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Makerspaces, Fablabs, and Innovation Spaces for STEM learning

Makerspaces, Fablabs, Tech Shops, Hackerspaces, Innovation Labs, IdeaLabs, Collaboratories ….these names are just a few of the many that have arisen in recent years to identify unique alternative learning spaces “equipped with materials and resources for students to use as they develop creative solutions to complex problems” (Shively et al., 2021, p. 1). These spaces may be large rooms filled with advanced and expensive technological equipment, or small designated corners of a classroom with additional art materials. These alternative spaces also serve as an excellent vehicle for experiential learning in STEM/STEAM education as students are learning through action-based activities and practicing 21st century skills (Myers & Berkowicz, 2015; Rose et al., 2029).

No matter the level of sophistication, this alternative space is purposefully designed where students are no longer receivers of knowledge, but collaborative innovators for local, regional, and global change. In our work, we have seen many instances of educators who have been granted the funds and the responsibilities to build a makerspace, or run a current makerspace, but have little to no training on where to start. Below are a few questions that are often asked:

■ Is a curriculum needed, and if so, should the curriculum be created by teachers or purchased from another organization?

■ How can the space be accommodating and inclusive to the needs of diverse students?

■ What furniture can be purchased within the budget?

■ What should the safety plan address?

■ How does a 3D printer work?

Potential answers that align with the mission and vision of the school are traditionally not the topics addressed in pre-service teacher preparation programs. Professional learning is an important component for educators to help maximize the impact of the innovative space on teaching and learning. A number of studies highlight that makerspaces may not be used and the equipment collects dust when educators lack preparation in knowledge and skills (Hira et al., 2014), time, scheduling, and accessibility (Shively et al., 2021), and funding for future upgrades like the technological infrastructure (Bensenouci, 2017).

In our upcoming book, Leadership in Integrative STEM, by Geesa et al., (in press) we provide a generalized guide of considerations and evidence-based practices for building and sustaining these alternative learning spaces. However, we challenge schools and districts to extend beyond these initial guidelines and integrate the power of community partnerships within the design, build, and sustainability efforts. Community partners can provide support in the form of providing external funds, sponsoring or donating equipment, providing training to teachers on how to use equipment, and engaging with students as STEM/ STEAM professionals. For example, Burris Laboratory School in Muncie, Indiana partnered with the Indiana Manufacturing Competitiveness Center (IN-MaC) for funding to supply their Innovation Lab with additional manufacturing equipment and materials.

Another partnership for Hoosier schools is 1st Maker Space ( based out of Fishers, Indiana. 1st Maker Space provides helpful literature, tutorials, products, professional learning, and consulting for educators to design, build, and supply alternative learning spaces for making. 1st Maker Space also provides educators with curriculum, professional development, and coaching for maker managers to help transition educators from the conveyer of knowledge to a facilitator. The International Technology Engineering and Educators Association ( also provides many resources for educators, such as a Safety Spotlight article by Love et al., (2020) which addresses legal obligations and safety strategies for the alternative learning space.


Bensenouci, A., & Brahimi, T. (2017, February). Powering makerspace wirelessly: Opportunities and challenges. In 2017 Learning and Technology Conference (L&T)-The MakerSpace: from Imagining to Making! (pp. 1-6). IEEE.

Hira, A., Joslyn, C. H., & Hynes, M. M. (2014, October). Classroom makerspaces: Identifying the opportunities and challenges. In 2014 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE) Proceedings (pp. 1-5). IEEE. Indiana Manufacturing Competitiveness Center. MicroGrant Program. in-mac/

Love, T. S., Roy, K.R., Marino, M.T. (2020). Safety Spotlight: Inclusive makerspaces, fablabs, and STEM Labs. International Technology and Engineering Educators Association. Publications/Journals/TET/166256/SSFeb20.aspx

Martinez, S. L., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn. Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Torrance, Canada: Constructing Modern Knowledge. Myers, A., & Berkowicz, J. (2015). The STEM shift: A guide for school leaders. Corwin Press.

Rose, M. A., Geesa, R. L., & Stith, K. (2019). STEM leader excellence: A modified Delphi study of critical skills, competencies, and qualities. Journal of Technology Education, 31(1), 42-62. https://doi. org/10.21061/jte.v31i1.a.3

Shively, K., Stith, K., & DaVia Rubenstein, L. (2021). Ideation to implementation: A 4-year exploration of innovating education through maker pedagogy. The Journal of Educational Research, 1-21.

*This article appeared June 2021 in the Indianagram- a publication of the Indiana Association of School Principals

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