area.

In parts of the Midwest, there is heavy influence from manufacturing companies, so computerized numerically controlled (CNC) machines and industrial training are needed. A maker space designer is likely to be aware of these factors when recommending what to include in a space.

Once the goals is for a maker space are established, a designer can provide a detailed plan, as well as an estimated cost of the project. If written properly, this document can be used to pursue grant proposals and deliver board presentations, a necessary inclusion during the funding process.

Without a detailed plan in place, school administrators are left to create one on their own and, because they are unlikely to have expertise in maker space design, their proposals are often lacking key elements and diminish the chances of funding and approval.

Another critical step in maker space creation is having the chosen designer collaborate with a school system's internal departments. For example, coordination with a school’s information technology department will be needed to properly integrate the lab into a school facility.

A maker space requires proper hardware and sufficient mechanical and electrical capacity to become fully integrated. If this step is missed, a school may have to carry out expensive retrofitting after its learning lab is installed. Post-installation modifications can be very expensive and may involve more downtime for parts of a campus.

Likewise, having the designer coordinate with a school system’s facilities manager is necessary to ensure that a school building is accommodated by temporarily shifting room functions while adding new areas or converting existing areas to create a maker space.

Followup training

Once a maker space is installed, it is imperative that school staff receives orientation and training on using it effectively. A new maker space may appear to be an exciting enhancement to a school, it won’t work right if the staff doesn’t understand how to use it. Selecting a designer that also provides training makes it more likely that a maker space will result in student successes.

A maker space designer also should offer continued support and training to mitigate the issues and concerns that often arise with creation of a new learning lab. Even though staff members have received initial training, it is still a new environment. Having continuing support will help convince students, teachers and administrators that the investment in a maker space is worthwhile.

Adding a maker space to a school doesn’t have to rely on guessing what needs to be done to create a successful space. By following these steps, a school’s new learning lab can function optimally and continue to deliver educational outcomes.

Richard Hein ([email protected]) is director of marketing for Palmer Hamilton, a design and furnishing solutions company providing turnkey spaces for K-12, higher education, commercial markets, libraries and maker spaces. It is the parent company of PHabLAB, which delivers tailored learning labs and maker spaces along with staff training and support after installation.

Sidebar: Hands-on Learning

The maker space at Badger High School in Lake Geneva, Wis., provides a hands-on learning environment for students.

Among the components students can get their hands on: 3D printers, laser engravers, desktop CNCs, a collaborative whiteboard and drawing software.

"Students can benefit from this greatly through developing innovative and entrepreneurial skills, collaboration, problem solving, and other 21st-century skills," says principal Russ Tronsen.

The principal says the school has seen increased numbers of students accessing the Library Media Center with specific goals of using the maker space.

"We have students who are excited to be trained and then share their expertise with their peers," Tronsen says.

Several miles northwest of Lake Geneva, the Lakeland School in Elkhorn has installed a maker space for the special education students from Walworth County school districts who attend classes there.

Students in grades six through 12 as well as those in the  "Life Skills You" transition program for student older than 18 can participate in STEAMS (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics, and Sensory) class.

The lab is outfitted with 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, a green screen, vinyl cutter, heat press, coding robots, and other hands-on building tools.

The goal of the lab is to help students develop digital literacy skills and prepare them for life and careers after they leave Lakeland.

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