Theory – Wading In

Has your library recently undergone a change into a learning commons, or is this redesign on the horizon? Have you been hearing a lot about Makerspaces and want to know more about them? Are you interested in having students be active designers in their learning and are unsure of where to start? Well, then you have come to the right space!


One of the first things to distinguish is the various definitions of MakerSpaces out there. Some might think of a makerspace as a physical space, say in a learning commons, where people with a common goal of designing and creating might get together.¹  Others think of makerspaces as more than simply a physical space, more like an environment, along with the community of practice that is developed when people work together to collaboratively create something.² Makerspaces are actually happening all over the place, at the local library, where groups of adults get together and work on either individual or common projects, and at art studios, where artists are gathered with the goal of creating something unique to sell. In an educational setting, makerspaces are about creating an environment where students can learn specific outcomes, sometimes across subjects, while being the driver behind their learning experience. A teacher might provide a challenge, problem, or project, and the students are actively imagining, designing, testing, reflecting, throughout.³

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Seymour Papert (1980) was the educational researcher behind the theory of constructionism, which can be simplified as ‘learning-by-doing’. In the foreword to his book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas, Papert (1980) describes the way he was able to grasp complicated concepts in school, like multiplication, was due to his fascination and love for gears, something he developed as a child.4 He was able to create a mental model of gears, how they worked, and with fluidity, transfer and apply that knowledge to other contexts. This is the grounding learning theory of MakerEd.

How do Students Learn in a Makerspace?

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Just like in designing a regular lesson, you first consider your students’ background and existing knowledge and abilities, along with misconceptions they may have.5 Students may not think they are able to complete tasks that are vague, complex, or require them to think outside-the-box. That’s normal at first! You may want to foster a growth mindset in students. If you haven’t heard of this, check out Carol Dweck’s (2014) TedTalk on The power of believing that you can improve!

Second, students should be learning for understanding. Teachers need to help students develop metacognitive skills, so they can vocalize what they know, what they don’t know, and what needs to be done so they can learn what they don’t know. You might want to check out this short video on metacognition.

Third, teachers have a lot of work to do even once students are driving their own learning, in the form of providing them with feedback throughout the process. Students can use this feedback to help them monitor how they are doing and revise their work accordingly.

Lastly, students can be working on individual or group projects, regardless the power of the collective is great! Students can collaborate in the design stages of their projects, or give each other feedback during the course of designing, making, evaluating, reflecting, and/or redesigning. This creates a community of learners, where each student can actually build on each other’s knowledge.5

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How can I start to do this? What could it look like? Where do I begin? These are questions we all start with and continue to ask ourselves throughout our MakerEd journey. In Alberta, as it is with a number of jurisdictions across Canada and the US, there is a mandate to teach 21st century competencies across disciplines in order for students to be able to contribute to a digitally-connected, global society.6

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*Adapted from Resnick’s (2007) kindergarten model of learning

Designing a learning environment, or a design task, doesn’t have to be complicated! A researcher from the MIT Media Lab outlined a kindergarten approach to learning, where students are involved in an iterative cycle of imagining, creating, playing, sharing, leading into a new cycle of imagining again. Imagining taps into students’ creative thinking when presented with an authentic problem or challenge. They explore various avenues, materials and technologies which can be used. They sketch out their ideas and collaborate with other students. They can then begin to create prototypes in the create phase, iterating their design if needed. As students recognize elements in their prototypes that work or don’t work, they achieve learning outcomes set into motion by the teacher’s design. Through experimentation, testing and adjusting, students “play” with their prototypes, learning what works, doesn’t work, and what needs refinement. By sharing their work, students actually begin developing a community of learners, where each helps the other build knowledge, through discussion and play. Students then activate their metacognitive skills in the reflection phase, by identifying concepts learned, missteps that needed adjusting, and applications to real-world situations. Finally, teachers can allow their students to imagine new ways to revise their project, either for the same situation or perhaps for a new context. Students then extend what they learned and deepen their knowledge. Check out examples of these types of projects in the Wading In dropdown menu!


  1. Hatch, M. (2014). The Maker Movement Manifesto. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  2.  Halverson, E.R., & Sheridan, K. (2014) The Maker Movement in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 84 (4), 495-504.
  3.  Kurti, R. S., Kurti, D. L., & Fleming, L. (2014). The philosophy of educational makerspaces part 1 of making an educational makerspace. Teacher Librarian, 41(5), 8-11.
  4. Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Books Inc.
  5. Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Research Council.
  6. Alberta Education.  (2013).  Ministerial order on student learning.  Retrieved from
  7. Resnick, M. (2007). All I really need to know (about creative thinking) I learned (by studying how children learn) in kindergarten. In Proceedings of the 6th ACM SIGCHI conference on Creativity & Cognition (pp. 1–6). New York, NY, USA: ACM.

Picture References


Designing Learning Experiences: