Makerspace Special Education Initiative

What is Makerspace?

A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools. (1)

Makerspaces in education transform teaching and are an innovative approach for fostering creative project learning – which allows students to explore interests, use tools, materials, and technologies beyond the typical classroom programs.

Makerspace in Watson’s School Curriculum

In 2016, the Watson Institute Friendship Academy, a special education school, was honored to be selected by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to take part in the Making Spaces: Expanding Maker Education Across the Nation Initiative. This Makerspace Initiative aims to incorporate maker education into each participating school’s curriculum to encourage creativity, problem solving, and to build technological skills in students.

At the Watson Institute special education schools, preparing our students for their transition into adulthood is an essential element to everything we do.

Students with emotional and behavioral challenges at Watson’s Friendship Academy graduate from our program up to age 21 and can follow a variety of pathways. Our goal at the Watson Institute is to support our students in the years leading up to graduation to help them build the developmental and vocational skill sets to find success after school. Whether a student transitions directly into employment or pursues post-secondary or vocational education, Watson is dedicated to preparing them for success before they make their transition.

The Children’s Museum Making Spaces Initiative fits into our school programming seamlessly. Prior to Friendship Academy’s selection by the Children’s Museum, the school had a tech workshop in which students could learn various crafts and how to operate certain machinery. When we adopted Makerspace education into our curriculum, we were able to expand the tech workshop, adding new equipment such as a 3D printer, an etcher, and additional technologies such as computers, tablets, and a SmartBoard.

Developing Vocational Skills Through Makerspace Education

Through the Makerspace Education curriculum, our students are learning practical and vocational skills, as well as learning fundamental skills such as problem solving, creative thinking, working with peers cooperatively, and starting and finishing a task. These are developmental abilities that will continue to serve our students throughout their lives.

The Makerspace educational philosophy can be translated and applied to the skill sets and life lessons that our students are already learning in the classrooms and expand their abilities.

Over the past two years, special education teachers and staff at Friendship Academy have learned a lot about the way our students approach tasks and assignments through their involvement with the Makerspace Education curriculum. One of the biggest lessons learned is the way our students approach creative problem solving.

Often times, our students are more comfortable following set instructions to complete a task. Makerspace Education gives them the outlet to think independently and practice their problem solving skills. This initiative is teaching students to use their imagination and think creatively to accomplish a task. As they see success with these projects, not only are they learning valuable practical skills, they’re also building self-confidence and a better self-image with each completed project.

Stay tuned!

Over the past two years, the Makerspace school program has continued to grow and evolve as special education staff at the Watson Institute create new projects for our students and build on the skills they are developing each year.

Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing more about projects our students are working on in the Makerspace school program as well as some of the equipment being utilized by our students. Be sure to check back here for those stories!

Learn more about the Watson Institute Friendship Academy, a special education school for children ages 5 to 21 with emotional and behavioral challenges.


(1) [Online]