DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8310-3.ch002


MAKESHOP is striving to improve what is known about making and learning by carefully examining and documenting what practices create the best experiences for learners in a makerspace. At the forefront is the belief in using real materials and real tools to foster learning. Located in the Pittsburgh Children's Museum, MAKESHOP is an exhibit that occupies approximately 3,000 square feet. Approaching the MAKESHOP, visitors see three rings of activities. Very simple tinkering activities are in the outermost ring. More complicated electronics and circuitry-based activities that are somewhat facilitated are in the second ring. The middle ring is the core of the makerspace with the typical makerspace fabrication equipment. Nationally known for its research on informal learning using making technology, MAKESHOP helps other makerspaces get started. Through its work with Google, MAKESHOP will soon help launch nearly 100 makerspaces across the United States. Like many makerspaces, MAKESHOP has challenges in reaching underserved populations. This chapter explores MAKESHOP.
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The space itself is just one part of the story. It's not about the stuff that you put in the space as much as it is about people that they connect with. — Chip Lindsey


Organization Background

Situated in the heart of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s North Side neighborhood, sits the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. Opened in 1983 in the basement of the old post office, the museum has become a cultural and educational treasure for the neighborhood, the city, and the country. Around 2004, the museum was expanded and the post office was connected to the former Buhl Planetarium to create 80,000 square feet of space that has more than 250,000 visitors per year.

Within the museum is the relatively new MAKESHOP, which was established in 2007 and consists of 3,000 square feet of space dedicated to DIY making by using new and old technologies with youth and families. The MAKESHOP is a special application of the ethos of the Children’s Museum, which has developed over the years through local foundations and citizen groups to foster the learning of skills for children and families using real tools and materials. Understanding this ethos and the community focus of the museum is important to understanding the underpinnings of the MAKESHOP. Chip Lindsey, Director of Education for the Children’s Museum, described the museum’s philosophy:

See the motto of this joint, which is here at MAKESHOP: use your tools and raw materials, play with real stuff, create real things and learn the real skills. You won't see Play-Doh in here, you see ceramic clay. You won't see tempura paint silk screen, you see real silk screens and ink. You see real artists working with real crafts in here. Fundamentally, a very important part of the spirit of this place, is that there's great respect for kids and what kids can get if you give them a chance.

In addition to using real materials and the processes to teach real skills, the museum is also dedicated to responding to the needs of children and families in a sustainable manner, preserving the buildings where the museum is located, using the potential of technology, and improving access to the North Side neighborhood.

Real materials and processes include renowned artists that work and teach in the space. These artists come from many different backgrounds, such as graphic novelists and ceramicists. A Tough Art exhibition features artists who have created exhibitions — some interactive — that are tough enough to withstand children. There are also artists like Ned Kahn, who has created exhibitions across the country and created an amazing cascading exhibit in the studio area for the Children’s Museum. Kahn provides a study in material and how it cascades, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Cascades by Ned Kahn


Lindsey noted that unlike many other museums, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh invests in its partners:

The other thing that's really fundamentally a very important part of what makes the Children's Museum, the Children's Museum, is that we invest in working with partners … What I have seen in my career is that a lot of times, children's museums and science centers will want to engage an artist, and they'll go, “Can you just do that thing you do and we can't pay you anything.” Here at our Children’s Museum, we really honor the artists and respect what they do, so some of the art pieces have labels so that people can read about what they do.

Unique to the museum is the practice of turning outward to enhance the neighborhood and its residents as part of its mission to increase access and to serve youth and families. In one such project the museum led an effort to revitalize a rundown public area owned by the city near the museum. The museum took what Lindsey describes as an “old, derelict, sunken, trash collector park” and renovated it into a community center. In addition, Ned Kahn was commissioned to build a public art piece called Cloud Arbor that emits mist every two minutes and forms a cloud that moves across the park in the summer months. The museum then gave the park and public art piece back to the city with the belief that what is good for the community is good for the museum.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Divergent Outcomes: Differing outcomes based on student choice.

Scratch Programming: A scripting language developed by MIT.

Animateering: A virtual world of puppets that mimic visitors through a Kinect system as they move.

Ned Kahn: Artists and sculptor that has developed a number of exhibits at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburg.

Andy Warhol: An American artist known for the pop art movement.

Stay Time: The amount of time visitor spends at an exhibit.

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh: A children’s museum in Pittsburgh, PA opened in 1983 with 80,000 square feet of space that has more than 250,000 visitors per year.

Fred Rogers: Popular host of the PBS Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood TV show.

MAKESHOP: A Makerspace established in 2007 and consists of 3,000 square feet of space dedicated to DIY making by using new and old technologies with youth and families within the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

Principles of Practice: Deliberate and thoughtful examination of learning that happens as communities of practice in the MAKESHOP.

Constructivism: Theory of learning whereby learners construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world.

Constructionism: Theory of learning that states learning is most effective when part of a learning activity involves constructing a meaningful product.

Middle Tech: Older technology.

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