What Students Build in Makerspaces

what students build

While most educators I talk to seem to be completely enamored with the idea of Makerspaces, I know that there are also naysayers out there who wonder what it’s all about.  I’ve had curious people ask me why I have all these “toys” in my library.  “Aren’t the students supposed to be here to learn?” they ask.  What I have discovered through having K’nex and LEGOS in my library Makerspace is that my students are learning while they play.  My students are doing more than “just” building things out of toys.  They are exercising creativity, collaborating with one another, and building confidence.

“I wanted to build a swingset that worked”


Almost every creation in the Makerspace has a student story behind it.  Some are simple: “I wanted to see what it would look like if I built something with a lot of gears.”  Other are more complex: a lawnmower that a student can push around the library; “swords” and “bows” that let students re-enact their favorite video games; a playground for LEGO minifigs.  I’m amazed everyday by the types of stories my students come up with.  Next year, I plan to collaborate with language arts classes, and use the LEGOs and K’nex for creative writing prompts.

Close-up of rocket fueling station
Close-up of rocket fueling station


One of my favorite student created projects was the rocket fueling station shown in the first photo.  Several sixth grade students perfected this over the course of several days, and explained to me how everything worked.  They started by building a rocket.  Then they decided that the rocket needed to have a launch pad.  They could have left if there, and it would have been pretty cool.  But they weren’t satisfied.  They wanted their rocket to be environmentally friendly, so they created a solar cell fuel station.  Then they “connected” the solar cell to their rocket.  They decided that their rocket would carry a satellite into orbit, so they built one and placed it inside, and made it detachable.  Later, they added on wind turbines too.  All of this was done while their class was in the library to check out books and build in the Makerspace.  There were no prompts, no directions on what they should build.  These  students were practicing how to work in a group; how to brainstorm ideas and come up with solutions.  And they had fun too.

A "solar fuel" station created for a rocket launch pad
A “solar fuel” station created for a rocket launch pad

Another one of my favorite versions of collaboration in the Makerspace is the kind that happens throughout the day.  The LEGO house below was started by one student during lunch, and she left it out.  Another student dismantled it later, but then two other students took an interest in it, rebuilt it, and added on to it.  What started out as a basic house now had a yard, a roof, and several pieces of furniture inside.  Several others students came later, took off the roof, and changed the layout of the windows.

These types of experiences are why I intentionally don’t keep the Makerspace too clean.  By seeing things that others have built, students are inspired to make their own creations.  This kind of design thinking doesn’t happen as often when every LEGO is perfectly in it’s place.

About five different students throughout the day created this LEGO house
About five different students throughout the day created this LEGO house


I had a student insist to me one day that she was not creative at all.  She didn’t know what to build.  Then someone else suggested she try making a house, so she created the one below.  Everyone who saw the house throughout the day loved it, and you could tell that she was proud of what she’d made.

I’ve had everyone from students in high school level classes to students in Intensive Reading classes to autistic and EMH students tinker in the Makerspace.  And I see every one of those students leave a little bit more confident.  Their eyes sparkle when they make something that another student finds cool.  They beam with pride when I put one of their creations in the trophy case outside the library.  I see social groups that would normally never mix come together to build a LEGO house.  These students are building confidence in themselves and in their abilities to create something out of nothing with their own two hands.

This student insisted she was not creative, then built a house with a swing.
This student insisted she was not creative, then built a house with swings.

So the next time a skeptic asks you why your students are playing in the library/ in your classroom, remind them that your students are building far more than toy houses and cars.  They’re building creativity, collaboration skills, and confidence.

What’s your favorite story of something a student has made?

2 thoughts on “What Students Build in Makerspaces”

  1. I love that multiple students worked on the house. Did any of them end up coming back to check in on it? Would you consider purposely starting something and leaving it out for students to come back to? Seems like you’re on to something there.

    • A couple of them did, but unfortunately some of my over-eager student assistants dismantled it to “clean up” before I could put it on display. I like the idea of purposely starting a project and leaving it out to see what happens. Maybe I could have some a guiding statement posted to give students just a nudge of direction.

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