Brief: Outcomes of 2 year study on co-design of community makerspaces / making spaces

Large gaps in achievement and interest in science and engineering [STEM] persist for youth growing up in poverty, and in particular for African American and Latino youth. Within the informal community, the recently evolving maker movement has evoked interest for its potential role in breaking down longstanding barriers to learning and attainment in STEM, with advocates arguing for its democratizing effects. However, there is little evidence that the maker movement has been broadly successful at involving a diverse audience, especially over a sustained period of time. The movement remains an adult, white, middle-class pursuit, led by those with the leisure time, technical knowledge, experience, and resources to make. Even with the growth of community-based makerspaces, users of these spaces tend to be white adult men. At the same time, making programs are proliferating in science museums, public libraries and increasingly, as STEM-clubs in public schools. What remains unclear is how youth of color from low-income backgrounds, who are typically not the target youth group of most makerspace programs can access and engage in makerspaces in robust, equitable, and consequential ways.

We engaged in a two-year participatory design in Research + Practice partnerships to co-design and study in two community youth-centered making programs at the local Boys and Girls club in Michigan and North Carolina. Our project sought to ascertain how making programs can be co-designed with youth and community partners, including adult staff members at the Boys and Girls clubs, to be equitable and consequential. By equitable, we mean the program has to be 1) accessible to community youth who typically come from low-income families with limited transport options, which was why we situated the making program within the boys and girls clubs; and 2) sustained over a significant period of time so that youth have repeated opportunities to explore and engage in increasingly complex making (addressed through weekly programming with one-week summer intensives). By consequential, we envisioned the making program would 1) engage youth in making that matters to their everyday lives and concerns (decisions in what to make and how to make were co-constructed with youth and community members); 2) scaffold and empower youth to explore and gain expertise in STEM knowledge and practices during the making process. In two years of programming, we worked with over 40 low-income youth of color across the two sites. 95% of youth stayed for at least one full year of programming, and about 50% stayed for both years. At both sites, even as funding for M4C has been completed, the making programs have continued as we work towards sustainability.

Key findings revealed that when the making process was critical, connected and collective youth were more likely to have sustained and empowered engagement in making. Findings also indicated that it was essential to balance purposeful playfulness with what we have termed just-in-time STEM modules (rather than front-loading STEM content before engaging in making) and to invite a broadening range of identities youth could draw on as reasons to make. We found that engaging youth in community ethnography (through teaching youth how to create surveys and conduct interviews with community members to collectively figure out what kinds of innovations may help the community) was especially empowering. Some of the projects youth created after months of sustained making included 1) light-up football designed for children living in neighborhoods with no street-lights [made by Samuel, 12 year old African American boy]; 2) a “Cautious hat” with an alarm and decorative LED light, powered by a solar panel, designed for homeless youth so that they can stay safe and fashionable when quartered in shelters with strangers [made by 10 year old Tamzin, African American girls who experienced homelessness]; 3) a heated, light-weight jacket for teens to stay warm and fashionable in winter and not get bullied for their clothing [made by 12 year old Jennifer, African American, and 13 year old Emily, White]; 4) tension baby-gate hacked to be motorized and activated by sound to help wheelchair-bound caretakers, made by 14 year old Kelvin and 15 year old Peter, African American boys; and 6) little free STEM library with self-assembled maker-kits for other children at their community club, made by 14 year old Samuel, African American boy, and 15 year old Fall, White girl].

Findings suggest that framing youths’ experiences through the lens of equitable and consequential learning challenges the field to consider how making as a practice is never separate from individual and social histories that unfold across space and time.  Who can make and who cannot, whose knowledge matters and whose does not, are all a part of making itself. These questions that are deeply related to how youth are able to develop a sense of belonging in a making space are important ones to consider if the maker movement is to truly to be able to democratize STEM education.

You can download the brief here: M4CBrief

I-Engineering: Youth Making A Difference With Engineering Design

In I-Engineering, we have worked collaboratively with teachers and students using participatory design research methods to co-develop and implement energy engineering for sustainable community tools and materials in their classrooms. In this video, we discuss how teachers and students implemented one of our units (“How can I make my classroom more sustainable?”). In the unit, they integrated community ethnography into the engineering design process as a way to engage with community perspectives. Using what they learned about engineering practices and the DCIs of energy transformations, sources and systems, students were supported by teachers in identifying problems meaningful to the classroom and local community, and applying their STEM knowledge to iteratively prototype working solutions. As the teacher of the Occupied group said, “this is one project that will really promote classroom sustainability.” As a student in the Occupied group said, “This was the first time I felt like I could be an engineer.” Our goal is to support teachers and students in developing their agency and identities in engineering while gaining deeper knowledge and practices in science and engineering.

Community Ethnography as Pedagogy, Part 1

We are concerned with understanding the possibilities for designing pedagogical practices in support of equity-oriented and STEM-rich making for youth from historically marginalized communities.

One approach we have been developing is what we call “community ethnography as pedagogy” in support of equity-oriented STEM making. We are concerned with how youth are granted opportunities and supported in taking on making projects of relevance to their communities – both as they consider the social, political and ethical dimensions of the problems and solutions they hope to tackle, as well as the importance of their work towards community development. We are also concerned with the opportunities that youth have to move from understanding inequality to taking informed action. As facilitators and mentor-teachers, we recognize the urgency of exploring our pedagogical actions and choices for consequentially structuring and guiding/gatekeeping such opportunities.

Our stance on community ethnography as pedagogy is rooted in the traditions of critical ethnography. Community ethnography as pedagogy supports young people in engaging in reflexive inquiry with community members around both problems and solutions that drive their making.  It also promotes opportunities for youth to see and critique systemic injustices in their communities and their future lives. Take for example, this quote shared with us by Samuel:

When you are engineering, when you are making your invention, first of all, you have to talk to people. You have to interview people in your community. You might know what the problems are, but you might not know how it matters to other people. You have to figure out how other people care, and you have to get their ideas, and learn what they know. . . When we made our library, we had to figure out that we needed to make it. We needed to know where it would go, what it could look like, and stuff we put in it. We had our ideas, but our ideas weren’t enough.

Samuel shared this view with us while reflecting upon his recent involvement in an afterschool STEM Club where he and his friend Fall built a “Little Free STEM Library” that they housed at their community club. They made the library so that the children at their club could have free and unfettered access to science books and mini-maker kits. They added blinking LED lights around the library, powered by a handcrank generator, to call attention to it, and to get kids curious about how it worked. Samuel and Fall were concerned that children in their community have ample time to practice their reading while also having the chance to “make things” for their community — concerns they felt were not adequately addressed at school.

This quote captures, in large part, how Samuel frames the importance of sustained engagement with his community as a part of the process of making. He makes the point that by interviewing and talking with different people in his community he could see the problems he cared about in new and different ways. Samuel also viewed his engagement with community as shaping the outcomes of his work as well. He needed to know, for example, where to put the finished library so that it would be accessible to others. His idea for including the mini-maker kits in the library was also inspired by observing how much the younger children enjoyed sneaking into the making space to play with the paper circuit materials.

Drawing upon ethnographic tools, such as dialogic interviews and observation, we conjecture that community ethnography as pedagogy can expand the boundaries of making – where making takes place, who makes, what counts as making, and expertise in making. Such practices can position youth’s historicized experience within a broader context and in direct connection to making. In addition, these practices may support youth in being recognized as creators of their own stories about their community, capable of representing themselves and others, and with important insider knowledge for doing so in powerful ways.

In our next blog post we will share a few examples of what this looks like in practice.

A Day Without A Woman

We are living in a time of great hate, denial, erasure, and violence. Now more than ever, we must fight.

Today is International Women’s Day. It’s also a day of striking across several countries in solidarity with the U.S. women who are seeking change for “equity, justice and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people.” Thus, today has been named A Day Without A Woman.

Each strike calls us to look at who we are, what we do, and what we can and should be doing to act for change. Tithi Bhattacharya and Cinzia Arruzza have presented the intentions behind this strike as intersectional and urgent. Creighton Leigh disagrees, but offers a handy list of 10 urgent actions to complete for Brown and Black women today.

Today, as a White woman and graduate student, I hold the privilege of deciding for myself what my day will entail. This morning as a student, the labor I perform is for me and my benefit. This afternoon as a teacher at a community organization funded externally by a grant, the labor I perform is not static employment but engagement for critical, sociopolitical and historical change. Today, like many days, my privileges provide choice.

I choose to continue learning and engaging towards making change in partnership with strong women and youth from communities that are often silenced and stripped of power in/by STEM because of skin color, wallets, and zip codes. I choose to work in partnership to dismantle structures of power that benefit me now as a White woman but hurt us all in the end, by dividing and conquering us as a nation paralyzed. I choose to fight for my students’ voices and talents and dreams to be heard, honored, and realized. As a great mentor of mine recently stated, “Education is the best ammunition we have.”

For me, today is yet another reminder that I need to continue to learn and grow and put my efforts where they matter—I need to participate more in political work. I need to more fully embrace this fight that we did not ask for. The fight that others without my White privilege have been fighting their entire lives. I need to act, knowing in strength and hope that “our army of love greatly outnumbers that of fear, greed and hatred.”

Where will you place YOUR efforts today? Where will you stand for justice tomorrow? Where will you fight?


Power Tool Arcade Day (Guest Blog by Autumn)

Hi! Im the GET City blogger, Autumn! You can read my blogs here. I am writing to tell you about some of the amazing maker stuff we have done this fall. December 8th was GET City’s ‘POWER TOOL ARCADE’ presentation day! Since the end of October, the kids in GET City have been building arcade games. This way we got to learn how to use different power tools at the same time we learned some science, like forces and motion.

The power tool arcade presentation was for the GET City members to explain why and how they they built their games, and how they play the game. J and M said that they built the bumper pool table so that the younger kids could have a pool table (only the older kids have one at the club). The games were so good and they really worked. Also, when everyone was done presenting their games, all of the kids that came in to watch were able to be able to play the games. The games included Foosball, Skeeball, race track, pukketball, and other games.

Right when everyone left and it was time to clean up, we decided to the manikin challenge. Here is our manikin challenge video!

Working towards a critical and consequential science literacy

With the ever-increasing (indeed, strengthening) inequities in science education (particularly along race and class lines), alongside the rise in the anti-science climate in the US, I suggest that we might re-think how we frame “science literacy” in the science education teaching and research communities. The recent election is a reminder that these joint issues are not going away, but only increasing. The Next Generation Science Standards simply do not go far enough in challenging access, opportunity, and engagement with science in ways that connect with and matter to people across our communities, nation and globe. Below I present some conjectures to “think with” that connect an equity perspective (who has access to STEM and why/how) and a global sustainability perspective (e.g., the need to push back against the anti-science climate).

  1. Current views of science literacy, as outlined in the NGSS and which focus on mastering disciplinary knowledge and practices, have kept science in a separate “elitist” domain, closing down symbolic access and opportunity. These views do not account for the knowledges and practices necessary for taking action with science in ways that are critical and connected to community needs or to becoming civically engaged with/through science.
  1. More critical and consequential forms of science literacy are needed. Critical and Consequential forms of science literacy attend to how learning and engagement in science is a) rooted in the history and geographies of young people’s lives in ways that b) value the connections they make among science, community and broader social issues in pursuit of c) transformative outcomes, such as action taking through science, and shifting power dynamics regarding who can access and take action in science and what this looks like.
  1. Critical and consequential forms of science literacy involve more than mastering the knowledge and practices of science (as described in the NGSS), (although developing such mastery is an integral aspect, see conjecture #4). They involve developing approaches to leveraging and hybridizing other forms expertise (e.g., community knowledge, engaging with others, interdisciplinary problems) with the knowledge & practice of science as individuals seek to engage the world meaningfully. Without taking into account how people (especially those from historically marginalized backgrounds in STEM) take up science as a part of their discourse and practice in the world, then science literacy is ultimately defined as a separate culture, community, and power.
  1. Pathways to critical and consequential forms of science literacy are iterative and adaptive. That is, deepening knowledge in one domain (e.g., community) can lead to deepening knowledge in another (e.g., science), in generative ways, leading to new forms of practice & knowledge not a part of the standard curriculum.

In a previous blogpost, Christina wrote about the importance of conscientization in teaching and learning science. I re-iterate that here, reminding us that critical and consequential science literacy, as implied in the four conjectures above, involves reading the world and reading the word (Freire, 1973). We must work together to critically reflect upon science and our world in order to take action and transform it – this is the heart of science literacy.


Youth as Active Agents in Conscientizing Grain-sizes of Science Teaching and Learning

by Christina Restrepo Nazar

Today’s blogpost comes after my research group’s (and I) careful discussion on making sense of youth’s agency, resistance and empowerment in science. We read a book chapter by Daniels, Harnischfeger, Hos & Akom (2010)  titled “Youth as Active Agents: Counter-narrating the Source of Reform” and it was absolutely on point with one of the important strands in my research as a science education scholar.

I have been interested in supporting youth agency in science for quite some time now.  Through the cases I co-developed with AD, Faith and Christopher as part of my  graduate student work at Invincibility Lab, (see ex. The Case of Faith) I have seen the importance of how youth identify and connect with (for what and for whom) meaningful science learning–as a source of promoting agency, identifying forms of resistance to the discursive/culture of power in science, and/or embracing and empowering themselves with the tools to use science–in meaningful and transformative ways for themselves and for their communities. But most importantly is how this learning does not only transform the youth in their particular learning spaces, but that it also supports meaningful others in transforming structures of power that youth have come to know/understand as determinants of their success in science education (e.g. teacher education, policy, curriculum,  reasons for engaging in practices of science in the first place). (See also the blog post on critical and consequential science literacy).

Because of this, during this very important discussion last week, I asked myself two questions: how can people take up/make sense of youths’ meaningful learning in science? And how can people with the power to transform their spaces and/or practices (e.g. teachers, pre-service teachers, researchers, curriculum developers, policy makers, etc….) do so as they engage with these transformative messages?

It is well established in the field that when science learning is most associated with the lives of students–either the process of learning and doing science and/or the outcomes of the learning itself–they engage meaningfully with the discourse, practices, and norms of science (Basu & Calabrese Barton, 2007) . However, I argue that  it takes a level of conscientization, or “the processes in which [people] achieve a deepening awareness of both the sociocultural reality that shapes their lives and their capacity to transform that reality” (Freire, 1985, p.93) to be aware of how this “meaningfulness” affects them and their pathways for learning. For the students I work with specifically, I can claim that they did not know science/engineering could become meaningful to their lives until they were able to bridge problems  in their communities using science/engineering and that making sense of those problems can drive solutions that are important to them–and more expansively–their families and communities (e.g. The Case of Faith).  Additionally, this conscientization became more powerful for the youth when they knew these messages can be meaningful for others, because now they knew these messages were going to be taken up by people who would view them as doing, making, creating, inventing, EVERYTHING in ways that were not normative in science education.

Hence, it is important that as researchers, teachers, teacher educators, we support youths’ “active agency,” through mutually empowering and collaborating with youth in co-constructing reform efforts by 1) helping them be aware of their realities (including the social, political, cultural, and economic structures that oppress and harm them) and 2) creating opportunities to challenge the narratives that oppress them to empower them.

This creates an important juncture in identifying different levels of “active agency” that we can help support. For example, as science educators who are interested in issues of equity, we should not only be creating spaces for youth to learn through our respective research programs, agendas and the like, but that we take the learning from one space and bring it to another, and support a multi-level approach to “critical consciousness”  (Freire, 1973). We have the political, social, and economic power to identify and take  action against the oppressive elements affecting youth in our society, in their classrooms, or in their daily interactions with youth–we just have to find the meaningful connections to them and create consciousness in the process.  

Hence as we discuss these multi-levels of active agency, and the grain-sizes involved, let’s look at how learning from students conscientization can create critical consciousness in pre-service teachers to better engage with youths’ funds of knowledge in the classroom. Let’s take this active agency to curriculum developers and STEM pipeline programs so that they understand what it means to learn science meaningfully and how they can support youth in this work. Let’s take this active agency to national policy programs and foundations so that they understand exactly what student experiences are limiting or not their learning. Let’s move this work beyond research/academia and the like, but to new and expansive places where the conscientization of one youth can become “sources of reform” for others.  By conscientizing these structures of power we are challenging the hegemonic  cultural/social/educational/political/other structures that support or inhibit meaningful science learning, crossing time, space and place.

Equitably consequential practices in Makerspaces: Contact zones for equity in making

Equitably consequential practices in Makerspaces: Contact zones for equity in making

Angela Calabrese Barton & Edna Tan

For national making week, we want to continue our focus on equity in making & makerspaces. Over the past 15 years, we have followed youth across the spaces of home, school, and after school across the middle grades, following some of the youth into college. One goal of this work has been to make sense of youths’ pathways into/out of/through/in STEM, and use to our understandings to co-design (with youth) for pathways that are equitably consequential. By equitably consequential we suggest that learning and becoming are forward directed and transformative for both the self and the community, such that acts of learning and becoming contribute productively to, and help to legitimize, an ever expanding range of ideas, tools, resources and ways of being in STEM. We are particularly interested in the role that youths’ making (both inside and outside of makerspaces) plays in their pathways.

Mobilities of learning studies remind us that learning always takes place somewhere, both in “relation to history (time) and context (place/space).” (p. 749). One thread of work that is particularly salient to our own work is that which examines space-making as a part of more expansive views of learning. We use the term space-making in ways similar to that of place-making. An individual’s opportunities to be and to become are shaped by place. At the same time, who one is also gives meaning to place: Creswell reminds us that “Places do not have intrinsic meanings and essences . . . the meanings of place are created through practice” (p. 17).

By drawing attention to space over place, we acknowledge the itinerant over fixed nature of learning, where space reflects “a territory defined by practice-based learning, inhabited by a network of people, ideas, and objects in movement” rather than a fixed geographical area. We also use space to suggest that the possible platforms for being and becoming are not only solely contingent on the structural landscape of geographical places but also tied to norms and power structures. “Space” connotes the plurality of spaces (platforms for being/becoming) that may be connected to a singular geographical place (e.g., home, school).

For example, in our work we look at how the playing field in after school making clubs (one area of space-making) transform for youth as they refine the problems and designs they worked on in both technical and social ways, expanding their connectedness to others, and the access they have to ideas, tools, and resources for advancing their expertise. We also explore how youth’s making also transform the playing field among peers, family, and community (another area of space-making). The youths’ design work impacts being in community with how their making artifacts impact life there, at the same time they make doing engineering an insider practice, something owned by the community. We also look at how the playing fields of STEM, both real and imagined (a 3rd area of space-making) transform. The youths’ practices serve as new tools to expand the purposes and goals for engaging in STEM.

Given our focus on equity in making, we consider the importance of designing for maximal zones of contact (across stakeholders and salient issues across youths’ everyday lives in different spaces –home, community, school, informal Maker program) in supporting such space making. Previous studies on makerspaces primarily viewed them as closed learning environments or bounded communities of practice in which individuals participate in core practices regarding making and become a legitimate member of the communities.

However, the youth in our projects show us that their makerspace work is much more flexible, and positioned “in a nexus of relations” to various physical and virtual locales, such as home, school, pinterest, playgrounds, and transportation routes. The juxtaposition of these locales, “and the contact zones between them, become an expanded terrain of examination and evidence” concerning both making and place. We are concerned with mechanisms (youth-driven, broker-driven) that promote, legitimize, and expand zones of contact, with particular attention on the following three:

  • Youth create contact zones between places created by the funds of knowledge they leverage towards technical design starting points. For example, Samuel who designed a light up football knew how a football spirals and this led him to investigate how to weight the batteries in a light up ball he made. Jennifer who made a heated jacket knew how her Dad insulated a fireplace as a starting point for thinking about non-bulky ways to heat a jacket.
  • Youth also created contact zones by the tools they appropriated for new purposes. For example, Pinterest served both as a tool for Emily & Jennifer (who made a heated jacket) to position themselves with authority, given their expert status with computers, and giving them time to think through the fashion side of their design, while seeking safe inroads to the tech side of the task. Emily developed new tests for assessing the quality of the heating system in her heated jacket when the standard quantitative thermometer test proved too limiting, such as the skin test, and the timed test.
  • Youth also created contact zones by leveraging their insider social networks. They strategically brought new and different people into the design conversation, such as their friends, parents/grandparents, teachers, engineers, and little kids, entangling technical and social concerns in their designs in ways that advanced the technical quality while deeply ensconcing themselves and their networks as an integral parts of their design.

This blurring of spaces – zones of contact – helped to “deterritorialize” the making space and the broader space of doing STEM. Who can make and whose knowledge matters is surfaced and challenged as the histories and geographies of youth makers shape the ways in which they bound the problems they sought to solve and the solutions they developed.

“Our projects are for people and for the community”

The “Timmy” is a heated lighted up boot. The boys who made it (ages 11 and 12), describe it this way: “This fall, Angie walked in with a cast on and said her toes were cold she really wished that a heated boot/cast existed.  At first we thought about doing this with a cast, but then thought that not everyone has a cast, and a shoe might be better — but specifically a boot.  This worked well, because we could combine our love for sneakers with a winter boot.  When you have to get to places, you have to go outside. You have to go outside to get anywhere. I walk to the Boys and Girls Club from home on days that I don’t have school, for example. Even when I have a car to ride in, I still have to walk to that car. And when your feet are cold in the winter they get itchy because of the cold! Sometimes my feet get so cold, they feel numb — so you have to itch your feet to get the numbness out. In the wintertime, boots keep snow out, they keep snow from getting into your shoes, they should be waterproof, and they should be high quality. With these heated boots, instead of having to stand by a heater when you walk inside, you can walk around anywhere you need to go with heated boots.”

M and T along with several other helpers worked on this boot for 4 months two days a week after school in GET City’s Making 4 Change program. With help from an undergraduate engineering major, their peers and teachers, the boys carefully and systematically developed a system that worked. Their tech specs include the following (as the have described it):

  • The Timmy is made out of high-quality leather and has rubber soles. The tongue is rubbery and it will have laces that come in different colors.
  • We have included 2 5V heating elements in each boot, which are located in the sole of the boot (under the sole, so it is still comfy and cushiony, but very warm. To make it warmer in this proof-of-concept prototype, we modified/hacked 2 5V 15x5cm heating elements for each sole! We soldered wires to connect the heating elements together. That was really hard work to do!
  • The boots are powered by rechargeable batteries, located inside a hidden zipper compartment in the tongue of the shoe. Super slick styling with designer zipper.
  • We used heat-safe (Teflon-coated) wiring to connect the heating elements to the rechargeable batteries.
  • The batteries are removable so you can charge them up again if they run out of power (because, let’s be honest, you will want to wear these boots every day and they will be on ALL THE TIME because you will love them). We are including a separate charger pack that is solar panel-powered, so you just have to keep the charger next to a window when you want to recharge your heated Timmy boots.

On Thursday March 24, 2016 the boys presented their Timmy at a regional “youth start up” conference. As you walked into the Lansing center where the conference was hosted, you noticed many fancy and large displays. The boys’ presentation was understated. They had their Timmy plus a lap top with a Powerpoint presentation explaining their engineering design and solution. As they walked around visiting different youth ‘start ups’ they made an interesting observation. M stated “I noticed that when I came in here most people here are just about selling something like food, and not to make the community better. Our projects are for people, to make citizens more better, like sickness and problems. The heating pads in our boots, that is for sickness, to make people feel better.” And another youth stated “these projects are only about making money, not about making things better.” While the youth noticed that there were ‘Start Ups’ focused on providing a helping service (e.g., a house cleaning service for people who need it), the youth noted that they and their families could not afford those services.

And, as one of the youth wondered, “is being an entrepreneur only about money?”
That M and T described the Timmy in the following way further captures this point: “The Timmy is for people that can’t afford shoes, people that don’t have boots for winter, like homeless people that we see in Lansing, we will have a website where we sell boots for free for homeless people (people that aren’t able to pay for it). Our product is very useful for winter and for people that have cold feet, or just want to look cool. And we’ll be coming out with heated or cooling house slippers to keep you warm or cool depending on the time of the year.”

Other projects represented by GET City youth include:

  • A little free STEM library with take home maker kits so that kids “can make things at home just like us in GET City” and “learn things they do not learn in school”.
  • A no home phone emergency button to help families who do not have phones get emergency help with needed because “one time my family didn’t have a phone and my cousin got hurt and needed stitches”
  • A heated bus seat and bus station system because “we get cold waiting for the bus”
  • A “by kids for kids” DIY video series to be placed on a YouTube station that show cases girls and youth of color teaching about how to use green energy in making projects because “we had a hard time figuring out how to use piezo pads because there were no kid friendly materials we could find” and “kids need to see themselves in the DIY videos because most of them are grown up white men.”

All of these projects identified a need that would make their communities “better” as M stated. All of these youth created working prototypes after 4 and 5 and 6 months of after school work. This contrast between projects for profit and projects for community well-being, highlighted by the youth, raise some points we want to reflect further upon. Below we highlight three:

A collectively defined practice of making for the public good: What does it mean to make for the public good? Why does the public good drive the youth to engage in engineering design? How might we recognize those moments were youth identify needs within the public good that push back on the systematic racism, classism and sexism the youth experience as budding engineers for sustainable communities?

The youth’s engineering and making work is grounded in the collectively formed interests and needs of their community, and often interests that carried deep meanings at the powered boundaries of race, class and gender. The youth we work with all come form lower-income communities, and nearly all are youth of color. The problems they identify are defined through interactions with others and leverage others’ experiences and struggles – which they see themselves as a part of – towards making. The Timmy was designed because the youth were aware, generally, of how wet and cold their feet can be in the winter. They all shared stories of how their feet turn numb and begin to itch when they have stayed so cold for so long during the day. And yet, their boot first belongs to the homeless in their community because they recognize that their need is even greater than their own. This collective form of engagement also speaks to the knowledge communities in which youth participate, and which cross into their making community: peer, family, on-line, STEM, and local communities.

Challenging dominant narratives of why focus on STEM? What counts as engineering? Why should we teach engineering practices as a part of our work in makerspaces?

The “for profit contrast” also brings to the fore dominant discourses in society regarding the role of STEM in economic advancement amidst increasing global competition. In federal policy, America’s position in the world is described as being threatened by “comparatively few American students pursu[ing] expertise in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics” (US Department of Education, 2015). This neoliberal imperative erodes a sense of collective responsibility in using STEM towards building the public good. Not only does this frame market-driven value and self-interests over democratic citizenship, civic responsibility, and an ethic of care, but it also marginalizes issues of social justice/equity. The neoliberal agenda suggests that young people growing up in poverty should be interested in engineering only because becoming a professional in engineering will improve one’s lot in life, and the workforce may benefit from diverse views. We are not saying that youth should not be in positions of economic advancement. Rather, that the impetus for engaging in making and engineering design ought to be complex, and their desires for the world as it could be ought to be recognized in public discourse and practice.

Making the powered boundaries of race, class and gender problematic and transparent. The youth consistently and powerfully engaged in practices that validated and attempted to address their families’ and friends’ economic, health, and well-being struggles. While they do not explicitly invoke race in their design work, their messages about who their designs are for and why act as strong responses to the “racialized practices” they have experienced in science and in their community (Martin & Shah, 2014). Their messages about who is excluded — because of what they value in innovation — in the city’s Start Up Fair is also clear. The youth make the inequities they experience in their lives because of their positionings a central struggle in their design work. They show us that they work hard, care about STEM, are smart and capable AND they are people who care for and with their community. Their engineering designs and the practices they take up to make these designs a reality offer possibilities for how we might better understand and challenge “the racial contestation, stratification, hierarchies, and ideologies” that characterize the spaces in which they live and work (Martin & Shah, 2014). Their practices offer a vision for how to transform these power hierarchies in ways that open up new spaces for becoming in engineering and in the role of engineering for sustainable communities.

We have so much to learn from these youth, and this short reflection only scratches the surface of what they are teaching us. I, personally, am grateful that I have the chance to be challenged by and connected to their efforts to make this world a better place.

Learn more about the Timmy HERE! Read the Lansing State Journal article about the Timmy HERE!

Youth as Counter-storytellers: Using Multimodality to Discuss Meaningful Science and Engineering Learning (Part I: The Case of Faith)

By: Christina Restrepo Nazar

How do we increase access for marginalized and minoritized communities who have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM education? Our youth may have the answer!

K-12 STEM education initiatives are one of the most pressing issues being discussed across universities, policy centers and schools nationwide.  Often times we enter with assumptions as researchers and practitioners into schools and communities by pledging to “fix” problems and proposing best practices for success.This is why I am very excited to be part of the Invincibility Lab team where we constantly work towards (re) identifying community assets and forefronting experiences, ideas and subjectivities of youth in how they describe and identify what is meaningful science learning. In this series of three blog posts, I will discuss my work with Faith, AD and Christopher, three youth inventors who participated in GETCity, our equity oriented makerspace. Although I have worked with the youth for almost three years, for this particular study, we met for an hour a week for a period of 6 months creating multimodal messages of what it meant to engage in meaningful science learning, specifically when engineering for sustainable communities. The case co-construction was comprised of negotiating  multimodal artifacts that describe their STEM learning across spaces and over time.

The Case of Faith: A 14 years old, African American female high school student, she created a solar panel fan-hat, primarily to keep church members cool during the summer time. Her  design was created when she was 12 years old. She discussed three important problems when deciding on an engineering design: 1) ladies who go to her church wear stylish hats that often times cannot be worn during the summer time due to the very hot un-airconditioned church 2) the church she goes to has ceiling windows where solar light shines through, enough that she believed can power a solar panel and 3) her family’s personal appearance in avoiding being hot and sweaty in public places (e.g. school, work, church). In her design, she identified important criteria and constraints based on the needs of her community, for example, the type of hat she used, the design considerations regarding placement of motor, fan with blades and solar panel, and wires that connected to the solar panel.

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Faith’s sketch up of her FANcy Hat!

When we started our multimodal case study, Faith was very adamant about describing frustrations related to how her engineering design was not linear. She constantly had problems in finalizing one design requirement, and then those problems shifted based on community needs. In the beginning of her design  year, we gave her an engineering design cycle based on the NASA model, which focused on stating the problem, generating ideas, selecting solutions, building, evaluating and presenting results. However, Faith described her invention as one that had “multiple circles and many steps” because her design was constantly being re-informed by how her community best viewed their needs through the hat. Eventually, after much negotiation, Faith and I decided to create her own engineering cycle that showed the steps she took in her design and how community needs informed and re-informed the design as it moved forward.

Although her fan-hat design was an engineering project for sustainable communities, during her case study development, a lot of the discussions we had were around how important community ethnography and obtaining perspectives from friends and family were crucial to how she thinks about herself as a friend and listener. Many times there were stories of how she helped her friends, family and others with emotional problems and that her advice was always to create a sculpture that housed all their frustrations. To create the sculpture you have to use tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers, which are also used by engineers. By doing so, she connected these community needs in engineering to her interest in psychology. In her case, she described herself as an  “imagination creator” because she is constantly re-imagining what it means to create and do with and for others, and this is clearly seen through the videos, pictures and audio she chose to describe her engineering design and career choice on her multimodal case.  In one of her videos, she made the case for redefining what it means to do engineering with and for communities: by thinking of  a new way to apply science and engineering as a psychological tool. She named this psychoengineering.

This very important example of Faith’s engagement in meaningful science learning is just one example of youth can counter narrate their experiences. What makes Faith’s case so unique is that although her engineering work in GETCity happened over 2 years ago, she still uses examples from her engagement with community ethnography to set criteria and constraints in her design process, to inform how she now thinks about creating new perspectives for her learning and participation with science. For example, redefining what it means to do engineering design because of her focus on community needs, and also how she thinks of applying engineering design to psychology through a career path she wants to develop for herself with psychoengineering. Finally, she used all these meaningful learning experiences and counternarratives to drive the creation of her multimodal case.