Makerspace Ideas for Middle School and Beyond

Kai Frazier
September 21, 2022

In the 21st century, student skill development is no longer just achieved through books, lectures, and classroom learning. In the digital age, successful students require more hands-on learning experiences. This format of learning develops innovation, creativity, and problem-solving skills required to thrive in the world around us. Makerspaces are one of the ways that educators can provide this style of learning, which leaves many on the hunt for makerspace ideas for middle school, high school, and elementary school students. 

Creativity is at the heart of modern professions such as engineering, architecture, art and design, music, product development, and science. The most creative people often understand their work as a process of problem-solving. To accomplish this task, they need to be able to develop new ideas even in the presence of obstacles.

There are two growing trends that educators are embracing to achieve this level of skills development:

  1. Creating engaging, immersive lessons with VR, AR, and XR
  2. Using makerspaces to inspire collaboration and innovation

Makerspaces and VR learning platforms, like Kai XR, have been popping up around the country. That’s because educators realize the powerful role of hands-on learning. In fact, we believe it's the future of education. Some specialists report that the top five benefits of makerspaces for student learning include: 

  1. Developing creativity skills
  2. Developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills 
  3. Applying knowledge to practical problems 
  4. Collaborating with other students more
  5. Gaining confidence in their abilities 

These are only a few of the many benefits of makerspaces! 

Our platform was built by educators to bridge the gap between curriculum and the technology needed to develop 21st-century skills. We bring the future of education to the present-day classroom with immersive VR and AR educational experiences. Our mission is to bridge the gap between technology and access while empowering students to build the future they want to see— a future with all of the 21st-century skills they need to succeed. Part of that process is keeping up with the latest instructional technologies, including makerspaces. 

This article will discuss the definition, history, and benefits of makerspaces in education. We'll also touch on some simple ideas to make a makerspace part of your classroom plans using tools like our new platform, Kai XR Create! 

Let's get into it!

Child stands in front of chalkboard holding a block creation, smiling, and giving a thumbs up.
Image Source: Pexels

What is a Makerspace? 

So you may be asking, what is a makerspace? 

The Handbook of Research on Transformative Digital Content and Learning Technologies defines a makerspace as "a place where individuals can create new digital and/or physical things and develop skills in a collaborative environment that encourages discovery and problem-based learning." 

A makerspace is the perfect environment to get messy, design, and create something together! Essentially, it's a place where people can come together to work on projects using various kinds of tools to solve a common problem. 

Some makerspaces are found in the headquarters of big technology or engineering companies to help employees solve a problem and create innovative products. In fact, Google employees spend 20% of their time "tinkering" – leading to some of the company's most significant innovations. Other makerspaces may be found in your local library or classroom, where kids can engage in solving basic problems and exploring STEM topics. 

What had initially been an untethered space for making, has been transformed into a more formalized educational concept. More and more educators recognize that making things inspires confidence and teaches STEM skills that are crucial to success in science, technology, engineering, math, and more.

It's clear: the potential for makerspaces is high. For Kai XR, the makerspace exists virtually. But before we get into that, let's talk about the evolution of the makerspace. How did it become the educational phenomenon that it is today? 

Evolution of the Makerspace Idea

The notion of people coming together to create in a shared space isn't new. Research found the existence of makerspaces date back to the late 1800s, when libraries offered crafts and club activities. So how did we go from arts and crafts in libraries to fully immersive, virtual makerspaces? First, let's look at a quick timeline. A closer look at the history of makerspaces can illustrate the challenges and opportunities of building communities and businesses around the shared ethos of making. 

  • 1870s - Arts and craft corners at libraries begin to become popular.
  • 1876 - Thomas Edison establishes a research lab – the "invention factory" in New Jersey.
  • 1900 to 1940 - 350 research labs are founded in the United States, resulting in inventions like broadcast media and electric refrigeration.
  • 1948 - The Numerical Control system is invented, later leading to Computer Numerical Control (CNC) – a significant subsector of making. 
  • 1960s - UNIX operating system allows U.S. military personnel to connect and collaborate remotely.
  • 1980s - Chaos Computer Club (CCC) gathers and focuses on maker topics in computer and technology, known as a Hackerspace.
  • 2002 - MIT opens the FabLab, a space that democratizes tools for students interested in making, learning, and sharing with less supervision.
  • 2005 - The "Maker Movement" is born with Dale Dougherty's Make magazine founding.
  • 2006 - The first Maker Faire is held in California, sparking a surge of maker spaces, events, and research. 
  • 2009 - Obama's Educate to Innovate Campaign promotes the value of making activities in education.
  • 2010 - Libraries bring back the makerspace with modern technology, including 3D printers and other advanced technology tools.
  • 2014 - Private companies and government entities assembled at the White House to discuss maker activities among communities.
  • 2018 - Project Tomorrow reports that parents, district administrators, and community members see makerspaces as valuable for college and career readiness. 

As you can see, technology has continued to correspond with the advancements in makerspaces in the United States. As a result, what was once reserved for inventors and scientists is now more accessible to individuals of all ages and economic backgrounds. 

Students making art projects in a classroom makerspace.
Image Source: Pexels

Makerspace Ideas in the Classroom

In Invent to Learn, authors Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager write: 

"Maker classrooms are active classrooms. In active classrooms, one will find engaged students, often working on multiple projects simultaneously, and teachers are unafraid of relinquishing their authoritarian role. The best way to activate your classroom is for your classroom to make something." 

Makerspaces supply the tools, materials, knowledge, and sometimes space for creativity and invention in many forms. They have been growing in popularity due to their ability to positively impact student engagement, 21st-century learning skills, student relationships, and project-based learning activities during these formative years. 

One of the latest trends in education involves the integration of makerspaces within the curriculum. These spaces are designed to stimulate interest in science and technology while fostering a curiosity for related studies related to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art & mathematics).

The National Inventors Hall of Fame outlines some of the significant benefits of makerspaces in education: 

  1. Provides students with the opportunity to innovate
  2. Creates real-world applications for abstract classroom concepts 
  3. Teaches students how to take failure in stride
  4. Exposes students to new opportunities they wouldn't get in a classroom 
  5. Develops critical thinking and problem-solving
  6. Builds a range of 21st-century learning skills 

Makerspaces also allow students who are not always successful in traditional classroom settings to thrive. By getting them out of their seats and head-first into a problem, otherwise quiet or disengaged students may come out of their shells.

Makerspaces are popular in education at many levels - elementary, middle, and high schools. There are many benefits to be enjoyed from the collaboration that comes with these spaces. If you don't have access to a makerspace or would like some ideas on starting one in your school - we have a few for you! 

Setting Up Your Makerspace

Setting up makerspaces, using them effectively, and ensuring that they combine fun with lessons can be a challenge, but it's worth the effort! Now that you fully understand makerspaces and their benefits, it's time to incorporate a makerspace into your classroom!

Your makerspace can be both physical and digital, as long as you have the space and the right technologies. The most crucial part is that it's set up with intention. Do you want to nurture organic discovery through freeform tinkering? Or do you want students to utilize the space for specific projects or lessons?

The most critical part of setting up your makerspace is making sure the makerspace is connected to your curriculum. You can do this by setting your makerspace up for lots of materials. More ways to create means more ways to connect creations to curriculum. You can also incorporate an intentional lesson design with time for creating, testing, and revising. In this way, it becomes an extension of the learning process. 

Finally, it's important to make sure your projects and lessons properly align with student development. For example, tasks can be more complex for high school students, but for children in kindergarten through fifth grade, you may need to simplify the concepts. 

Keep reading for some great makerspace ideas! 

Project Ideas for Elementary School

Elementary school is not too early to start a makerspace. In fact, elementary is one of the best times to start making. Of course, making has been a popular pastime for kids through generations, so the maker movement hasn't really changed a thing. 

It's important to keep things simple in the elementary school makerspace. Lessons should cover one concept at a time and should be taught with simple, easy-to-use tools, like cardboard, string, or LEGOs. 

Project Ideas for Middle School

So, what should be in a makerspace for middle school students? The same essential tools will still help, but you may want to consider more intermediate lessons and projects for your middle schoolers. 

You can try using tools that require more fine motor skills, like LEGOs or magna-tiles.

Projects Ideas for High School 

Want to ensure that your high school students graduate with the 21st-century skills they'll need in college and the workforce? Look no further than the makerspace. A high school makerspace can help students lean into the scientific method, learn complex computer skills like coding, and more. 

The possibilities are endless. From 3D printing to woodworking to sewing, older students can make amazing projects with physical (and digital!) tools.

Kai XR makerspace for middle school (and all other ages).

Go Digital with Kai XR's Makerspace 

In many ways, the benefits of the makerspace are also seen when using VR or AR in the classroom. So we thought—hey—why not combine them?! 

Enter our Digital Makerspace: Kai XR Create. 

At Kai XR, we're all about empowering today's students with the skills needed for tomorrow. We help students tinker, test, and toy with new experiences as they think critically about the world around them through experiential learning. 

Since 2018, we have been leveraging virtual reality, augmented reality, and extended reality technologies to inspire the next generation of innovators. With the help of virtual field trips, we're enabling students to virtually step away from the classroom and into a fully immersive experience. In our experiences, students can explore topics such as UC Berkeley's gene-editing CRISPR, the benefits of wind farms, or how astronauts train for a mission. 

Over the years, we've watched the meteoric rise of makerspaces in education. So building a virtual makerspace for our platform was a no-brainer. 

Dashboard for Kai XR Makerspace (Kai XR Create)

We saw the impact makerspaces had on students. One study found that design-based makerspaces had the potential to trigger elementary school students’ interest in STEM activities. At University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Sciences, researchers created an open source VR makerspace to make makerspaces more accessible to underserved populations. 

In addition to our virtual field trips, we’re launching Kai Create, a digital makerspace where educators, students, and parents can access various digital tools for the classroom to supplement curricula. Our initial launch will include unique environments like: forest, blocks, snow, space, and city. In these spaces, students can use various tools to bring their lessons to life. 

Just finished a virtual field trip to see the penguins? Take your lesson a step further in our snowy makerspace. Are you learning about climate change in the classroom? Drop your students into an interactive virtual forest. 

The possibilities are endless! 

Space module of the KR Makerspace for middle school.

Book a Kai XR Create Demo

Are you ready to discover how Kai XR can transform your classroom? You can start by learning more about what we offer programs and schools. We're making education engaging and accessible for all! 

Our platform provides students with inclusive, high-quality content in a virtual space that encourages engagement and collaboration. And we're adding new features all the time! So take your classroom to the next level with Kai XR. Schedule your demo to get started

In the meantime, check out our other posts:

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In memory of my sunshine, Ky(ra) G. Frazier. Love you to the moon and back.