design makerspaces

How to Design Your Own MakerSpaces

What are MakerSpaces? Makers build, fix, and create. They are students, teachers, tinkerers, cooks, technology buffs, architects, crafters, performers, hobbyists, builders, artists, engineers, scientists, and writers. They use the MakerSpace to solve real life problems with access to tools and materials. A MakerSpace is not confined to a school setting but can also be a community space like a public library where community members off all ages, means, and abilities can design, prototype, and create original works. On March 18th and 19th, we celebrated New Jersey Makers Day, and I had the opportunity to visit a number of different Maker events in various communities. These are some themes and big ideas that I noticed in my travels. Perhaps these big ideas will inspire you to create your own MakerSpace makeover in your own classroom, school, or local community.

Stakeholders from Office Depot, Toms River BOE Members, and School Superintendent Dave Healy cut the ribbon to invite the press into their new “innovation station” MakerSpace

Big Idea #1 – MakerSpaces that Mix 21st and 20th Century Tools

On the first day of March Maker Madness, I witnessed the makeover of a traditional industrial shop class into a 21st Century MakerSpace. The students were still sitting at the big shop tables when I saw them on an eight-way Google Hangout, but they were not sawing wood or soldering electrical connectors. These high school students had taken a Makey Makey kit and used it to create their own version of the board game Operation so that they were demonstrating an understanding of circuitry by using 21st Century learning materials. On the second day of March Maker Madness, I traveled to a ribbon cutting ceremony at a middle school near my home which was announcing the debut of their new innovation station – a mixture of the tools you would expect to see in your old shop class with new gear and gadgets like 3 Printers and musical circuits.

The theme of giving a 21st Century MakerSpace makeovers to a traditional “shop” classroom is illustrated in these two photographs. The Toms River School District was fortunate enough to get funding from Office Depot to help them redesign their traditional industrial classroom. You can see that traditional pieces of equipment like the drill press are still available for student use. However, they are also complemented by STEM projects like these Lego ones shown in the same workspace which embrace curriculum themes like planning, teamwork, and designing.

Big Idea #2 – Keep Many Hands Busy With Maker/Building Challenges

At my own school, the A. Harry Moore School of New Jersey City University, we celebrated Maker Day with a building contest. Ms. Holzman, our building level STEM expert, brought a Straw and Connectors kit with 705 building pieces. We brought the classes into the auditorium 4 or 5 at a time. The classes were given the following design task: they were each given 15 minutes to build a really tall tower. Each team was given the same number of straws and connectors. When the building time was up the classes were judged on two things. First, the towers were measured and we gave a prize to the tallest tower. Also we gave a prize for the most creative tower design in each session. Every child in the school was also awarded a Certificate of Achievement for their participation in the Straw Tower Maker Day Event.

Big Idea #3: Invasion and “Makeover” of the Local Library

Another stop I made on my March Maker Madness Tour was a visit to the opening of a Maker space that was set up in the back room of a nearby local library in Ocean Township, New Jersey. The goal of this event was to promote the role of the library in supporting Maker spaces and the Maker culture. Makerspaces are connected to the core values of the American Library Association such as providing access to information and promoting lifelong learning and social responsibility. During my visit to the local library, I got to support some amazing activities.

When I arrived at the library, the children were using light emitting diodes to create a series of projects. Another great activity at the library was that the children were told that we had to prepare for the zombie apocalypse: this was fun because it allowed children to use their imagination and apply it to the construction of a hands on task. Next they were given an authentic construction task and the tools to complete it. They were given a variety of tools and materials like rolls of cardboards, popsicle sticks, and masking tape. They were challenged to make towns that would be a safe haven from the zombies. See below to view all of the safe havens that these children created during their Maker Day afternoon at their local library.

Big Idea #4 Make It STEAMY

Another big trend that I noticed in my March Maker travels was the not just the STEM principles of science, math, engineering and technology into the MakerSpaces and adventures, but the important inclusion of music and art into the project-based challenges. When I visited Innovation Station, the newly reformed MakerSpace in Toms River, NJ, I was really impressed with the collection of instruments that the students had made as art projects. Student-designed conga drums and a saxophone were hooked up to Chromebooks in the MakerSpace thanks to the Makey Makey program. It was apparent that students in this class had the artistic skills to build instruments as well as the engineering skills to understand circuitry because when I put my finger on the saxophone/circuit, music was made. Also, later on in the day I witnessed an eight year old and his mom teach themselves how to play Mary Had a Little Lamb with a Makey Makey kit, Chromebook, banana, orange, apple, and an extra serving of innovative spirit.

MakerSpace music can be made when art, science, and engineering are integrated elegantly in challenges that are steeped in real life context.


I enjoyed my journey through all of the different MakerSpaces that I experienced during March Maker Madness. Hopefully, these big ideas will inspire others to find a MakerSpace to makeover in their own hometown.


Come join us this summer to learn more about Maker Spaces!

Featured image via Flickr

Written by Courtney Pepe

Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction North Jersey, ADE, Doctoral Candidate, blogger, coder, surfer, life-long learner

Leave a Reply Cancel reply