Effective Facilitation in an Educational Makerspace Setting

January 1st, 2016

This Knowledge Base article was written collaboratively with contributions from Annie McNamara, Thomas Akiva, Peter Wardrip and Lisa Brahms. This article was migrated from a previous version of the Knowledge Base. The date stamp does not reflect the original publication date.


Researchers and practitioners acknowledge the essential role that facilitation plays in supporting maker-based learning experiences (Vossoughi, EscudĂ©, Kong & Hooper, 2013; Brahms & Crowley, in press; Gutwill, Hido & Sindorf, 2015; Sheridan et al., 2014). As making expands into different educational settings, it is important to understand the kinds of pedagogical strategies that are salient and effective. Understanding adult-learner interactions can help making do what it is currently positioned to do – increase STEM learning across contexts. What do we know about how maker educators talk and interact with learners? How can we account for differences across makerspaces and settings?

Findings from Research and Evaluation 

A good maker educator does not just follow a script or spontaneously respond to what is happening in the moment. Good facilitation requires flexibility and is influenced by multiple contextual levels. Based on Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological model (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006), the educational makerspace can be considered a microsystem proximal to the learner, with higher levels (e.g., the community in which the makerspace is located) that are more distal though still influential. Facilitated learning occurs at the point of service where moment-to-moment micro-interactions happen between educators and learners in conjunction with materials and tools (Smith & Akiva, 2008).

Facilitating Making at the Point of Service

Literature points to some common maker-specific pedagogical strategies that occur during the point-of-service in educational makerspaces. These are listed below.

  • Researchers at the Exploratorium developed a Learning and Facilitation Framework that include sparking interest in the activities, sustaining an individual’s interest through learning paths, and deepening understanding through reflective prompts (Petrich et al., 2013).
  • Learning scientists at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh have worked with Teaching Artists to understand learning practices of maker facilitation including “co-learning,” meaning that the adult learns alongside the child while also scaffolding challenges (Brahms & Wardrip, 2014, p. 9).

Also at the point-of-service, micro-interactions also play an important role in the successful facilitation of makerspaces. A collaboration between researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh investigated micro-interactions in the educational makerspace setting. Based on the Active Ingredient Hypothesis presented in Li & Julian (2012), they found a few key strategies may be especially important for guiding children in maker experiences. First, educators can make connections with learners by being present and emotionally in-tune. Second, maker educators can allow for reciprocity, or the balance of interactions between themselves and children (Li & Julian, 2012). This includes giving students choice in how they use materials and what they make in the makerspace. Third, progression is modeled after Vygotsky’s (1978) Zone of Proximal Development and suggests that educators should provide the appropriate amount of scaffolding and support. Indeed, scaffolding is well-cited to be important to discovery-learning experiences and is essential to student learning across contexts (Barron et al., 1998; Quintana et al., 2004).

Directions for Future Research 

Although there is consensus in the field that facilitation is a key component of a thriving educational makerspace, there is still much to learn on this topic. A few questions that remain include:

  • Are there pedagogical strategies that transcend different contexts?
  • Are there specific strategies that are more or less useful in particular contexts?
  • How do maker educators develop over time?
  • Do “novice” and “expert” maker educators notice different things when interacting with learners?


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Brahms, L. & Crowley, K. (in press). Making Sense of Making: Defining Learning Practices in MAKE Magazine.

Brahms, L. & Wardrip, P.S. (2014). Learning Practices of Making: An Evolving Framework. A White Paper released by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh with support from IMLS and the Sprout Fund. Accessed from: tiny.cc/makeshop

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Bronfenbrenner, U. & Morris, P. A. (2006). The bioecological model of human development. In Lerner, R. M. & Damon, E. (Eds.), Handbook of Child Psychology (6th ed., pp. 793–828). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

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Petrich, M., Wilkinson, K., & Bevan, B. (2013). It looks like fun, but are they learning? In Design, make, play: Growing the next generation of STEM innovators (pp. 50–70). New York, NY: Routledge.

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Sheridan, K. M., Halverson, E. R., Litts, B. K., Brahams, L., Jacobs-Priebe, L. & Owens, T. (2014). Comparative case study of three makerspaces. Harvard Educational Review84(4), 505–532.

Smith, C., Akiva, T. (2008). Quality accountability: Improving fidelity of broad developmentally focused interventions. In M. Shinn & H. Yoshikawa (Eds.), Toward positive youth development: Transforming schools and community programs. (pp. 192–212). New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Smith, C., Akiva, T., Arrieux, D. & Jones, M. (2006). Improving quality at the point of service. In Blythe, D.A. & Walker J. A. (Eds.), New Directions for Youth Development (Vol. 112, pp. 93–108). San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

Vossoughi, S., EscudĂ©, M., Kong, F. & Hooper, P. (2013). Tinkering, learning & equity in the after-school setting. Digital Fabrication in Education Conference. Stanford, CA: Fablearn.

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