Models of Makerspaces

So, What's a Makerspace?

I find myself answering this question a lot and it’s not as easy as it seems. While a makerspace is a physical space, it’s also a mindset. There are community makerspaces and there are educational makerspaces. There are makerspaces that focus on specific topics (i.e. woodworking, electronics, etc.) and there are others that have a little bit of everything. No pun intended, but a makerspace is what you make it.

Here is my super unofficial definition of a makerspace.

a makerspace is a place with the tools, support, and resources to answer unlimited "what if" questions independently or collaboratively.

-Heather Lister, @HeatherMlister

Everyone has their own definition of a makerspace, but there are some common features. (there’s a lot more that goes into a makerspace than these few things, but we’ll talk about those later)

IT HAS STUFF. This doesn’t necessarily mean high-tech, expensive tools. You can have an incredible makerspace with stuff you find in a recycling can. 

THE SPACE ENCOURAGES COLLABORATION. Sometimes a project requires a student to work independently – that’s totally fine. But sometimes they can lean on their peers for assistance with certain technologies or tools.

SUPPORT. Makerspaces have a facilitator of some sort to either explicitly teach or support students. They are also there for safety.

IT’S ACCESSIBLE. What good is a room that is under lock and key and is only unlocked for a handful of students as a reward?

Source: Autodesk's Making Starts Here: Maker Program Starter Kit

Other resources for defining makerspaces

But it's not new...

though the term “makerspace” has steadily gained popularity over the last decade, the core principles are not new. In the 6th Century BC, Confucius claimed, “I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.” In 1973, Jean Piaget published “To Understand is to Invent: The Future of Education”. As the title implies, Piaget argued that a hands-on approach to learning will lead to deeper levels of understanding and information retention. John Dewey, Howard Gardner, Reggio Emilia, and Seymore Papert have all championed the learning theories we now refer to as “maker education”. While there are key differences in each of their learning theories, the underlying themes of complex problem-solving, tinkering, and intuition and student interests, are common among them all.

Despite decades passing, we still find ourselves championing Piaget’s theories from the 1970s because they have yet to be universally embraced in education. As we get closer to what the World Economic Forum is calling the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, students will be required to have the skills necessary to navigate a society with advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomous transportation, and machine learning. 

While educators and students may recognize the power and impact of learning through making, unfortunately, the standardized systems that are in place make it difficult to fully embrace these learning theories. Educators are tied to a rigorous curriculum, packed pacing guides, and high-stakes testing. Yet, with these demands increasing, funding streams are decreasing.

Teachers that want to embrace the maker mindset are finding themselves making purchases out of their own pockets or taking hours to carefully craft grant proposals that only provide them a chance of being awarded. However, many obstacles, teachers are being increasingly creative in the ways they attempt to provide their students with the opportunities to invent, tinker, create and explore through making.

Maker education is sometimes referred to as the “maker movement”. Not only is it a movement, but a grassroots movement because it is starting in the classrooms with the teachers and students leading the charge. Instead of a typical top-down approach, teachers are cultivating this change from the ground up. This “movement” is an attack on the traditional, factory-like education system and the standardized methods of measuring student success.

Image Source: Heather Lister
Image Source: Joan Ganz Cooney Center


John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Maria Montessori, Lev Vygotsky and others were champions of constructivism learning theory.

Key Aspects:

Teaching is indirect and simple transmission of information doesn’t work.

Emphasizes learning through real and authentic problems.

Context, background knowledge, and relationships are key factors in students’ acquisition of new knowledge.


Seymour Papert of Massachusetts Institute of Technologies developed a theory of learning based upon Piaget’s constructivism.

Key Aspects:

Problem based: students gain meaning of a topic or subject by attempting to solve an authentic problem.

Sharing in collaborative environments.

Students use various tools (anything from computers to sandcastles) to “construct” or “make” learning.

Why Maker Education?

The above is from the 2018 Future of Jobs Report. Think of the implications for education? And we’re only 3 years away from 2022. 

““Doing” is what matters. Makers learn to make stuff by making stuff. Schools often forget this as they endlessly prepare students for something that is going to happen to them next week, next year or in some future career. Students can and should be scientists, artists, engineers and writers today. The affordable and accessible technology of the Maker Movement makes learning by doing a realistic approach for schools.”

– from “Why the Maker Movement Matters to Educators” by Gary Stager, PhD and Sylvia Martinez

Here are some more great makerspace reads

Okay great, but How?

Open-Making Model

Open, accessible place stocked with resources and materials for a variety of making goals

Dedicated, permanent space in your classroom or school

Completely student directed

Creations can relate to content or be for pleasure

Project-Based Making

Students learn “making” skills by completing teacher-directed projects or challenges

Students are to create a specific product using specific tools.

Students are to address a teacher-directed challenge or problem

Maker instruction is scaffolded to accomplish goal

Curriculum Embedded Making

The primary focus is content knowledge and making is used to express understanding

Making is used as a vehicle for students and teachers to express complex subjects

Highlight the interconnectedness of stem and interdisciplinary uses of making skills

Read more about Multiple models in this presentation

This has lots of resources for all three models

Need more help?

Construct Learning, LLC is a consultancy and professional development provided founded by Heather Lister in 2018. Construct Learning works with school systems and manufacturers around the globe to further maker education and STEAM efforts in schools. Whether you need a 30 minute webinar or a 2-year long term partnership, Construct Learning works with seasoned practitioners to ensure you receive the quality support you need.