One of the biggest changes in teaching STEM, robotics, innovation and using science to change the world these days is the emphasis on hands on, practical elements of the topics at hand. Far from being the dusty, staid halls of academia that used to put all but the most studious of kids to sleep, science and technology have become cool, interesting, messy and very much about doing as much as understanding.

A big part of this shift in how we teach STEM, and how kids learn, is what are known as makerspaces or hackerspaces, and they’re popping up all over the world. Here’s what you need to know, so you can make sure your kids get the best of these exciting new learning opportunities.

What Are Maker Spaces?

Maker spaces are the learning equivalent of the mad scientists’ lab. A place where kids, parents and educators can come together and use a wide range of materials, tools, equipment, 3D printers and design software to invent, innovate and create. There’s a heavy focus on functional design and the invention of useful items, and you will find these spaces at universities, libraries and other learning institutions throughout the developed world.

Why Makers Spaces Work

There’s something we’ve known about kids for a very long time, but didn’t really consider as part of STEM robotics or other studies: children learn more easily, understand better and retain more information when they’re learning in a fun environment. What could be more fun than turning ideas into reality, collaborating with old friends and new, and having experts on hand to offer direction when they’re needed?

That’s exactly why maker spaces are working so well to get children excited about and interested in topics like engineering and robotics. They’re places where you can not only dream about building a robot. You can design one, 3D print custom parts, and work with peers, parents and experts to create something that is tangible and functional. Who wouldn’t love that?

Who Uses Maker Spaces?

The great thing about maker spaces are that they aren’t just for one age or group. You’re as likely to see elementary school kids and their parents building something together as you are a team of university students using the facilities to build prototypes for their course work.

Maker spaces are even part of the company culture at huge corporations like Microsoft and Google, which proves that they’re not just for people who are still learning about STEM. They’re also used by the people who are already leading the field.

Maker Spaces in Your Area

If you are excited about maker spaces, you’re not alone. Chances are there are already at least a few near you. Talk to your child’s school, the local library and university to find out if they know of any STEM robotics programs in your area, and if all else fails, try online. You’d be surprised at how many resources there already are online for this relatively new idea!