Notes on “Learning in the Making…”


maker3To contextualize our field trip to the Invention Studio, my professor had us read “Learning in the Making: A Comparative Case Study of Three Makerspaces” by Sheridan, Rosenfeld, Litts, Brahms, Jacobs-Priebe, and Owens (2014). They study three self-identified makerspaces:

  • Sector67, a member-based makerspace located in Madison, Wisconsin, and comprising mostly adults;
  • Mt. Elliott Makerspace, a community makerspace located in Detroit and comprising primarily youth; and
  • Makeshop, a museum makerspace located inside the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and comprising largely young children and families visiting the museum, whose making is facilitated by adult makers. (p.507)

They use a constructionist perspective and a community of practice lens to frame their study. Additionally they “leverage MRC [‘metarepresentational competence, the understanding of how tools support communicating an idea, when to invoke certain tools, and for what purpose’] to understand learning through making across a range of project scales, levels of support, and stages of completion using a wide variety of tools, materials, and processes” (p. 508). Initially, they use studio structures to suggest makerspaces are also learning environments, but they drop this idea in their discussion. They explain, “we came to realize the diversity of learning arrangements within each space was a marked finding about learning in these spaces. Thus, we shifted our analytic focus to describe and examine the impact of that diversity in each learning environment. (p. 511)



  • A well-articulated description of constructivism vs. constructionism (p. 507):
    • Constructivism, a long-standing perspective in the developmental and psychological sciences that holds knowledge as actively constructed by learners through experience and that sees learning as the ongoing construction and revision of mental representations
    • Constructionism extends the theory of constructivism to focus explicitly on how the making of external artifacts supports learners’ conceptual understanding: “the artifact itself functions as an evolving representation of the learner’s thinking.”
    • Personally, I’ve struggled to understand the difference (emphasis my own).
  • They conclude that the typical disciplinary boundaries within formal schooling is inauthentic to makerspace practice.
  • Makerspaces could be described as having a studio structure. 
    • Although they abandon their studio structure, the article does offer descriptions of the four activities that define such a structure:
      1. in demonstration-lectures, teachers pose open-ended challenges, show exemplars, and demonstrate processes to engage and inform students,
      2. in students-at-work, students work on their art and teachers circle the room observing and giving “just-in-time” instruction,
      3. in critiques, the working process is paused as the group collectively reflects on student work, and
      4. in exhibitions, students’ work is shared with a community beyond the studio classroom. (p. 508)
    • The makerspaces offer workshops and classes at a beginner’s level to expand participation and membership, and specialized classes are offered on specific tools or projects. When in the space, members are frequently – but not always – at work. The article, however, focuses less on the types of critiques and the method of exhibiting work, but they do mention evidence of each. During workshops, “facilitators gave feedback on work,” (p. 527), and exhibitions of work happen informally as members see work-in-progress and formally, when projects are shared with the community, like Sector67’s high-altitude balloon wired with a microcontroller to take photographs of the earth entered into a public competition.
  • The article is less helpful for understanding how to create a makerspace learning environment. Time and again, the authors focus on the community as central to sustaining the space. One participant notes, “And it was only after we had a building with nothing in it except for like two tools that I realized the equipment doesn’t make any difference at all. That people will show up no matter what if there are other good people there that are doing interesting things” (p. 513). This echoes what we heard Tuesday. Informal learning depends on networked knowledge and a train the trainer model. For example, at Mt. Elliott there is an expectation that once youth acquire skills, they pass it on. One participant speculated she taught more than 200 people how to solder after learning herself (p.525). Following this study, there should be research on how knowledge spreads and how networks grow and change within makerspaces.
  • Regarding learning itself, the article offers little for formal educators in schools faced with teaching academic standards. While “the multidisciplinary design work often seen in makerspaces is inspiring to educators,” (p. 506), and while schools are integrating aspects of design and technology in response to the Next Generation Science Standards, this article does not challenge future researchers to create fluid, interdisciplinary frameworks for academic standards.

Final Thoughts and Connections

For the learning in makerspaces to be valued by K-12 schools, standards must be interwoven across disciplines. Makerspaces show how one skill, like circuitry, can lead to many different applications, like sewn circuits or microcontrollers, but what could that look like in school? How might one standard in math be the first step to another standard in science, social studies, or language arts? What is needed is a network of standards showing how they build upon each other. Although vertical alignment provides a progression of skills from kindergarten to 12th grade within disciplines, there should be additional horizontal and diagonal alignments connecting standards.

Networked-standards or standards ecosystems are not new. Game-based learning and game-based assessment developers already focus on how one learning environment teaches multiple standards across disciplines. Also, advances in personalized learning depend on a better understand of how specific standards relate to each other across disciplines so that authentic learning pathways can be created. Research on makerspaces could offer a model connecting skills which could then be replicated and revised for K-12 academic standards.

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