You’re probably aware of the makerspace trend sweeping across schools around the country. Partially, it’s an effort to engage students through exploration. Partially, it’s an effort to prepare students with 21st century skills. We want spaces where students can take the skills they’ve learned (or develop new ones) and have the tools to explore their own curiosities.
What some people have forgotten is that art rooms have been “makerspaces” for decades and can be your greatest resource in this venture.
When you think of the most innovative and creative members of the faculty, you are probably drawn to the art teacher and their room. Isn’t that what we’re looking for when establishing a makerspace? And yet, the misconception persists that science and engineering should lead the way in the makerspace movement.
Why should art have a bigger seat at the table?
First of all, practicality. There are few classrooms within the core subject areas that were built to get dirty. Meanwhile, art classrooms are a blank canvas, so to speak. Most art rooms already feature large, durable tables that are perfect for collaboration and experimentation, flooring that promotes safety, and lighting to help with even the most delicate tasks. Those existing features are much more cost-effective than retrofitting a traditionally-furnished classroom.
Second – experience. Art teachers have led students to explore their creative impulses throughout their careers, accompanying them on a journey to create award-winning products of growth. That is a special skill in which not every teacher excels. Art teachers have to develop that guidance as a course of action.
To those who say art teachers cannot assist students through the more technical aspects of makerspaces, their idea of a makerspace is too narrow. It is a popular misconception that in a makerspace, you hand students a bunch of circuit boards and a soldering gun and wait for the creativity. First of all, in the elementary grades, soldering is not possible. For younger students, makerspaces tend to look more like art rooms, with paper, scissors, glue, and other tools.
In the secondary years, art teachers are as capable as any other teacher with a soldering gun. Most art rooms already contain dangerous and toxic (yes, but maybe not so scary sounding?) materials in which students need to be guided toward safe use. Also, art itself has become more complex in the 21st century as a reflection of technology. An artist’s creativity often leads them to more “techy” skills. There’s no reason to believe an art teacher cannot maintain a safe, orderly, and productive makerspace.
This is all not to say that students should only be given time to explore their interest in the devoted makerspace time during art class. Teachers should adopt this more engaging philosophy across the disciplines. But if you’re considering a more formal makerspace arrangement in your scheduling, the discussions should begin in the art room.