I am a product of my DIY activist parents. Born in 1972, I grew up in a home where my parents had many lofty goals like reducing, reusing, repairing and recycling. My parents spent hours gardening with edible plants meant to supplement at the dinner table and keep grocery costs down. My father was a mechanical engineer by trade, for a provincial utility company, and would build, fix and repurpose anything he could find by the curbside on garbage day. My mother often sewed our clothes as we shopped second hand. It was not because we were poor. Growing up middle class, I learned to value the do-it-yourself motto as an act of anti-consumerism. “DIY in this form began to emerge in North America in the late 1960s and early 1970s, grounded in social and environmental movements of the day. Rather than buying new things, the DIY ethic dictates that individuals should create, repair and fix for sustainability, and to lessen, or even eliminate, their reliance on corporations” (Pinto). Reading about the Repair Café in Toronto, makes me smile as I could easily envision my dad running the place offering to help other repair their broken wares. He would have valued anyone’s repair skills. Again, my parents believed in a strictly anti-consumerist, pro-environmentalist philosophy. Turning off the lights when one was not in the room, or not leaving the water running while brushing my teeth are still habits I hold onto today, all because of my ‘hippy’ parents.
It is not a stretch then to see makerspaces movement as places where people can combine experimental play with collaboration for social learning. These modern day makerspaces is “a strategy to engage youth in science, technology, engineering, math, arts, and learning as a whole” (Pinto). Makerspaces are not spaces where learners are passive receivers of knowledge but instead are fully participatory. These combine critical thinking with constructionism: “the idea that learning is most effective when people are active in making tangible objects in the real world, and through this process construct new relationships…constructionist learning encourages the learners to create new knowledge based on active engagement with raw material, including virtual material in the case of digital technologies” (Pinto). This makes it possible and probable for deeper learning than what would be possible with mere crafting, which is what some maker spaces have become.
When my middle school decided to offer a makerspace and offer it as an after school club in the IT lab, I was skeptical. The teacher that would run this program managed to purchase a 3D printer, electronic robots and equipment for the program. I sat in on some of the first few weeks the club was in session. My first impressions were not favourable. I understood that this club provided access to equipment that would be unaffordable and impractical to have at the students’ homes. I could see that it was a playground for students who liked to code, tinker with electronic gadgets and gizmos and collaborate for social learning with friends who held similar interests. But I also saw plastic widgets, like rings, miniature toys and parts that took hours to make on the 3D printer and were more often than not, full of mistakes in scale and wasted material. At first “there was no making of even learning here. The students [did] not appear to be engaged in creativity or innovation”. When I pointed this out to the club’s teacher, we both agreed that pre-engineered coding and crafting with the 3D printer were not what the club was intended for. And so the parameters needed some tweaking. After some time, the makerspace became more of a playground for our students to experiment with coding, physical objects and incorporate the emotional dimension of learning. (Ratto, 2011, p. 254) Today the after school club runs as a place to collaborate with others in critical making as a mode of engagement. Students are looking at real world issues and attempting to come up with real world solutions where each one is unique and different depending on which students worked together. This club is where we tend to see the ‘quiet’ boys and girls in the traditional daily classes, come alive in the makerspace club after school. It works.