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Make It Local - November 2016

Papalote Museo del Niño opens the largest makerspace in Mexico

by Prasana William

When plans were made to renovate Papalote Museo del Niño (Papalote Children’s Museum) in Mexico City, one thing was for certain: it would include a makerspace. Now, 15,000 square feet of the museum is dedicated to Laboratorio de Ideas—the largest makerspace in the country.

According to David Trujillo Lugo, gerente de comunicación educativa (educational communications manager) at Papalote, the museum decided to include a makerspace to empower children through knowledge, starting with the fundamental skills they need to better learn about the sciences, arts, and humanities.

 “Nowadays, it is very important that children develop creativity and, most importantly, be able to solve problems, overcoming their frustration,” says Trujillo. “That’s why we decided to include an area where children could learn not only from their success, but from their failures through specific activities that invite them to solve challenges with different solutions.”

The museum worked with Gyroscope, a ­California-based design firm that specializes in educational spaces for museums, science centers, schools, and libraries. Together they designed a makerspace that positions Papalote as a strong ally of this new approach to education.

A Local Take

Tapping into local culture is an important part of creating a makerspace. Mexico’s rich craft history originally inspired Gyroscope, but Papalote knew its audience. “The museum said they wanted to shift it more to focus on the future—take points from the past and refocus on the future of innovation and design in Mexico,” says Louise Mackie, designer of learning environments at Gyroscope. “That’s why they were keen on the digital fabrication lab stuff even though there aren’t loads of fabrication labs in Mexico City. It’s definitely a way to inspire future innovators and creators.”

Papalote and Gyroscope visited makerspaces, fabrication labs, and maker exhibits in the United States and Mexico City, including a fabrication lab at a local university. A fabrication lab is home to tools and machines used in digital fabrication, like 3-D printers. Students at the university’s lab had previously worked with children, helping them create custom superhero costumes, and the team left inspired to bridge the gap between knowing an object and knowing how it was made.

They did find a way to incorporate local craft heritage with high-tech skills, however. The museum features visiting artists and rotating exhibitions highlighting craftwork from around the nation. “The museum is great at working with local partners and bringing in what’s happening now,” says Mackie. “They want to showcase Mexican talent and help that to inspire the kids, but also…make sure [the space] is changing and flexible. It keeps visitors coming back regularly if you have this layer of change.”

Pull It Together

Over the course of four months, the museum’s maker team designed and evaluated 45 different activities. They interviewed children and parents to gauge how well participants understood the challenges, how long the projects took to complete, how supplies were used, and more.

“The activities in the Laboratorio de Ideas differ [from other museum activities] because children solve challenges in this maker space with different solutions: exploring materials, designing prototypes, testing them, and sharing the way they overcome the challenge with others,” says Trujillo. “Maker activities and STEAM projects are good ways of [helping] children develop critical thinking. [These activities] empower them, recognize their capacity to solve problems in a creative way, and values learning from mistakes. As museums, we are ambassadors of these innovative ways of learning.”

“A lot of people are nervous about making so we tried to phase it,” adds Mackie. “You can walk around and do some things that have a very low barrier to entry, that give you confidence and don’t need you to sit down and invest. Maybe next time you’ll be more confident. People who don’t think of themselves as makers can slowly become more and more comfortable with these kinds of projects.”

Opened in August, the makerspace includes three distinct areas: The Workshop, Innovation Lab and Group Build, and Media Studio.

The Workshop

“The Workshop is for more open-ended, project-based learning, and is divided into a ‘wet’ area with papermaking, drawing, painting, and gluing; a ‘dry’ area called ‘Tinkering and Tools’ that includes workbenches, materials, and a tool bar where you can get tool demonstrations and use hand power tools; and a kitchen-type area for edible experiments,” says Mackie.

Projects in this section involve the greatest time investment. There’s also a staff workshop with CNC machines (used for computer-controlled manufacturing). Since many of Papalote’s visitors would be too young to use the machinery, the staff workshop is visible through a glass wall and little guests can watch trained individuals at work. Many objects in the exhibit area, like stools, chairs, and signs, are made in-house on the CNC machines, encouraging kids to make the connection between the machines and objects they are already engaging with.

The Innovation Lab and Group Build

The second area, described as the main space of the three, is more program and group based. Here children design and build a robot, work with electronics, and play with software in the digital fabrication lab. The programs in this area take 10 minutes or less to complete and will change on a regular basis. The work of visiting artists and other guests will be on display on selves in this area to help inspire. This area also includes the Pendulart, an exhibit from before renovations, and a rocket launcher.

Media Studio

Set up like a functioning film studio, this area employs filmmaking as a maker activity. Guests are encouraged to incorporate activities from the other two areas into production, possibly creating a backdrop in The Workshop or filming a group activity.

Along all three areas runs a chalkboard wall filled with shelving. Meant to unite the space, this wall is an area to display guests’ work or messages in chalk. This “ties it all together with the principle that everyone is a maker together, and you want to share what you’ve done [as well as] share your failures,” Mackie says.

Make More

Papalote joined Mexico City’s Maker Education Network, which gathers educational institutions and local makerspaces to spread news of the impact of the maker movement. “For the last three years we went through a content and architectural renewal, taking into account the actual social and educational context in México,” says Trujillo. “Because play, experiential education, design thinking, and STEAM projects are part of a new way of learning, we want to be a relevant actor in the local scene in the diffusion of this new educational approach through experiences designed for the Laboratorio de Ideas.”

The makerspace creators hope Papalote’s work in the community and within its own walls will inspire the next generation of innovators. Gyroscope counts the museum’s dedication as a strength.

“I have this photo on my desk right now, which looks up in The Workshop, and it’s just covered in things people have made—just taking the idea and running with it. It would never be as fun looking or as exciting as it is without [Papalote] really being a great partner and turning this thing into something,” says Mackie. “The key to a great museum experience is that it keeps changing enough to keep people coming back. I think this space could never be the same each day.”

Start Your Own Makerspace

Papalote’s David Trujillo Lugo offers the following tips for creating a makerspace:

  • Identify your target audience.
  • Approach an existing makerspace that reaches a similar audience to learn about its experience.
  • Involve a majority of your staff, from the educational team to the financial team, in the planning process to help them understand the relevance of maker activities and to create a global vision of the impact the activities have on the museum and its visitors.
  • Develop and test the program with museum staff to identify what could work with visitors and in local context.

Prasana William is associate editor of Funworld. Contact her at pwilliam@IAAPA.org.