Makerspace Management, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Black Lives Matter and Inclusion in Makerspace

BLM Dog Bandana created by Detroit based artist Je’Tone Cherene, available through Instagram @fly.k9

Makers. Do something. 

It’s no secret that makerspaces, at least in the United States, are dominated by white people, usually men. Even in the professional makerspace that I frequent, whose owners focus on inclusion and diversity, there are rarely any people of color using the equipment. 

Maker events such as Maker Faire are more of the same. Mostly white men sharing the cool things they’ve made, occasionally a white woman, and less frequently a person of color. 

So, how do we change that?

Representation Matters – So Start There

While writing my book Teach Kids to Use Makerspace to Save Our World (publication pending) , I interviewed Taryn Gal, the Executive Director of the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health, about inclusion. We were specifically discussing inclusion of girls and LGBTQ youth, but the idea that representation matters absolutely applies to people of color, too. 

The gist is, you need to make sure that anything you put on view has diverse representation. This includes male, female, nonbinary, people of color, LGBTQ and differently abled. Anything that has people on it should communicate inclusion; posters, pamphlets, websites. 

When people see posters and other images that look like them, it feels inviting. When there are only people who look a certain way, those are the only people who will be comfortable in your space. If you don’t have any images of black people on your makerspace walls, displays and website you need to fix that right now.

Create Inclusive Policies and Facilities

Make sure that your makerspace policies have language about inclusion. You might consider adopting the Nation of Makers Core Principles statement.

Make certain that you have bathrooms available for men, women and nonbinary members and that all of these bathrooms have inclusive signage.

Design your makerspace so that those who are differently abled, including wheelchair bound, are able to use your space and equipment.

Invest in Your Local Black Community

Sponsor a black artist/maker with a maker-in-residency, or just free access to your equipment. Even better, sponsor several, if your space can support that.

Consider a partnership with a local, predominantly black, school. This could mean sponsoring a FIRST robotics team, offering free classes to students, lending out equipment for student use or offering free teacher training.

When you purchase tools and materials, try to do so through black-owned businesses. Yelp recently added a way to search for black-owned businesses (businesses will have to opt in to participate), and there are several other websites and apps that can help you locate black-owned businesses near you. 

Keep the Momentum Going

Don’t stop here. Keep educating yourself about ways to be aware, inclusive and supportive. 

If you have other suggestions, post them in the comments below. 

Makerspace Management, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Makerspace vs. Stations vs. Genius Hour

Sometimes people don’t differentiate between a full-blown makerspace, makerspace stations and Genius Hour. They use all three interchangeably. Personally, I think it’s good to differentiate between these, as they really do mean different things. When we talk about a makerspace, we are referring to the actual, physical space with all of the stuff in it. Stations and Genius Hour can both be used as constructs within that space.

Utilizing stations can be a great management tool in that instead of kids blowing up your whole makerspace, they only have access to the materials at each station (that you’ve set up in advance). The stations could be thematic, with different making opportunities at each station. You would need to have rules about how many students can use each station at the same time, and how you go about deciding which students can use each one. In the interest of safety, there might be only two people at one station, soldering for example, and ten at something like bracelet making.

You could assign students to a starting station and rotate them through the other stations. This works well if students spend roughly the same amount of time at each station. If there is one, or even a few stations that take longer, students could stay through two or even three rotations. You could also have sign-up sheets for more popular stations or you could have students choose two or three stations total, and then you would assign them to one of these choices, or maybe you manage stations a completely different way that works best for you. That’s great too.

Genius hour was adapted from something that Google has done with their employees, Google would allow a percentage of workday time to be devoted to a project of personal interest. Several well-known Google projects originated from this.[1] Having a Genius Hour for students means that you are doing something similar, allowing them to devote a certain percentage of their school day to a project that they are interested in (as opposed to an assignment or project that you have given them). This is a wonderful thing to do! I have found that when students are given this choice, to pursue something that they are interested in, or maybe even passionate about, they work much harder and take the project much further than they ever would within the constraints of a project defined for them. The advantage of combining Genius Hour with makerspace, is that with access to so many tools and resources kids can explore their ideas further and push the limits of their creativity.

You can have a makerspace without organizing it into stations or using Genius Hour style programming. You can run a Genius Hour without access to a makerspace. When you have maker stations instead of a full makerspace, I usually call that a mini makerspace. However, if you have the space and funding, having all of the tools and materials that best suit your community, available in a thoughtfully developed makerspace, can give kids incredible opportunities. From there, you can have the flexibility and resources to take your programming whichever way best fits your community.

[1] What is Genius Hour? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://geniushour.com/what-is-genius-hour/

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