Making Space Happen in K-12 Schools

 Teachers from Oakland International High School work with Project Zero researchers to explore opportunities for space development.

Teachers from Oakland International High School work with Project Zero researchers to explore opportunities for space development.

What kind of spaces might schools create to encourage design thinking and maker experiences for students? Schools and organizations across the globe are prototyping solutions to this question. Some construct state-of-the-art innovation labs, like the iLab at The Nueva School, prototyped at the Hasso Plattner School of Design at Stanford University (the and equipped with a laser cutter and a sophisticated fabrication shop; others dedicate a corner of a classroom as a fix-it space, like first grade teacher Belinda Gray at the San Francisco Day School.

An elementary school student in Belinda NAME's class takes apart a watch to see how it ticks… literally.

An elementary school student in Belinda Gray’s class takes apart a watch to see how it ticks… literally.

Another prototype brings making to you! Spark Truck, a maker space on wheels created by Stanford students, pulls up and unfurls to reveal an impressive collection of tools, materials, and facilitators. Spark Truck’s summer 2012 launch tour provided hands-on design thinking experiences for 27,000 students in parking lots across 33 states—and now the project is the focus of a graduate level course that will yield yearly iterations of the same truck, redesigned anew and ready to hit the road each summer.

"Inside the Spark Truck" by SparkTruck:

“Inside the Spark Truck” by SparkTruck:


Temescal Learning Community schools are curious about how their own spaces might encourage design thinking and maker experiences. On a recent visit to the Bay Area, architect, educator, and Agency by Design consultant, David Stephen led teams from Oakland International High School and Park Day School in a maker space exploration. The teams arrived at a fundamental question: should a school-based maker space stand-alone or should the school shift multiple spaces to invite making experiences? Proponents of the stand-alone space model describe the opportunities for sophisticated tool use, the need for materials and project storage, and the role a dedicated space plays in encouraging design thinking/maker programing at a school. These spaces should be stocked with tools and materials; ideal for whole-group, small-group, and individual work; very well-organized but designed for messy exploration; designed for exhibition of project work; considerate of light and sound; exceptionally flexible with moveable, modular furniture; rich with white board surfaces for brainstorming; and inviting and comfortable.  Sounds pretty ideal, doesn’t it?

"Elements of Dynamic Learning Environments" teachers and researchers discuss the potential of developing space for making at the Oakland International High School.

“Elements of Dynamic Learning Environments” teachers and researchers discuss the potential of developing space for making at the Oakland International High School.

However, most schools might find it hard to snap their fingers and produce the funds and infrastructure for such a space. Schools interested in design thinking/maker education may instead opt for a school-wide space shift. Tours through our two schools revealed some innovative school-shift maker space ideas, and in the process, team members considered the value of this approach in reaching the goal of encouraging rich learning experiences for students across the school.  Ideas included:

  • Grade-level “neighborhoods” co-designed by students to include welcoming, versatile, indoor and outdoor learning and making areas
  • Maker carts of varying size equipped with prototyping materials paired with empty storage carts for on-going project work
  • Maker porches—weather protected spaces built outside of classrooms for messy, tool-heavy work
  • Maker hubs across a school designed for sophisticated tool storage and use, weather protection, and collaborative project work
  • School wide space-shifting to encourage broad staff and student engagement with design thinking and maker learning experiences
  • A combination of a maker space home-base and school-wide satellite maker stations

How might each of these maker space development approaches support a school’s intention to grow design thinking and maker programs? If resources are not an issue, is there a clear best choice?

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About wendydonner

A career educator, Wendy brings 18 years of experience as a classroom teacher, school administrator, program leader, and teacher mentor and supervisor in both public and independent schools. After graduating from Duke University with a degree in public policy, she earned her M.Ed. from Lesley University while teaching as a full-time intern at a K-8 school. It was during this experience that she first developed a passion for teacher mentorship and development. She spent most of her time as a teacher and administrator at The Nueva School in Hillsborough, CA, where she founded a teacher-training program and focused on innovative school-based programs, progressive education, and differentiated instruction for high-ability students. She now works as an educational consultant for a variety of programs and projects including Agency by Design.

2 thoughts on “Making Space Happen in K-12 Schools

  1. Pingback: Articles of Interest – April 5, 2013 « National Creativity Network

  2. North Shore Boston area: I’m a LA/SS teacher who wants to combine literacy (persuasive writing: grants, town, and school board) and design thinking to create opportunities for students to learn and build solutions for change.

    My grade 5 students (50 students) are embarking on creating an outdoor learning classroom. Our generous space is an enclosed courtyard (150′ x 85′ ). Currently the space is a hodgepodge of broken picnic tables, crab grass, and a “sorry” water fountain. However, we do have a butterfly garden (2 teachers and several students maintain). We have surveyed faculty and researched many outdoor learning ideas and would love to collaborate with AbD or graduate students who are interested in design thinking.

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