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If You Build It, They Will Create: Designing Maker Mindsets in Our Classrooms

By: Carie Spannagel on December 12th, 2023

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If You Build It, They Will Create: Designing Maker Mindsets in Our Classrooms

District Leadership  |  School Leadership

As a kid, I loved designing and building things! All my dolls had their own custom- made furniture and Lego cars. I recently had the opportunity to design and build a maker space for educators to implement making and tinkering in their libraries and classrooms. Talk about a dream project-it was easy to get caught up in the fun of purchasing new equipment, gathering supplies, and designing experiences. The most important thing I learned is the vital role a maker mindset can have on students in stretching their critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration skills. Maker spaces provide students with a platform to learn academic content while honing important life skills. 

Starting a Makerspace

Maker spaces are areas within schools or libraries that foster experimentation, creativity, and collaboration. Making is a process of creating something tangible while tinkering, a process of using creativity to solve problems. Students transition from consumers to creators, building self-efficacy through authentic problem-solving in a maker space environment. While there are many impressive maker spaces, a maker mindset  does not have to be confined to a specific space. What is needed to cultivate a maker mindset is an educator with a passion for learning, creativity, and problem-solving.

There are misconceptions that maker spaces must be filled with high-tech coding and 3D printing equipment. While such equipment is fantastic for kids to use, a teacher can start simply by creating a corner in their classroom with scissors, glue, and cardboard. Low-tech opportunities to build, experiment, and prototype can successfully foster maker mindsets and positively impact learning.


instructional models, strategic visions

Maker and Design Challenges

Design challenges are a great way to kick-off the maker mindset in your classroom. Maker and design challenges are teacher-designed lessons encouraging students to generate creative solutions to complex problems spanning multiple disciplines. Often maker and design challenges are completed in collaborative groups, allowing for critical conversations, problem-solving, and multiple iterations of the end product. Below are some sample design and maker challenges, with an adapted version for smaller classroom shifts.

  • Students design the first city in the sky through a creative writing prompt (John Spencer’s Maker Challenges for Students). Their city plan must include descriptions of how the community will live. They can choose to build their design in a physical or digital model.
    • Shift: Students develop their initial ideas for a city in the sky in a journal or Google Doc as an opening reflection activity (bell ringer, entrance ticket, etc.
  • Elementary students design their very own snazzy sneakers (Teach Engineering). Their prototypes must include a reason for their shoes (such as waterproof or extra protection for feet), a sketch, and a prototype. 
    • Shift: Students collaboratively build a prototype of their snazzy sneakers during a 10-minute speed round activity.
  • High school students design a solution for coastal flooding (Tinkercad Lesson). Students must research and create a solution for mitigating flooding. Designs can be printed with a 3D printer if available.
    • Shift: Students collaboratively prototype a flood solution using Canva within a 30-minute design challenge. 

Tinkering Stations

Another idea to build a maker mindset is to create a classroom tinkering station. Tinkering stations allow for open exploration and experimentation where students can delve into their passions and interests. Tinkering stations can be collaborative or independent, and do not need to center around a specific task or challenge. The primary focus of a tinkering station is to encourage students to experiment and create.

Try it!

Design challenges and tinkering stations are versatile and easily integrated into daily learning routines. They can be set up as stations, included in the playlist, or added to choice boards. These activities can be split over multiple days, included in regular station rotations, or simplified for shorter activities.

Collaboration and creativity are essential skills our students need to become successful individuals. Maker space activities are a joyful way to engage students in critical thinking and problem-solving. I encourage you to commit to trying a design challenge or creating a simple tinkering station in the next month! Witness how exceptional your students are when they get to flex their creative muscles.

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About Carie Spannagel

Carie Spannagel is a Design Principal on the Design & Implementation Team. She has an extensive background in education, having served as a teacher, instructional coach, principal, and district administrator. Her passion lies in inquiry-driven instructional practices that promote student adaptability and innovation. One of her proudest achievements was being a part of the inaugural staff at a progressive school in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. The school focused on project-based learning, small learning communities, and building a healthy school culture. Before joining Education Elements, Carie was the Director of Instruction and Digital Learning, where she supported digital learning, library services, and deeper learning work for students in the Austin, Texas, area. With nineteen years of experience in EC-12 education, Carie is a system-thinking leader focusing on strategic thinking and change management.

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