Make Room for Makerspaces

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Make Room for Makerspaces

By Leigh Ross, Program Associate for the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust

Makerspaces are community-oriented workspaces where people gather to tinker, take things apart, and engage in creative projects— and they’re cropping up in schools, museums, libraries, and other educational settings. Across the country, they’re getting kids excited about learning. Parents, teachers, and even President Obama are taking note.

So are funders. Recently, The New York Community Trust’s Hive Digital Media Learning Fund, NYC Youth Funders and Philanthropy New York presented the briefing “Making Space for Tinkering, Design-Thinking and Technology in Education,” which focused on makerspaces and their implications for youth-focused philanthropy, featuring a conversation with a researcher, a corporate funder, and a maker.

Here are some of key ideas that came out of the program:

Makerspaces are putting a new twist on a classic pastime  

The proliferation of makerspaces echoes the Do It Yourself, or “DIY” trend that took root in the U.S. after World War II. But while 1950s DIY was a solo pursuit focused on home repair, today’s “makers” are more collaborative. In addition to traditional tools like sewing machines and soldering irons, they use sophisticated technology like laser cutters, three-dimensional printers, and pocket-sized computers like the Raspberry Pi.

Makerspaces are teaching students to think creatively and critically

In a world where “education” often means “rote memorization” and “high-stakes testing,” makerspaces are a breath of fresh air, challenging kids to think beyond “this is how other people do this” and ask “how do I want to do this? And if my approach fails, what will I try next?” This kind of critical-inquiry and self-directed problem-solving builds social-emotional skills like persistence, adaptability, and self-efficacy. What’s more, maker programs help participants see themselves as designers and inventors—not just consumers—of new products and technologies.

Makerspaces are shaking up STEM education

Policymakers and industry leaders have sounded alarms: To maintain economic competitiveness and growth, the country must invest in higher-quality STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Schools are having trouble keeping pace with employers’ needs; and while computer science classes are important, STEM (or better yet, STEAM) is about more than just coding. It’s time to set aside the hyper-specialized learning that characterizes many standard-issue STEM programs, and teach young people how to ask big questions; take creative risks; and understand, evaluate, and synthesize ideas and content from a wide range of disciplines.

Maker programs do this, and do it well—as demonstrated by the New York Hall of Science, which recently welcomed 95,000 visitors to its annual World Maker Faire, and other members of the Hive NYC Learning Network.

I encourage funders to support the rapidly-growing maker movement, and to carefully consider the lessons that “making” has to offer youth development and education grantmaking.    


Leigh Ross is a Program Associate for the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust, a collaborative of funders that support digital media learning for adolescents, and make grants to the museums, libraries, and youth-serving nonprofits that comprise the Hive NYC Learning Network. The next program of Hive Digital Media Learning Fund is taking place at Philanthropy New York on January 7, 2016.  REGISTER NOW


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