I raced downstairs with my Lego-made-flying-thing-with-guns. I reached the living room, held monstrosity high above my head, and yelled “Mom! Look what I made!” I was eight, and I had just brought something from my imagination to life in the real world.
I wanted more.
“Mom, is there a job where I could make stuff like this?”
“Well, you could become an engineer.”
And for the next few years of my life, that was the plan. It never came to fruition though. I made plenty of things with Legos over the next couple of years. I took calculus, trigonometry, and chemistry, but never really had the opportunity to take those disciplines and bring them off of paper into the real world.
Having the imagination to think of something without the resources to see it come alive has been a problem for kids for centuries. However, that problem is closer to being solved.
Meet the Makerspace.
What Is a Makerspace?
Makerspace.com, the people who literally wrote the book on Makerspaces, define a Makerspace as “community centers with tools. Makerspaces combine manufacturing equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling community members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals working alone.”
When I read that at first, my reaction was “What they mean is they have created a play pen for Steve Erkel.” However, the more I thought about it, the more I was captivated by the idea.
Imagine that a young boy comes up with the idea for a helicopter with a camera attached to it that could drop water balloons on his older sister who constantly won’t let him into her “secret club house” (this is a purely hypothetical situation and could not possibly represent my childhood). This hypothetical little boy could buy a helicopter, a Go-Pro, and some sort of crane mechanism from eBay with his Christmas money. However, the chances of him putting all of that material together to make a working prototype would be slim-to-none unless his dad was an engineer at Mixer Direct and his mom was a computer programmer at Forest Giant.
But what if he could hang out with an engineer? And what if a computer programmer could show him how to tie his camera and crane mechanism into a program that could be operated from his dad’s iPad. He could even weld the crane mechanism onto the helicopter if he just had someone to help with the welding.
That’s the idea behind a Makerspace: making the dream of a prototype into a reality.
Fun And Beneficial
So now all the kids are thinking, “Golly gee mister! That’s sounds swell!” All the adults are thinking, “Yeah, but what’s the point of doing this other than giving my kid another toy that makes me put him in time-out every time he uses it.”
Well, the good folks at Makerspace have an answer to that as well. The point is not to make cool toys. The point is not to come up with an idea to make money. The point is to come up with an idea. The point is to impact education by teaching students to be innovative, imaginative, and creative.
Being creative in our education system is what Sir Ken Robinson is talking about in the most watched TED talk of all time when he says “My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” Robinson’s argument is people aren’t creative because our education system makes kids fear mistakes and focuses only on the left side of their brain. He says that the way we teach right now, students “look upon their bodies as a form of transport for their heads.”
This is what is so brilliant about Makerspaces. First, they give room for students to fail. When a student messes up their physics final, it drops their GPA. When their GPA drops, they don’t get into the school they want. When they don't get into the school they want, they flake out. When a student fails in a Makerspace, they come back next month to try. Makerspaces aren’t high stakes atmospheres created to determine success and failure. They are places for students to play, and play is where “innovation and creativity will be found.”
Makerspaces also encourage students to work with their head and their hands. Students come up with the idea, but the idea is tangibly brought to life. Their body is no longer just the flesh-bag that holds their brain. Their bodies bring their ideas into physical fruition.
Makerspaces are meant to be the place where self-motivated, curious and creative students come to meet with mentors who have the knowledge and the tools to make engineering dreams come true. It’s the place where kids with ideas go from thinkers to “Makers” (it’s the name the people of Makerspace has given themselves and it sounds like something straight out of the Matrix).
The question I have for you is this: if Mixer Direct hosts a Makerspace, will you come? Let us know and perhaps sometime in the coming months we can put together that water balloon helicopter I’ve always dreamed about.