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.
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.
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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
In my first blog entry for Invincibility Lab website I would like to write about how youth makers are the foundation for the present and future of sustainable communities. And you must be wondering, what is a sustainable community? Good question. What make a community sustainable are their people. That is why I started with the premise that youth makers are important for these communities.
Now, let’s go back to what is a sustainable community. Sustainable communities are communities where its members actively engage in practices that ensure the environmental, social, and economic health of future generations. For example, the members of a sustainable community are always thinking about future generations while they partake in the resources they have now. When we talk about resources we are not only talking about water and land, we need also to consider energy. Every time we use the TV or the computer, we are consuming energy that future generations, may not be able to enjoy. So, what we can do to ensure that the upcoming generation in our community could have an opportunity to enjoy of energy sources? Some of you got it right: renewable energy sources.
In M4C our youth makers have this issue very present when they start designing their projects. Most of the designs from the youth makers have a component of renewable energy. For example, the light umbrella from Ariel and the bird house heating system both use different forms of renewable energy, such as human or solar, which they figured out how to convert to electrical energy.
Another important aspect of sustainable communities is engaged, informed citizenship. That is, sustainable communities’ members are actively involved in their community’s problems. Every time the youth makers starts a new project, they collect data with surveys about the needs in the community. Once they have that information, they use it to incorporate new elements to their design or develop a product that can serve the community’s needs. The youth’s active role in identifying a problem and design a solution to that problem is an important characteristic of sustainable community members. Remember, a community is sustainable because of their members’ practices.
The youth makers in M4C demonstrate how to transform a community to a sustainable community with creativity and the will to help others. The sustainable future of these communities is secure when we create spaces for youth where their voices, ideas, and dreams, are heard. They are the principal community’s assets to attend the problems that affect them and find solution for their problem.
One of our commitments in Invincibility is to work towards authentic university-community-school partnerships in support of designing equitable STEM learning experiences for youth from non-dominant communities. This collaboration has been the forefront of creating serious conversations in our community around what high quality STEM experiences can be for youth in low-income communities, and the hoped for impacts on youth development.
For example, our collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club of Lansing began in 2006. At the heart of our partnership are a set of shared beliefs about working towards equitable outcomes, including drawing upon the strengths that each brings to the table, on-going communication for building a shared vision, and working for change – change in how we make sense of, design, and deliver equitable programs for youth, and change in ourselves as we learn from each other and the process. The process is not always smooth, even when the collaborative relationships are strong. Change is difficult, and the process is always under the stress of external forces, such as limited access to resources for community and public organizations, competing external priorities, and broader sociohistorical narratives/practices about equity and STEM.
In response, we have found that we are able to sustain our efforts by foregrounding the importance of youth perspectives. By inviting the youth to play powerful roles as co-researchers and co-developers, their voices provide a centering mechanism.
Inspired by the Research + Practice Collaboratory, three practices have helped us along the way that draw upon this youth-based focus.
First, youth participatory methodologies have served as a grounding mechanism of our partnership. We focus on the importance of a weekly conversation we hold with youth, where they provide on-going direction and feedback regarding our partnership programs. We also focus on the importance of youth researchers – youth who play the role of broker between our partnership and other participating youth and families. We also believe that youth participatory methodologies are important in supporting youth in trusting the process and the ones delivering the process.
Second, we have a set of both informal and formal tools and routines that have emerged from our efforts to listen to and learn from youth that keep us focused on our commitment to work for equity, such as the importance of deliberate efforts to talk about particular youth and their work/development, “thinking big” conversations (what we hope/dream for), and weekly check-ins on youth progress.
Third, we our committed attention to youth voices enables on-going productive change in ourselves and in our partnership. For example, what started off as a partnership focused on offering short term programs for middle school youth, has developed into year-round programming that incorporates family and community engagement, authentic community concerns, and opportunities for youth to form empowering relationships with leaders of local professional and academic communities. This partnership has also resulted in physical changes to the club, as they secured a new green roof based on youth research and action taking on energy- and community-related issues, and now with the construction of a dedicated makerspace.
If you have useful tools and practices towards research + partnerships, we would love to hear about them.
“To us, a makerspace is a place where you can invent, have fun, and make stuff to save the world… If you don’t feel welcome then you won’t want to go help people build stuff. If we help people learn about what this stuff is, they’ll know. A makerspace is a community because it’s all of us there.” Ayana (11 years old) & Desiree (12 years old)
Makerspaces can support youth from minoritized communities in learning and becoming in STEM in meaningful and equitably-consequential ways when opportunities to make are sustained and mutual, and when forms of engagement supported are expansive towards critical, connected and collective ends.
We use the term equitably consequential quite intentionally. Framing youths’ experiences through the lens of equitably-consequential learning and becoming 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. Every day decisions in makerspaces inscribe not only what counts as authentic “making,” but also youth identities as makers, participants, collaborators, community-members, young people who legitimately belong in this makerspace, signifiers that endure as historicizing elements shaping the emerging culture of the youth makerspace.
Recently Jurow and Shea (2015) have written about “consequential learning” – or learning that changes the community of practice in which it takes place. The term consequential surfaces the important role that disrupting normative practices play in learning. Similarly, we also draw upon the term consequential to foreground the importance of such disruptions. For us, ‘equitably-consequential’ underscores the importance of the ways in which 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 the makerspace. Like Jurow and Shea we are interested in how the youths’ practices interrupt flows of peoples, tools and resources and how these interruptions matter to both individuals (youth) and communities (makerspace community, STEM community).
Building further on this work, we use the term equitably-consequential to call greater attention to the ways in which the movement of young people’s makerspace practices transforms the boundaries of participation in making in-the-moment and over time. Such movement brings along with it a critical orientation to the complex, dynamic interaction between vertical and horizontal dimensions of learning. Such transformations support youth in persisting in a STEM trajectory beyond the initial communities in which they participate, (e.g., vertical movement), and that the artifacts innovated by youth within these makerspaces hold potential for ameliorating particular, personally felt and experienced inequities in their lives in-the-moment (e.g., horizontal movement).
For many of the youth with whom we work, engagement in the makerspace is about critically engaging the issues that framed their young lives, whether it is concern about sexual violence and bullies, or access to “cool,” light up cards that one’s own family could not afford. These histories and geographies of learners shape the ways in which the youth bounded the problems they sought to solve and the solutions they developed.
For example, we have worked with a group of young women who made an anti-rape alarm jacket. Their efforts – 6 months in the making – shed light on the meaning of equitably consequential. The need to outfit a jacket with a rape-alarm reflects the girls’ experiences in the world, and how they have learned to navigate and respond to those experiences through the power dynamics that play out there, both in-the-moment, and historically. The youth’s focus on the jacket was not as much interest-driven as it was an attempt to make in ways that positioned them with agency over the dangers in their lives. These critically-oriented forms of engagement in space-time open up new possible trajectories for making.
In stressing criticality, we also push on the notion of interest driven learning. When considering equitably-consequential making for youth, the kinds of experiences, relationships, and identities that youth are allowed to connect with their making, have often been trenchant – imbued with the perilous nature of their peripheral positioning in society. The risk-taking here for youth is quite high. The youth are driven by critical interests grounded in unequal power dynamics in their everyday lives, and their practice fundamentally impacts their survival.
But such understandings are not without tensions for the work that youth do. How work-in-the-moment is legitimized requires those with power to see beyond their own worlds and into youth worlds. How actors (i.e. youth makers) are positioned (and by whom) across time and place, and the funds of knowledge actors bring to the process, all shape the meanings inscribed in these spaces over time. How artifacts of practice endure and become reified in these spaces, intentionally and unintentionally, all open and foreclose opportunities for sustained engagement. A more focused agenda on equity-oriented makerspaces is needed – one that takes into account equitably consequential outcomes of learning and becoming, especially for those whose histories still remain silent in making worlds and in STEM.
~ Written by Angela Calabrese Barton & Edna Tan
Interviewer: Samuel, why did you decide to make a light-up football?
Samuel: Well, when little kids are playing outside football and it’s getting too dark, and they still keep playing and somebody might get hit in the head or something cause they can’t see the ball really, so I ‘m going to light up the football so you can see where it’s going. (artifact interview, May 2014)
Samuel designed a prototype of a “light-up football” while working in an afterschool community-based makerspace over five months. His light-up football had LED tube lights that wrapped around the ball to provide maximum lighting with minimal added weight, friction, or power expenditures. Because the lighting was efficient, it kept hands from getting burnt. The lights were powered with batteries that could be recharged at a solar docking station, limiting environmental impact and saving money. The football, itself, was constructed from nerf material to minimize added weight and to reduce the possibility for injury if one were to be hit in the head. The batteries were stored in a pocket at the center of the ball, accessible by a small door, to keep it weighted properly and to minimize their potential contact with water or sweat.
The idea for a light-up football grew out of Samuel’s desire to make something that would be helpful to people in his community. Samuel knew that lighting was a concern at night due to limited working streetlights in his neighborhood. He also felt that the game of football was a positive peer activity that helped young people his age make friends and stay out of trouble. He knew that most families could not afford an expensive toy, and that inefficient designs were costly to the environment as well.
Samuel worked on his design for five months seeking help from family, friends, and engineering and football experts alike. He was proud of his efforts. As he stated, “I was really proud ‘cause it just made me feel good about myself so I could, like, kinda, acknowledge people what I could do. . . Like make what I did, a light-up football. I wanna make more stuff like that.”
Samuel’s making practice is not unique. Over the past several years we have been learning alongside youth makers in non-dominant communities who engage in making practices in community settings. Many of the youth have taken up complex and time-consuming projects to address concerns that they believe are important to their community. From designing light-up birthday cards for family members when store bought cards are too expensive and impersonal to prototyping rape alarm jackets for teenage girls, the youths’ making practices reflect a desire to engage the multiple and intersecting spaces of community while also challenging what it means to become in STEM.
Returning to Samuel’s light-up football, we see his work drawing upon, but also challenging, the discourses and practices of STEM, makerspaces, and community. Samuel draws upon and deepens his understanding of energy transformations and circuitry while also offering a vision for how STEM expertise can be rooted in, and contribute, to place. His light-up football subverts the power structures that shape life in his makerspace and his community, while also creating new possibilities and meanings for being and becoming, across and within the boundaries of these spaces. Samuel’s identity as a maker grew as his practices took shape within the intersecting spaces of his engagement.
Through his making practice, Samuel is involved not only in “artifact making” (the prototypically viewed outcome of makerspace work), but also in space-making within and across the worlds of STEM, makerspaces, and community. We believe that such space-making fosters new forms of interaction among scales of activity, and supports the movement of ideas, resources, relationships and people in support of youths’ emerging practices and how they might be recognized for them. As the youth engage in their making practice, they inscribe new meanings for what it means to make within the worlds they inhabit, refiguring participation in these worlds and their possibilities for becoming within them.