Why You Need Games for Your Makerspace

BY Brandon Pittser
There are lots of great reasons to build a makerspace for your learners. A makerspace built around project-based learning (PBL) is an innovative, substantive way to develop 21st century skills and prepare learners for the modern workforce. Skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration occur organically when students are tasked with an open-ended challenge that requires “making.” The list of tools you *could* use for a makerspace is quite extensive - EdSurge has developed a great guide here that will help you get the lay of the land. In addition to this list though, I have one recommendation that the EdSurge article does not cover - learning games! Learning games offer a number of key advantages to a makerspace in terms of cost control, learning alignment, and customization.

Cost Control
Games are an inherently cost-effective alternative to traditional makerspace materials because they are infinitely re-usable, particularly if you can purchase them as a perpetual license. Unlike more consumable implements, the re-usability of games allows for experimentation and failure in a way that won’t lead to quickly ballooning replacement expenses. Students can break as many digital things as they need to in the process of hypothesizing and refining theories to find a working solution. Logistical burdens of distance and scale are also more easily surmountable in a learning game. Learners can jet from a Hawaiian reef to a nuclear reactor in Moscow, all from the comfort of the computer lab.

Learning Intervention
Your learners might enter your makerspace without the full set of prerequisite knowledge they need to achieve full proficiency in the project, in which case some reinforcement or introductory learning might be appropriate. Rather than pushing your learners on a slog through a textbook or similar traditional reference material, consider games that deliver on that specific learning outcome to preserve the hands-on, immersive spirit of the makerspace. To use an example from our own Filament Learning library of games, you could use Backyard Engineers to introduce students to the fundamentals of engineering design before unleashing them on a more open-ended engineering design challenge. You’ll want to select the games you use based on the on the project you’re targeting for your makerspace, and there’s a wild wilderness of learning games content out there. If you’re looking for a bit of guidance in selecting games for your makerspace, check out our video on what makes a great learning game.

There are many applications for games in any learning environment, and a makerspace is no exception. Depending on your goals and the “arc” of your makerspace calendar, games can slot in as reinforcement material or as an experimental space for rapid prototyping. But you don’t have to take our word for it! Instead, check out our recently released How to Teach with Games eBook, which rounds up the perspectives and recommendations of seven different educators who are actively using games in their classrooms. The eBook is packed with practical advice and is supplemented by recommended resources and downloadables to help you get started.

Alignment to the Spirit of the Makerspace
Summarily, games are an ideal tool for a makerspace because they are perfectly aligned with the general spirit of makerspaces and PBL. They offer a comprehensive means to develop 21st century skills, fostering collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Like project-based learning, students are required to adopt a hands-on approach built on inquiry. And in terms of the basic act of generating an idea and executing on that idea, games offer that experience at a micro level, which is easily adaptable to the macro level of the overarching makerspace program. If you’re using games in your makerspace today and have thoughts about the ways games do and don’t serve your makerspace goals, let us know in the comments below!