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Shifting Gendered Mindsets about Makerspaces

A 'makerspace' is a learning space in which students with shared interests, especially in design, technology and construction, can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment and knowledge; much like happens in many work settings in adult life. In addition to our Science Laboratories, the Innovation Station and the Hillsley Visual Arts and Hospitality Complex, Ivanhoe Girls’ now has an additional makerspace, The Dome. 

I have been delighted to see our students enjoying the collaborative learning opportunities that our range of flexible learning spaces enable. In particular, I have seen different students step forward and assume leadership roles of projects in the makerspaces. At Ivanhoe Girls’ we value diversity and inclusion in all aspects of school life, so we are pleased to deliver these new learning spaces for all students, but particularly for those students who prefer a more flexible, creative and ‘hands-on’ approach to applying and developing their skills.

On broadening my understanding of how makerspaces can support girls to develop their problem-solving and creative skills, resilience and persistence, I recently read an article by the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia (AGSA) entitled The power of girls-only makerspaces: Shifting mindsets and promoting STEM. The article talked about the negative impact on girls’ confidence and participation when they work in makerspaces with boys in co-educational settings. The article explored troubling research and evidence stating that makerspaces in co-educational settings are indeed highly-gendered environments dominated by male students.

The 2018 research study, referred to in the AGSA article, was led by Dr Youngmoo Kim and other researchers with Drexel University’s ExCITe Center for Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies. They found that students who participated in makerspaces progressively developed a “markedly more positive mindset”. Furthermore, these students were able to identify new connections between what they learned at school and the real world, and they felt aspects of maker culture (practice, competition and building) helped them to overcome perceived challenges to learning in traditional classrooms such as insufficient time and a focus on assessment and marks.I am buoyed by the many positive aspects of makerspaces and the strong positive descriptors our students are using to describe their learning. A recent student survey at Ivanhoe Girls’ confirmed our views about our students' enthusiasm for these new learning areas, with many student comments asking the School to provide greater opportunities for them to learn about engineering and construction concepts through practical ways using construction, power tools, hammers and saws. 

While gender stereotypes promoting boys as being more likely to become builders, architects, mechanics and engineers remain alive and well in our community, to encourage and empower girls to be confident designers and creators, research suggests it is helpful to use more generic and gender neutral terms of creator, innovator or entrepreneur. Just recently, our creators and innovators completed a voluntary project for Guide Dogs Victoria. A group of students worked with Mr Brad Carter, PE Teacher, and Geoffrey Kellam from our Maintenance Team to design and construct a training bridge for trainee guide dogs. This is a wonderful example of our students learning new skills while making meaning from their learning and making a difference in the lives of others at the same time.

Ivanhoe Girls' students with Clancy the guide dog puppy in The Dome


Our students have found a learning environment in which they can explore the things that interest them, develop a sense of self-confidence and pride as well as develop a range of useful skills for their futures. We will always seek to ensure that our range of makerspaces are learning environments that dismantle gender stereotypes as well as being places that foster collaborative learning, confidence, creativity, exploration and empowerment of our students.

Dr Deborah Priest
Principal

References

Noonoo, S. (2018, June 14). Maker culture has a ‘deeply unsettling’ gender problem. EdSurge.

Kim, Y., Edouard, K., Aldefer, K., & Smith, B. (2018). Making culture: A national study of education makerspaces. Philadelphia, PA, USA: Drexel University ExCITe Center.