One of the sub-goals of Makerspace is to connect concrete projects to the more abstract worlds of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Back in the 1950s/60s MIT physicist Jerrold Zacharias led the rewriting of the high school physics curriculum to reflect the structure of how physicists viewed it, and in the process got rid of most of the applications. Zacharias particularly hated the “steam shovel physics” of machines common in textbooks of that time (for example from Dull et. al.’s Modern Physics, shown below).

Modern Physics spread

This structure-of-discipline approach is the heart of what Mitchell Nathan calls a “Formalism Focused” approach to education. It started in the 60s and it’s still with us today in how we teach physics, math, and chemistry, among other subjects. With Makerspace, in contrast, the creation of objects is pushed to the foreground, and the goal is for complex practical work to be enriched by relevant formal knowledge.

Here is the first of a collection of ideas that can help guide the development of the projects and content in a Makerspace. More ideas will be posted to the blog in the coming weeks.

Learning Idea #1: Equip the space to make equipment.

While Zacharias helped give us more abstract physics, he also tried to give us a tradition of students making their own simple, inexpensive lab equipment. But teachers felt construction took too long, and some students had difficulty making and using it, so pre-assembled kits were used instead. With the tools and materials available in a Makerspace, teachers and students could build the equipment they can then use — for making projects, and for exploring deeper ideas.

Many books exist with plans for constructing relevant equipment. Some are online, such as

Other books aren’t online, such as

As teachers and students start to recreate these devices, they can be adapted, documented, and shared. For example, Don Rathjen at the Exploratorium has updated some of Zacharias’s original equipment, such as the Paper Tape Motion Timer and Micrometer Caliper (shown below).

Don Rathjen's Paper Tape Timer

Do you know of other useful references for making equipment to outfit a Makerspace, whether for STEM subjects, or for making in general? Let us know about them!

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2 Responses to Learning Ideas: Making Classroom Equipment

  1. [...] central STEM concepts that are most generative for making. Zacharias (to whom we referred in our first Learning Ideas post) wanted to teach the structure of physics — we’d like to have the structure of physics [...]

  2. [...] On 11/16/2012, in design, engineering, real-world assignments, by Daniel Christian 1)  Learning Ideas: Making Classroom Equipment – from by Joel Rosenberg (8/6/12) This is the first post in a series about [...]