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Designing a STEM makerspace: it's not rocket science.

STEM education addresses outcomes from multiple curricula and can be set in almost any context, from traditional to ultra-modern. It also requires a flexible, collaborative and student-centred approach.

(Long read)

How-tos and tips from STEM learning experts.

Faced with such a broad scope, teachers and students say they need a clear sense of purpose and a supportive learning environment to make the most of the opportunities involved. So what is best practice and what does a successful STEM makerspace look like? 

STEM teacher Lee Macri loves his Whiteboard Tables that support visible learning at Rathkeale College in New Zealand.

In search of answers, we went straight to the source of knowledge - schools, global education experts and our own learning space design experts from around the world. We began by asking about the challenges involved and how we could help students, teachers and schools create a STEM learning programme that works for them.

The challenges

When it came to implementing a STEM programme, the following common themes emerged:
  • Lack of clarity and understanding of STEM and how it differs from current practice. What are makerspaces and how do they relate to STEM? What about STEAM and SHTEAM? 
  • Knowing where and how to start. What is a STEM space and how do you begin to create one? How do you translate your values, pedagogy and ideals into practical solutions?
  • Not enough room. This is an issue for many schools as few have the luxury of a dedicated STEM studio. 
  • Money constraints. While some schools may have 3D printers, laser cutters, drones, robots and television studios, the majority do not. Budgets are always finite and few schools have access to the ultimate STEM kit list.
  • Avoiding pitfalls. How can you learn from the false starts of early adopters?

Practial Solutions

The STEM pioneers and specialists we consulted were more than happy to share their insights with other educators. In fact, we gathered so much useful material we created a free downloadable e-book.


Breaking everything into bite-size chunks, the e-book:

  • Demystifies and explains the acronyms
  • Shares straightforward practical advice from like-minded schools
  • Showcases inspiring STEM makerspaces from around the world that offer useful design solutions
  • Illustrates clever storage ideas and flexible mobile furniture designed to maximise STEM capabilities in any classroom space
  • Provides simple starters from the maker movement pioneers for creating a STEM makerspace
  • Helps to make establishing a STEM learning programme as painless, efficient and cost-effective as possible.

What is STEM education?

The New South Wales Department of Education in Australia identifies STEM as:

'The set of disciplines that work together to understand and model the universe so that people can solve problems through harnessing and manipulating the world around them.’

Timms, Moyle, Weldon & Mitchell in Challenges In STEM Learning in Australian Schools (2018), Australian Council for Educational Research.

Why is STEM learning important?

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are highly sought-after competencies. There is a huge gap between the availability of people with STEM-related job skills and the ever-growing demand. For example:

Educators have recognised the importance to introduce students to STEM as early as possible.

Governments and educators around the world understand the urgent need to address this shortfall. It’s widely recognised that engaging students in STEM learning as early as possible will provide authentic connections and sustained engagement throughout their schooling.

What are STEM education experts saying?

A successful STEM programme goes beyond installing the latest 3D printer or purchasing the latest robotics. To ensure you have the greatest success implementing your STEM makerspace, we asked some of education’s greatest minds for their expert advice on equipment, design considerations and curriculum. Here’s what one had to say.

ICT specialist and STEM enthusiast, Professor Stephen Heppell at Fingringhoe Primary School, UK.

The founder of ICT

Professor Stephen Heppell was the first person to incorporate communication within information technology, and specialises in the use of ICT in education. He understands that even the most innovative science and technology advancements would be unappreciated and undiscovered without the ability to tell the story. This is why the arts and humanities are an integral part of the STEM, STEAM or SHTEAM curriculum.

“steam activity presents learners with unpredictable challenges that test their application of knowledge and understanding. Rather than their ability to replicate or regurgitate it.”

Professor Stephen Heppell - ICT expert and education specialist.

Three schools successfully implementing a STEM makerspace.

Here’s a quick word from a few of the schools we’ve helped to create learning spaces that match their aspirations for successful STEM learning. You can learn more from these pioneers and others in our e-book.

St Therese's library is designed to accommodate multiple activities, including STEM.

St. Therese’s Primary School - Victoria, Australia

With no extra classroom to accommodate STEM learning, St. Therese’s Primary School Principal, Michelle Bruitzman, saw the potential of turning their outdated and undervalued school library into a vibrant library makerspace. 

"A library these days isn’t just sitting for down and reading books. It’s more about technology and integrating it within your space and within students learning every day."

Michelle Bruitzman - Principal at St. Therese's Primary school, VIC.

St. Therese's library has considered zones for different activities.

 St. Therese's library makerspace now supports our school pedagogy that encompasses collaborative learning, and students co-creating with their teacher,” explains Michelle. “This space can provoke critical thinking and problem-solving skills through project-based learning, co-creation and activities including STEM."

A lot of different activities go on in this classroom, from web design to coding and programming.

Rathkeale College - Masterton, New Zealand

Rathkeale College was extremely fortunate to have a classroom allocated for a dedicated makerspace, expertly overseen by STEM education specialist Lee Macri. “They’re making robots, they’re 3D printing rockets, we’re having robot tug of wars and students working on creating real-life applications of electronic equipment, it's endless in here at the moment", says Lee.


AIS created wonderful, engaging spaces where children want to explore, collaborate, do hands-on work, and the learning’s active.

Australian International School, Singapore. 

When re-furbishing the junior school, Australian International School principal Neil Smith recognised the importance of introducing collaboration and hands-on learning from an early age. Neil specifically designed ‘tech-town’ and ‘tinker town’ as dedicated STEM learning spaces for year one and two students.


"students really get to explore all the different types of learning we want them to engage in and then through that, they develop their creativity.”

Neil Smith - former principal at Australian International School, Singapore

STEM classroom design ideas

When it came to planning STEM learning spaces, the educators we spoke with highlighted a need for areas that enable:
  • Collaboration - Flexible seating areas where every student can contribute
  • Presentation - Screens, writeable surfaces and tiered seating with good sightlines for students to share, observe and feedback as an entire class
  • Flexibility - Modular furniture on castors, that can be reconfigured for different activities for large and small group work
  • Breakout areas - For focussed smaller group work where students can co-construct, share ideas and build solutions
  • Robotics and coding - Space to store and charge Ozobots, Sphero robots and other devices. Carpet tiles that allow robots ease of movement on the floor
  • Makerspaces - From pipe cleaners to 3D printers, a creative space to tinker and test ideas, where imaginations can go wild
  • Problem-solving - Make the learning visible, shareable and updatable with writeable surfaces and easy access to tech and materials in an environment that supports transdisciplinary learning

Want to know more?

You can learn more from schools and educational experts by downloading our essential guide ‘How to design a successful STEM makerspace’It’s our way of sharing their thoughts and recommendations on the theory of STEM education and its practical application, including:
  • Why you need a STEM makerspace
  • How to make the most of available space through flexible furniture, castors, flipped tables and innovative storage solutions 
  • Practical ideas for STEM activities on a tight budget and without expensive resources
  • Resources and time and money-saving dos and don’ts, so nothing gets missed in the planning stages
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