There’s no way to sugarcoat it – last school year was hard. It was hard on students, hard on parents, and hard on you. Nevertheless, here you are, a stronger educator because you overcame one of the most difficult challenges our national school system has seen in history. But are the difficult days of distance learning behind us? What hurdles will we have to jump over in the next school year?

The thing that has been on my mind the most for the 2020-2021 school year is how the maker movement will change. In recent history as STEM continues to grow as an interdisciplinary, hands-on learning and teaching experience, how does social distancing fit into a makerspace where students have been encouraged to work in groups, embrace tools, and learn through doing?

Here are some ideas for keeping students safe in a post-COVID makerspace:

1. Rearrange Your Space

If you are returning to the classroom this fall, you are likely aware of the CDC guidelines for schools. The list is long and recommends students stay 6 feet apart, do not share objects, and stay in one room throughout the day. These ideas go against many best practices in a makerspace, where students are typically encouraged to work closely together on projects, sharing spaces and tools.

The first thing you can do in your classroom or makerspace is to take a hard look at your current layout. If you can, spread out individual desks as much as possible. For shared tables or desks that are stationary, consider putting stickers to designate where students can or can’t sit. Or consider having the same group work together at the same table every day. Make sure to clear aisles of any maker projects so students have ample room to move around. Lastly, set up multiple tool and supply stations around the room and label them (e.g. Station A). Assign a certain number of students to each station – this will help to eliminate contact across the whole class and have the same students working with the same supplies. Additionally, place a “dirty tools” bin to collect supplies that you or a custodian can clean at the end of each day.

Here’s a makerspace layout example that contains students to the same groups, tables, and supplies every day:

For more layout ideas, download our free Makerspace Toolkit for implementation tips and tricks.

2. Makerspace on the Go

For a lower risk classroom, the CDC recommends moving teachers from classroom to classroom instead of moving students. This is the perfect opportunity to create a mobile makerspace that you can move through the hallways. In a previous blog, I outlined how to make any space a makerspace, and still believe these practices can hold true in our reformed makerspaces. If you can keep all of your supplies on a single cart (like this FabricationStation Deluxe Cart), you can easily transport your makerspace on the go and keep all the supplies in a contained area to pass out.

This is also a great way to take all the supplies that have been touched out of the classroom for cleaning.

3. Individual Supplies

Maybe it’s just not practical to share supplies in Fall 2020 – a reality hard to face in hands-on education. The CDC recommends that students only use their own supplies to reduce any cross-contamination. In a makerspace, this may mean setting up a cubby station and assigning each student their own bin of maker supplies and tools. If the same students are interacting on a daily basis, you can use group cubbies so the same students are always using the same supplies with the same people every day. You can also assign other individual tools like in this Safety Glasses Storage System.

4. Collect, Clean, and Repeat

The biggest hurdle will be collecting supplies and cleaning them on a regular basis. By assigning cubbies, you can keep things in one area to reduce the spread of germs and have a location where cleaning occurs on a regular basis. You can keep hand sanitizer and wipes at these spaces and encourage students to wipe down items before and after use. It will probably fall on you to clean shared spaces, so any new makerspace rules that you can implement for tool collection and cleaning will set the stage for the year’s expectations.

We’re all learning as we go, and next school year will be no different. What ideas do you have to keep interaction high while social distancing in a makerspace? Share your ideas for others in the comments below!