Maker spaces and fab labs

Maker spaces, fab labs, STEM, STEAM, design thinking; these buzz words and more have been flying around our conversation spaces for a while now and the opportunity to see four different successful paradigms in high school settings has been informative, inspiring and motivating. Urban X at Urban School, the I-Labs at Nueva School, the Bourne Ideas Lab at Castilleja and Menlo’s Upper School Applied Science and Engineering programs all demonstrate innovative ways in which we can support students to identify and understand real problems and then design creative solutions, to develop the skills they will need in future work and market places. Preparing our students for an unknown future is daunting, so it has been reassuring to see how these institutions have developed strategies that pave a way forwards.

These four iterations of the fab lab concept share a common theme of evolving over time. Like the design thinking process itself, all institutions have started with the idea of what they wanted to achieve, found parts that worked, parts that didn’t and problems that were relevant only to their specific context. Some of these problems related to utilising limited physical space, engaging girls in science and engineering, developing academic courses that covered relevant curricula, educating parents and communities on the purpose of a fab lab, and shifting teaching practices to incorporate reimaged pedagogies. These problems could only be solved through tenacity, insight and iteration.

The problem that is currently of most interest to me is how to purposefully utilise a fab lab in a mainstream, MESH, high school curriculum. Not lip service or tokenism, but for a measureable outcome that is relevant to curriculum and will also engage the students in deep learning without taking an inordinate amount of time. Not a big ask, surely.

And while it has taken each institution a few years (or more) to achieve this, they have definitely found their own way forward. Urban X has designed a series of classes which have science and Mathematics prerequisites to ensure their students have the knowledge to engage self-directed maker projects. Nueva has focused on embedding design thinking pedagogy into the foundation of every subject. Project design in the I-Lab has naturally extended from this basis. Castilleja started with a Maker Space that evolved through co-curricular opportunities to integrate project making into any subject. And the Menlo School have rigorous Upper School Applied Science and Engineering subjects program that ensure students have a strong foundation in the subject before designing specific projects.

Each institution has also demonstrated another key 21st C learning skills; collaboration through bravely sharing their experiences; both positive and not so much, so that others who are still working to create a path forwards, can learn from what they have achieved.