My friend Oren runs the makerspace at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders here in Austin. He’s got talent for setting up great school spaces to support all kinds of STEM learning and maker activities, and this morning I stopped by to take a look at his latest iteration.
I was most interested in how he makes the space:
- user friendly and inviting
- tidy and safe
- uncluttered but usable
- designed so that things get put back in their place
- conducive to students following rules & regulations (more on that at the bottom)
Read on for info about work tables, tool storage, tools and technology, and more. Let’s nerd out together, shall we? But first, take a look at this 360 video of the makerspace in action.
What Your Makerspace “Feels” Like
Before we get deep in details, let’s talk about vibe. A makerspace is a Petri dish where, if successful, curiosity will grow and the room will fill with the hum of projects and creativity. The design of your space is key to whether students let their curiosity take hold; whether they feel like they’re allowed to jump in. It also determines if the feeling is calm and focused or not – which can also affect safety.
Dirty or Clean?
Oren says he tries to find a balance between dirty and clean, and the ARS space seems to find that balance. It’s clean and uncluttered, but judging from the scored and drawn-on tabletops, it’s also OK to make a mess while you’re working. The idea is that rooms that are too clean are intimidating; rooms that are too cluttered and dirty with the sawdust of projects past and refuse feel chaotic and unsafe, which promotes more chaos.
You can get a sense of the feeling of the makerspace from the photos:
Tables and Work Spaces
Work tables are where the glue gun meets the cardboard, so to speak. The tables you see above are a nice design for these reasons:
- square tables that can combine to make a bigger rectangular table give you great flexibility
- these look sturdy due to the solid legs
- lockable casters are great (apparently the 4-caster version on the right works better – the 2-caster one at left can slide at times)
- storage underneath is nice – any storage anywhere you can add it is nice!
Oren’s crafty solution to tabletops getting destroyed is that he attaches a piece of MDF on top of the plywood top. When it gets worn in, drilled through, scored and spattered, he turns it over and uses it for another year, replacing it when both sides are used up.
For schools, some key considerations about tables are:
- High tables are good for older students, but middle schoolers need shorter tables; you might need two heights
- Stools are nice, but again must fit the sizes of your students
- Configurability is key
Every tool needs a place to live where it’s obvious that this spot is its special home. Putting tools back should be enforced every day. You’ll have a lot more success with this if tools have appropriate places to live. Here are some nice touches from the Ann Richards School.
This is a nice clamp storage solution:
Drills and drill battery chargers all have their own place. I always liked drill “holsters” in a wood shelf. Tip: Make a green box and a red box for kids to put charged and uncharged batteries in:
The old fashioned tool chest is great, but even labels can’t always clearly reveal what’s hidden inside so these are best for uncommon tools; or at least use big labels:
Classic pegboard or plywood tool walls are still great. Note the tape rolls being held on a rope in the middle of the right panel:
Often the most difficult items to store are big, flat pieces of wood and plastic and such. Here you can see a couple nice solutions at ARS, first for big pieces, then for smaller project materials.
Clean Areas vs. Dirty Areas
The modern school makerspace is wonderfully flexible, but activities usually will fit into two camps: those that spew sawdust, paint, and the like; and things like working on a computer, soldering, and 3D printing which not only are clean, but can be inhibited by being in the midst of flying dust and debris.
If your space supports it, try to create a clean area and a dirty area. In a pinch you can separate them with a curtain, although having separate rooms is better.
School Makerspace Rules & Regs
Here’s something I really like about the Ann Richards School workshop – look at these nice symbols that tell you what safety equipment a given station requires: Eye protection, hearing protection, and hair ties. I love this kind of wayfinding.
There’s also a bigger binder with all the details about safety and tool use. It’s worth experimenting with ways to balance teaching students the details of tool use and safety in a deep dive, as well as having easy-to-digest reference material they’ll pay attention to and not ignore.
(You must have a watertight system for training students before they can use a given tool, as well as keeping track of who is trained and thus allowed to use what. But that’s a subject for a blog post of its own. Here, as is typical, students need to be trained and pass a test before being able to use a tool.)
Some Final Workshop Details
Before we finish our blog tour of this makerspace, here are a couple other details I thought were nice. First, there are hanging pull-down extension cords all over the room so that you can get power wherever you’re working. Love these.
Another nice piece of equipment are the dust collectors. Each bigger tool has its own dust collector. The thing that looks like a yellow power outlet turns on the collector when the tool is turned on, which is super-nice. Oren says these particular ones are a little too noisy, but then again they’re also affordable.