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When Makerspaces Meet School: Negotiating Tensions Between Instruction and Construction


When considering science education within the makerspace (engineering workshop) context, insufficient attention may be paid to the cultural models organising the learning activity in such spaces. Too often, learning is imagined to be orchestrated by instructors, and students are supposed to passively respond to activities and events planned on their behalf; even when constructivist approaches are considered, curriculum goals are seldom negotiated, let alone led by student interests. We report on a case study of school which designed a learning organisation around a makerspace, built upon a hacker model of learning. Here, we used the benign version of hack, meaning to reverse- and creatively engineer devices to suit one’s goals. While it may appear that less ‘teaching’ is required, the tasks required to effectively remove the supports, and yet achieve learning, are non-trivial indeed. We found three practices that defined such a space: (i) a significant ludic component, (ii) highly authentic scientific practices, and (iii) attention to tacit knowledges in learning the practices of science. We argue that the mythologies surrounding the hacker stereotype have made an impartial consideration of hacking difficult, and that one effective way of using makerspaces for science instruction can be based on a reimagined set of goals for science. Specifically, attention needs to be paid towards the performative aspects of scientific knowledge in addition to competence in the representations of science.

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  1. 1.

    The OLPC project sought to deliver low-cost computing to the global south. These machines were to be delivered with software for communication and the equivalent of electronic textbooks, with the intention for recipients to educate themselves. Most observers report mixed success to this project.

  2. 2.

    For instance, for his crimes, Kevin Mitnick was forbidden access to a computer or a telephone because it was believed that he could whistle modem tones and cause further mayhem.

  3. 3.

    But also consider ‘weapons of math destruction’ (O’Neil 2017)


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I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Deborah Fields who provided assistance in the early conceptualisation of this manuscript. I am also thankful to the anonymous reviewers whose insights have improved the quality of this manuscript. National Institute of Education (Singapore)


This research has been supported by funding from the Ministry of Education, Singapore. Grant number ERFP OER 12/14 MT. The opinions here are of the authors and do not necessarily reflect that of the funding source.

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Correspondence to Michael Tan.

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Research on human subjects has been approved by the Institutional Review Board of the Nanyang Technological University. All participants have provided informed consent for participation in this study. No sufficiently identifiable information about participants has been included in this manuscript.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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Tan, M. When Makerspaces Meet School: Negotiating Tensions Between Instruction and Construction. J Sci Educ Technol 28, 75–89 (2019).

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  • Makerspaces
  • Hackers
  • Cultural design
  • Learning environments
  • STEM education