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, and use tools, materials, and technologies beyond the typical classroom program.

Makerspace in Watson’s School Curriculum

The Watson Institute’s Friendship Academy, a special education school for children with mental and behavioral challenges, was selected by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Making Spaces: Expanding Maker Education Across the Nation Initiative.

The Makerspace initiative aims to incorporate maker education into each participating school’s curriculum to encourage creativity, and problem-solving, and to build technological skills in students. Each lesson focuses on elements in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) curriculum.

At the Watson Institute, preparing students to transition into adulthood is an essential element of everything we do in the classroom. Supporting students in the years leading up to graduation helps them build the developmental and vocational skills to find success outside of school.

Whether a student transitions directly into employment or pursues post-secondary or vocational education, Watson is dedicated to preparing them before they transition into adulthood.

Developing Vocational Skills Through Makerspace Education

Friendship Academy had a tech workshop in which students could learn how to operate machinery typically found in a wood shop or tech shop. With the adoption of the Makerspace initiative, Friendship was able to expand the workshop, adding new equipment like 3D printers, a laser etcher, and additional computers, tablets, and SmartBoards.

Through the Makerspace curriculum, students are learning practical and vocational skills in addition to learning fundamental skills like problem-solving, creative thinking, working with peers cooperatively, and starting and finishing tasks. Developmental abilities like these 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 our students are already learning in the classrooms and expand their abilities.

Makerspace Curriculum Teaches Teamwork & Creative Problem-Solving

Special education teachers and staff at Friendship Academy continue to gain valuable insights into the way their students approach tasks and assignments through their involvement with the Makerspace educational curriculum. One of the key takeaways has been the way students approach creative problem-solving.

Often, students at Friendship are more comfortable following set instructions to complete a task. The Makerspace curriculum gives them the outlet to think independently and approach problem-solving from their unique perspective. This initiative is helping our students use their imagination and use creative approaches to complete tasks. As students experience success with Makerspace projects, their self-confidence is building, helping their overall self-image grow more positively.

Students are also learning how to work cooperatively and effectively with their peers to resolve issues and complete tasks. Teamwork and turn-taking are essential skills that students will need to be successful outside of school and in the workforce. Many of the Makerspace activities require collaboration between students to be completed successfully.

The Makerspace educational curriculum has been embraced by students and classrooms at all levels within Friendship Academy, from elementary to high school. Learn more about the Watson Institute’s Friendship Academy, and how we support students with mental and behavioral health challenges.


(1) [Online]