Making Makers in Your Library (Learning Commons Model, Part 5)

This is Heather Kindschy’s fifth article in a series on the Learning Commons Model. Be sure to take a look at the other articles in the series.

A student at Mount Bethel Elementary builds an electrical circuit.
A student at Mount Bethel Elementary builds an electrical circuit.

  “Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein had it right. In an age of constant standardized testing, sometimes our children and, even some adults, need to break from the constant barrage of standards, measures, judgement. They need to get their hands dirty and play! Of course, play can take on many forms, but the most cognitively stimulating types of play are those that involve creating, building, and making. In this article, I will explain why a “maker space” (a space and resources for students to make things) is an important part of any truly user-centered library, I will share my experiences creating a maker space in our library learning commons, and I will offer some practical steps to begin building your own.

 The Makers

The “maker movement” is a rapidly growing community of tinkerers, inventors, and other creative types (of all ages) who have come together to promote and support grassroots innovation. Local Maker Faires have popped up all around the country, and each year, these gatherings have grown. I had the pleasure of attending our local Maker Faire here in Atlanta in October 2014. It lasted two full days and had more than doubled in size since the year before. The best part about these Faires is that people young and old come together to show what they made. So, what do these makers make? A few examples include delicate embroidered clothing, 3D printed keychains, guitars from recycled gas cans, and children’s electric ride-on toy cars that are recycled, souped-up, and raced by adults on a tired lined track. In other words, it was AWESOME!

Making It in School

It is incredibly inspiring to see a diverse community of makers of all ages come together at Maker Faires to have fun, show off, and support each other. But the coolest part of the maker movement is that often the children become the experts; they are driving this movement. They are having loads of fun and beaming with pride in their creations, but throughout the process these children are (shhhh!) doing some intense learning!  Educators know the ingredients of the best instruction: higher-order thinking, student engagement, differentiation, project-based learning, student-directed inquiry. Maker activities include all these elements in abundance, so it makes sense that schools would embrace this movement. If libraries exist to foster learning, it also makes sense that we provide a space and resources to support them. Messes will be made, but sometimes learning is messy. Messy failure is a great way to learn. Children’s author Ashley Spires a wrote a book that “accidentally” became part of the maker movement. Her book, The Most Magnificent Thing, was inspired by her observations of students making during her school visits. Spires believes, “making things is never a waste of time, whether you know it at the time or it happens years later. I wanted to encourage people to keep trying. Even if it’s not perfect, it doesn’t mean it’s not a great experience or something valuable to someone else” (quoted in Maughan 2014).

The maker movement has also caught the attention of some big name universities. Last year, MIT announced that it would be accepting maker portfolios as a supplemental piece to its traditional application. The Dean of Admissions at MIT, Stuart Schmill has sage advice for students of every age:

We don’t want students who do things because they have to, or because they think it will look good on their résumé. We want students to do things because they find true enjoyment and personal growth from them. That’s the way that young people — and, for that matter, old people and middle-aged people — thrive” (2012).

If it’s good enough for MIT, it’s good enough for us!

Getting Started

A maker space should provide students with the resources and the room to work on physical objects for class projects as well as extra-curricular projects that the students dream up individually (recycled cardboard tube gift box, up-cycled lamination film “stained glass,” paper beads made from old magazines, and so on). It is simply a place to create whatever the students want or need.

maker space tables and stoolsJust like the Learning Commons, maker spaces take on many forms. Start by thinking about what your students need on a daily basis, gather up what you already have, and make a plan for getting whatever else you need. Although technology is a big component of the maker movement, a maker space can be very low tech. We started out with four tables, stools to sit on, basic school supplies, and some storage bins.

Here is a sample list of supplies we either purchased or received through donations this year:

  • storage binsPermanent markers
  • Washable markers
  • Colored pencils
  • Crayons
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Paper
  • Chalk
  • Old magazines
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Origami paper
  • Tape
  • Staples and Staplers
  • Duct tape (colored and patterns)
  • Glue

We were fortunate to secure a grant to complete our maker space, which allowed us to purchased more high tech items such as a 3D printer, sewing machines, Makey Makeys, BeeBots, Snap Circuits, and GoPro cameras. Most of these items are used under adult supervision either in our monthly Maker Club or in conjunction with a lesson or a unit of study.

Integrating technology like 3D printers into your maker space is great, but in reality much of what I saw at the Atlanta Maker Faire had little to do with new technology. Maker spaces can require little space, technology, and monetary investment. Just like the learning commons model, it’s okay to start small and low-tech. Work with the resources that are available to you. It’s perfectly fine to build your maker space in phases. If you expand your thinking of what constitutes a maker space, the permutations of what makes a maker space are immeasurable.


In elementary school, our students are still excited to learn, but at some point during their school years, many of them lose that excitement. Providing a nonjudgmental space to tinker, problem-solve, and create can nurture and protect the innate curiosity each child enters school with. My hope is that more and more school and public libraries will see the value of a maker space so that when my students leave our school, they have other resources and outlets to satisfy their need for knowledge. Again, the motto of our Learning Commons provides the rational behind the creation of our maker space. We want every student to come into the Learning Commons to ask. think. create. My students no longer come into the library just to receive information; our students are creating new things and new information every school day!

Have you considered creating a Maker Space in your library? What are the challenges? What are the benefits? Let us know in the comments below!

This is Heather Kindschy’s fifth article in a series on the Learning Commons Model. Be sure to take a look at the other articles in the series.

Works Cited

Maughan, Shannon. “Hands On.” Publishers Weekly 261.24 (2014): 43-45. Literary Reference Center. Web. 3 Feb. 2015.

Schmill, Stuart. “Essay Questions Obsession over AP Courses @insidehighered.” Essay Questions Obsession over AP Courses @insidehighered. Inside Higher Ed, 21 Feb. 2012. Web. 03 Feb. 2015.

Further Readings and Resources

Make: Magazine (

Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager

Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just About) Anything by David Lang

The Art of Tinkering by Karen Wilkinson

The Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers by Mark Hatch

The Invent To Learn Guide to 3D Printing in the Classroom: Recipes for Success by David Thornburg Ph.D., Norma Thornburg MA, Sara Armstrong Ph.D.

Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Project Book: Super-Simple Arduino (Volume 2) by Sylvia “Super-Awesome” Todd

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