Category Archives: Making 4 Change

Makerspaces: Seeking Equitably Consequential Outcomes

“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

Space-making & identity-making in youth-centered makerspaces

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.


Collective Science Literacy

Collective STEM literacy: Pushing us all forward
Written by Sarah Keenan

We usually think of literacy as an individual competence – whether it has to do with our ability to read and write or to understand and apply scientific concepts. Scientific literacy, and STEM literacy more broadly, is the ability to make sense of the science in our world; but how does this develop? Sense-making, knowledge about and interaction with scientific concepts happens constantly – beyond the walls of school, beyond books, and definitely extending beyond adult authority figures who hold the “right” answers. This kind of literacy learning is a social and collective act: collaboration with peers helps youth decide what counts as important knowledge and gives them the opportunity to scaffold each others’ growth, as their individual strengths and understandings combine to develop a strong, collective STEM literacy.

In Making4Change, youth take action on community problems that hold meaning for them, engineering and designing solutions to these problems with an eye for green energy technologies. By exploring the ways in which our community culture shapes the nature of problems, the STEM literacy of the youth in this program is tapped into a community need. This gives them a platform to highlight their own STEM literacies beyond what might be recognized in school, and to challenge existing solutions.

Every project in M4C is shaped by the collective STEM literacy of the groups – every participant influences the direction of the project. By developing solutions with a group, individual competencies needed to achieve the goal of the project are identified and unite youth by giving them each a chance to share their STEM abilities. Each year we find students position themselves as experts in certain STEM literacies (for example: soldering, light bulb energy usage, etc.) in such a way that their peers can take advantage of this knowledge, building their individual STEM literacy and while contributing back to the collective literacy and ability of the group.

A lot of time our time in M4C is spent in groups, with youth members leading and mentors giving advice to help develop the collective STEM abilities of the group. For the most part our sessions take place in one room, which allows for a crossing of boundaries between projects, so youth are able to share skills and knowledge across different groups. The “expert feedback” days are an opportunity to expand the collective nature of this literacy, as youth present their inventions to professionals, receive their feedback and use outside expertise to inform the direction of their project and push their own abilities.

M4C provides a place where STEM is connected with the daily lives of youth, legitimizing their interests and abilities, giving them a platform to showcase their expertise and collaborate with their peers. As these youth frame STEM as useful to themselves and their projects, individual abilities build a collective literacy that pushes every person’s ability to act as an agent for the public good.

The Makerspace Movement: Sites of Possibilities for Equitable Opportunities to Engage Underrepresented Youth in STEM

Angie Calabrese Barton, Edna Tan & Day Greenberg

Large gaps in achievement and interest in STEM persist for youth growing up in poverty, and in particular for African American and Latino youth. Within the informal education community, the recently evolving “maker movement” has sparked interest for its potential role in breaking down longstanding barriers to learning and attainment in STEM, with advocates arguing for its “democratizing effects.” What remains unclear is how minoritized newcomers to a makerspace can access and engage in makerspaces in robust and equitably consequential ways.

Our research team has been studying how makerspaces might support sustained engagement for minoritized youth as well as the forms of engagement that seem most salient for sustained engagement. Our findings to date suggest that sustained, mutual engagement matter to youth because it provides opportunities to learn and re-mix STEM knowledge and practices with what one brings into the makerspace can make possible more robust designs and more expansive possibilities for becoming in making. Our work also suggests that greater opportunities to build social networks in support of STEM learning increases youths’ mobilities among a range of learning arrangements, opening up new forms of learning and becoming.

We propose three ways in which sustained mutual engagement is supported. 

  1. Learning within the tension: Purposeful playfulness and just-in-time content/practice learning. If makerspaces are to help ameliorate inequality in STEM, then opportunities need to exist for youth to develop robust knowledge and practice within the domain. At the same time, one of the very assets of a makerspace is in how it supports young people in making in ways that are creative, playful, and personally relevant. Sustained and mutual engagement allows for both playfulness and deepening understanding to co-exist, and for the emergent tensions to be productive spaces of learning. We have found that designing and making available “just-in-time learning resources” to support deepening understandings of STEM knowledge and practices is central to this equity concern. We have also found that sustained engagement provides more and varied opportunities to play around with the tools, resources, and ideas available in the makerspace, in ways that open up mastery of these tools in both traditional and nontraditional ways – and for traditional and nontraditional purposes.
  2. Broadening the range of maker identities for minoritized youth. As people populate makerspaces, and leave imprints through the enactment of novel practices and the production of artifacts made public there, a narrative around what it means to make (identity), what one can make (the making process), and who is allowed to make (maker community) all take form. Youth benefit from an expansive view of what it means to become a “youth maker”. Some of the youth in our study come to the makerspace with no explicit interests in making, at least in its traditional forms. However, many end up staying because the enterprise of making is woven into other salient areas of their young lives – afterschool hangout space, spending time with friends, access to the internet and computers, and snacks.
  3. Unpacking “community” in a community-based makerspace for youth from minoritized communities. In seeking community-based partnerships, we recognize the significance in housing makerspaces in physical and figurative spaces where the youth “rule.” We have learned from our long-term partnerships that there are specific affordances that support productive hybrid STEM identity work for under-represented youth, when such programs are housed in these community spaces. These spaces are shaped by youth culture – their ideas, ways of relating, interests and desires. How youth move in these spaces significantly shapes how they engage in makerspace activities.

In our next blog post we describe how and why these forms of engagement are equitably consequential.

Who Does Our Grit Discourse Gravely Insult, and Why?

by Day Greenberg

A particular construct has been sweeping the educational research field. It promises a silver bullet of sorts to address educational challenges on an individual level, through individual perseverance. It makes this promise absent of any attendance to or recognition of specifically relevant contextual factors. This construct is grit.

The concept of grit, and its frenzied take-up by researchers and practitioners, needs to be problematized—and fast. Unfortunately for students, it has so far been given an almost “free pass” to permeate the conversation on and in our school systems with an insidious bootstrap mentality that rightly praises hard work and resilience yet simultaneous distorts that praise through an insulting, willful blindness that actively harms our nation’s children. The blindness of “grit speech” is the willful ignorance toward the powerful, and power-mediated, external factors that more often than not act as gate checks for students’ efforts toward success. No matter how “gritty” a student is, these factors retain the dangerous power to either expand or cripple such hard work. Such factors—socioeconomic status, parental free time at home, the color of students’ skin and the first language they learn at home, tax-dependent school resource levels that differ by district and often along lines of color, school violence levels that likewise disproportionately plague lower-income schools, teacher quality levels that (surprise, surprise) also are not equitably dispersed across schools and districts, etc.—matter. They matter a great deal: for the support students receive, for the support parents receive, for the assistance toward success that some “gritty” students can find and leverage more easily than others, etc.

In April 2013, Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth delivered a “TED Talk” on her groundbreaking research titled “The key to success? Grit”. In it, she argued that grit, “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals… having stamina… sticking with your future… and working really hard to make that future a reality,” should be taken even more seriously than what she described as the traditional standard of intelligence and “the one thing we know how to measure best,” the IQ score (Duckworth, 2013). Must we digress to address the many tested and confirmed reasons Dr. Duckworth’s praising of IQ tests is problematic? For the purposes of brevity, I’ll merely state that her assumptions about IQ and our ability to test for it are outdated, as scientists agree that those assumptions are “just wrong” (Connor, 2012; Hampshire, Highfield, Parkin, & Owen, 2012) because “the test is a measure of social class background, and not one of the ability for complex cognition as such” (Richardson, 2002).

For the same reason that praising IQ outside of sociocultural, economic, political, and any other context is misguided, placing grit in such a contextual vacuum is unwise. It’s unwise for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners, and it’s harmful for students.

Halfway through her talk, Dr. Duckworth asserts that “grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” What she doesn’t mention is the massive—and for many individuals, prohibitive—cost to purchase the premium brands of running shoes that offer higher levels of protection and support for the runners who have access to them. This metaphor reminds me of my middle school years, when my parents could not afford to buy me new shoes and my older sister’s hand-me-down sneakers with worn-out soles caused me to develop plantar fasciitis when I ran in them. This is not to say I was not a gritty child. But at that time and in that circumstance, when my parents were using food stamps and food banks to fill our bellies, it would not have been wise (or realistic, or kind) to expect her to find a way to buy me more supportive running shoes. My school was not giving away free running shoes, either. In that context, how should I have been expected to be able to run sprints, let alone a marathon?

Dr. Duckworth also does not mention the fact that many menacing obstacles obstruct some running paths differently than others, based on the neighborhood in which you run and even what you look like as a runner. One of the causes of my parents’ financial stresses, besides my mother’s constant medical issues and unethical health insurance practices that dropped my family into bankruptcy twice during my childhood, was the school tuition that my parents paid so that my two siblings and I could attend a college preparatory program at a Catholic school, in one of the lowest-performing and most violent public school districts in my home state of Florida. This, for me, WAS the pair of fancy running shoes I so desperately needed to complete my marathon of high quality, challenging learning in a supportive and protective environment. I cannot honestly say that I became who I am, a PhD student in one of the best programs in the country, because of my grit, my willingness to persevere in spite of my obstacles, outside of the context of how fortunate and privileged I was to escape the oppressively violent and low-resourced conditions that the other kids in my neighborhood were subjected to in their schools. I also can’t take my grit out of the context of my white skin color and the privileged social class in which my parents positioned me in our school/church community, in spite of their mismatching economic class.

Sure, I worked incredibly hard to continually earn annual scholarships that ultimately cut my tuition down to about $2,000 a year (which sometimes required even such humbling tasks as writing personal thank you notes to my friends’ parents when they donated), but who paid that balance? My parents, who were privileged enough to have jobs, and who (perhaps because of how my White, American, native English-speaking parents sounded when they talked and what they looked like when they dressed up for meetings) were forgiven by my school when they were (often several weeks) late to submit tuition payments. Besides even that, I had parents. Two of them. Alive. In the same household. Sacrificing for me. THIS was privilege. It was resources. It was social and economic capital. It was context. It was not just grit.

Grit won’t remove children from the contexts in which more powerful others place them. It cannot save our children from the structures that actively threaten their right to live, learn, and play. Grit did not keep Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, or Aiyana Jones safe from the very structures of power that still claim to protect life while continuously destroying it. In the context of the real, tangible threats cities and city leaders throw in front of our students’ paths on a daily basis, why do we believe the answer lies in isolated psychosocial interventions to make these children more resilient? Does grit stop police bullets? Does grit cure structural racism and inequity? Does grit produce healthier and more respectful teacher-student, school-community, corporation-worker, and politician-people relationship dynamics? When Gloria Ladson-Billings introduced the concept of our nation’s education debt resulting from such abuses as funding inequities and continued school segregation, she did not suggest that the way to pay back such a debt was to train our youth to shoulder it for us with a stiff upper lip (Ladson-Billings, 2006). Why do we power holders claim that the ultimate solution to the abuses we cause depends on the stamina and capacity of our victims to take the punches we give them?

Yes, grit is an interesting concept and studying this quality in students is a worthwhile effort (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). But, as with any other concept or construct in educational research, it should not be taken out of context and treated as a silver bullet. Truly, before we label something as a silver bullet, shouldn’t we begin by asking: to where and at what are we aiming, and what other weapons in our arsenal are we accidentally ignoring that might make more of a difference?



Connor, S. (2012). IQ tests are “fundamentally flawed” and using them alone to measure. Retrieved January 1, 2016, from

Duckworth, A. L. (2013). The key to success? Grit. Retrieved from

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087–1101.

Hampshire, A., Highfield, R. R., Parkin, B. L., & Owen, A. M. (2012). Fractionating Human Intelligence. Neuron, 76(6), 1225–1237.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools. Educational Researcher, 35(7), 3–12.

Richardson, K. (2002). What IQ Tests Test. Theory & Psychology, 12(3), 283–314.

Schwartz, K. (n.d.). Does The Grit Narrative Blame Students For School’s Shortcomings? Retrieved January 1, 2016, from

Youth Makerspace Manifesto

GET City Makerspace Manifesto

by the GET City Youth

(after a 40 hour youth participatory action research investigation into makerspaces, and 2 years of making in a make-shift makerspace)

“A place where you can invent, have fun, and make stuff to save the world. You can gather to create and learn using green energy. It should be open to all kids at the Boys and Girls Club so we can learn and have fun, with room for little kids AND for big kids.

It should be kid-friendly, colorful, and have a lot of space and things that you can make stuff with, like a lot of tools, lockers, computers/tablets, 3D printers, safety goggles/gloves, a first aid kit, safety precautions, and instructions/rules/schedules on white-board and chalkboards walls too. And whiteboard tables, chalkboard doors, storage carts, snacks, sliding “teacher chairs” with wheels and armrests, and shelves under the tables, and lots of power outlets on tables and hanging from the ceiling with extension cords, so we don’t have to go all around the room so we can just stay where we’re working and get more work done.

Michigan State already has one. Our Boys and Girls Club doesn’t have one and kids should have more opportunities like that. Most kids don’t. Instead of people asking “what’s a makerspace?” they will know because it’s open to ALL kids. And the kids will tell their parents and their parents will tell their friends, and their friends will tell the whole entire world from generation to generation. And it’s all because of us.

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.

We have made: rape alarm jackets, smart phone apps to prevent bullying, environmentally friendly light-up footballs, heated jackets and more!

” #youthmake, #makerspaces, #making4change


Designing Equity-Oriented Makerspaces Part I

Designing Equity-Oriented Makerspaces Part I: Interrogating the Equity Challenges in the Maker movement

Angie Calabrese Barton & Edna Tan

Makerspaces and Equity

Achievement and interest gaps remain in engineering for students from underrepresented backgrounds. Even when students are academically successful, many still see engineering as disconnected from their lives and pursuits (Tonso, 2007). African Americans make up only 5% of the engineering workforce in the US, a statistic that has not budged in decades despite reforms in STEM education. Persistent lack of interest in engineering also impacts opportunities for STEM-informed civic engagement (US Dept. of Ed. 2012).

At the same time that these inequalities persist, the “maker movement” has taken form. Makerspaces have begun appearing around the world since 2006, in museums, libraries, schools and community centers. They are intended to be places where people come together to design and build authentic, personally meaningful projects. They promote creativity and enthusiasm about new technologies, and encourage learning through building and play, such as figuring out what one can do with everyday materials and high-tech tools.

The maker movement holds great potential for engaging young people in engineering in ways that formal schooling has not. Engaging in making can support youth in learning engineering knowledge and practices, while also developing an identity in engineering. Underrepresented youth often have greater successes in out-of-school STEM than in school settings (Harvard Family Research Project, 2009), due, in part, to how these environments value learning outcomes more consistent with learning in everyday life such as identity development and multi-modal practices – outcomes that align with the maker movement.

However, the maker movement has largely been an adult, white, middle-class pursuit, led by those with the leisure time, technical knowledge, and resources to make. Even the desire to reach a broader audience through the growth of free community-based makerspaces at public libraries, users of these spaces tend to be white adult men. The discourse and practices around makerspaces have not taken an explicit equity focus.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 4.13.13 PM

Halverson and Sheridan (2013) argue that the maker movement is made up of three main pillars: making as a set of activities, makerspaces as communities of practice, and makers as identities. We suggest that we must also consider the “table top” to these pillars (that is, the design of the education programs and/or opportunities made available within the makerspaces) if we are to attend broadly to equity issues within and across the maker movement.

Below we highlight the major challenges to equity in the makerspace movement. In a part 2 to this post, we will further outline one design approach which seeks to address these challenges.


Equity Challenges

  1. Culture of makerspaces. The types of do-it-yourself projects, and the main tools made available, have tended to focus on metals, woodworking, electronics and robotics. These fields in the professional realm, e.g. electric work/mechanics/robotic and electrical engineering, have traditionally been and currently still are, white male dominated. The knowledge base and cultural tools officially made available in these space privilege an historically masculinized practice. While we believe these fields (and the cultural tools associated) need to be opened to all people, we are cognizant that simply providing access in a makerspace to these tools may not, by itself, shift the culture of makerspace practice. It could be too simple to assume that such free, open-access would naturally translate into a flatter, more explicitly youth-centered power hierarchy.
  1. Affordances and Access. Makerspaces are intended to be spaces where individuals can engage in creative, cross-disciplinary design. They value the practice of bricolage, or creating things from a diverse range of tools and practice that happen to be available in-the-moment – which include the cultural tools and practices that individually unofficially bring to this space. It is up to the individual working in the makerspace to figure out how to bring official makerspace tools and resources together with their ideas and experiences, to make something. The possibilities are exciting, but accessing the possibilities can prove challenging if one is not accustomed to either these tools or a culture of making.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 4.13.10 PM

The allowable forms of bricolage in any given makerspace, which includes the cultural repertoires of practice that individuals bring to that space, take shape over time. As people populate the makerspace, and leave imprints through the enactment of novel practices and the production of artifacts made public in the space, a narrative around what it means to make (identity), what one can make (the making process), or who is allowed to make (maker community) all take form. We wonder, how one might gain enough confidence and authority in a makerspace to shift how tools, experiences and ideas are cobbled together towards potentially transformative ends? For example, if one has never used a power tool before, how do they learn to become expert in nontraditional uses of the tool? How might one know that it is acceptable to do things completely different? Who models these new practices, when and for whom? Generally, in makerspaces, there is an expectation that one should come to the space with a problem to solve, which can come off as something only “smart” (or “white”, “male”, or “other”) people do. That the vast majority of maker magazines and how-to guide books are written by white men or at least reflect a white middle class way of approaching things further solidifies this problem space.


  1. Modes of Engagement: Solo practice. Makerspaces have been designed to promote collaborative activity on specific projects. Partnerships are not required, assigned or monitored, but allowed to emerge naturally as individuals discuss projects and ideas while working in these spaces. At the same time, makerspaces are individually or personally motivated. One has to be in the space and reach out to other people, often strangers, to foster the kinds of partnership possibilities imagined by the makerspace movement. The purposes of collaboration are also typically towards individual gain (e.g., an individual or small group construction artifact) rather than a collective good. Thus, while makerspaces are fundamentally about sharing ideas and tools, what can easily remain privileged is the individual idea and do-it-yourself project.
  1. (Sustained) engagement. Makerspaces vary greatly in the nature of participation they engender. Some focus on offering workshops, while others are mainly drop-in places. Some serve large numbers of people on a one-time basis, while others are geared towards repeat visitors. Few host sustained programming that bring the same combinations of people together over time. The affordances of the more informal drop-in approach are that youth can “try out” the identity, practices, culture of a maker before deciding to commit to be a regular maker. However, youth may give up easily when things do not turn out as planned during a tinkering session, and miss out on developing problem solving skills and expertise that comes when they persist. They miss out on experiencing the “essence” of making –which is to experience the importance of failure, problem solving and persistence in making something. They also miss out on developing their science and engineering knowledge that may help them to make more robust designs.





Harvard Family Research Project. (2009). The role of out of school learning. Retrieved from Harvard University, Harvard Family Research Project:

Tonso, K., (2007). On the Outskirts of Engineering. Learning Identity, Gender, and Power via Engineering Practice. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

US Dept. of Education. Office of the Under Secretary and Office of Postsecondary Education (2012). Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy: A Road Map and Call to Action. Washington, DC.

Designing Equity-Oriented Makerspaces Part II

Designing Equity-Oriented Makerspaces Part II: Responding to the Equity Challenges

Angie Calabrese Barton & Edna Tan

Making 4 Change

Making 4 Change [M4C] is an equity-oriented makerspace that merges makerspaces with community ethnography, and serves youth from non-dominant communities in Boys and Girls Clubs [BGC] in Michigan and North Carolina. With funding from the National Science Foundation, we seek to address the equity-related challenges of expanding the maker culture, making room for cultural repertoires of practice as part of bricolage, and sustained engagement towards deeper understandings, more complex designs and distributed networks of expertise.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 4.13.05 PM

M4C is designed to support youth in multi-year sustained engagement in engineering for sustainable communities, a design goal that incorporates multiple perspectives and the collective good. In maker teams composed of older mentors and newcomers, middle school youth collaboratively generate initial ideas about potential problem spaces and associated questions. Using the cultural tools of ethnography, they move together into community spaces to glean insights on how these problems matter—both technologically and socially. As community ethnographers they identify special vulnerabilities of relevance in their communities. Incorporating the tools of ethnography supports youth in generating and analyzing data from multiple perspectives, while also expanding their social network of “experts” related to their problem (including nontraditional forms of expertise). As youth return to their makerspace, they leverage these data from multiple perspectives towards defining more complex, but constrained, problem spaces, and use this space to explore and try out possibilities and approaches. As they work on design solutions in makerspaces, they invite community members of ranging expertise to provide help, insight, and feedback on their efforts.

For example, imagine that a group of youth have identified the lack of safety on their walk to school as a crucial issue. They have come to this problem space by discussing their concerns with their peers at the local community club. Youth then expand their circle to talk with a range of experts in the community to help them better define the problem space, from multiple perspectives and in more complex ways. They interview school teachers, police officers, parents, peers, and people involved in the city’s “complete streets coalition.” They collect archival data from city government and their schools on safety related issues: vehicular and pedestrian accidents, bus routes, complete sidewalks, muggings, gangs, bullying on walks, etc.

They examine patterns in these data (e.g., night v. daytime safety, specific forms of safety, locations of safety issues). They work in teams to identify possible solutions. One group comes up with a solar powered light-up “phantom” jacket that is fitted with an alarm. Their idea is that the jacket can help them to see and be seen on their route or to be camouflaged, if desired, and to alert others if they need help. Another design group comes up with an app for smart phones that show other kids in their community where potential bully dangers exist based on previous data. They initially decide to build a GIS map with multiple layers of data indicating targeted information on bully zones, and convert the map into a smart phone app that includes an alarm when one enters a bully zone. Another group comes up with an idea for a colorful light-up umbrella that will transform their kinetic energy (from a handcrank) into heat and light energy to keep their hands warm in the rain and to make them visible walking to school. These ideas are all realistic and very much possible to design in a makerspace. Indeed, these ideas originate from the youth we currently work with.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 4.12.54 PM

As the groups work collaboratively to develop their ideas, they might sketch their ideas in Google sketch-up and print them with the 3D printer. They might invite their grandmother in to help them use the sewing machine to sew the jacket. They might video chat with a rape crisis center expert on what kind of alarms might work best in the jacket or make a short video short raising questions for a community member or technical expert to watch and respond to. They might encounter voltmeters and ampmeters for the first time in their lives, and need some time with an expert to learn how to calculate power requirements for a particular heating element they want for their umbrella. Scaffolded opportunities for groups to talk across the collection of design solutions will also support youth in seeing the complexity involved in engineering for sustainable communities. It is through a suite of design approaches that complex solutions for their shared problem are reached. In sharing their work, they may attend a more traditional Maker Faire, but they may also make i-Movies about their inventions to share at school or present workshops at their churches or community centers where their designs can reach their intended audiences.


Unpacking design concerns

As we work alongside the youth to collaboratively design M4C, the following are key pertinent insights and challenges that we are currently encountering and negotiating.

  1. Inscribing the makerspace with a youth-centered identity. In seeking a community-based partnership with our partner BGCs, we recognize the significance in housing the makerspace in a physical and figurative space where the youth “rule.” There are specific affordances in these youth-centered community spaces – not always found at museums or libraries – that support productive hybrid STEM/marginalized youth identity work. As our physical spaces take on a “BGC Youth Makerspace” identity, we want to critically consider how the space will be historicized. How should youth ideas, in varying degrees of sophistication and complexity, be displayed in the makerspace? What kinds of artifacts, along a spectrum of “completion” should be recognized and held up as exemplars? In such mundane decisions we recognize that we are not merely inscribing what counts as authentic “making,” we are also inscribing 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. In addition to inscribing values and privilege to the artifacts made, we want to, in equal measure, highlight and inscribe the range of identities of the youth makers.
  1. Designing for purposeful playfulness and the nontraditional use and juxtapositioning of tools and ideas. While promoting sustained engagement in a weekly community makerspace program, we want to stay true to the spirit of making that celebrates playfulness, risk-taking, and gaining expertise through failure – elements of engagement not typically lauded in a formal school STEM environment. If a youth has never encountered a glue gun before, then she should have opportunities to play with it, and make art with it (which include gluing found objects to cardboard or wood, see We see as naturally complementary to this playful way of learning the explicit leveraging of nontraditional tools and the juxtapositioning of nontraditional tools and ideas (e.g. wanting to make an automated baby gate for adult, handicapped caregivers of toddlers).
  1. Designing and making available just-in-time learning resources to support deepening understanding of science and engineering knowledge and practices. We believe it is important for youth to organically and seamlessly move between the processes of making to STEM content learning (anchored in short, authentic inquiry-based activities). Rather than short term trial and error design that is tied to what one knows as they enter the makerspace, sustained engagement could yield new and different opportunities to learn the knowledge and practices of science and engineering that may lead to more robust or sophisticated designs.. Given that the youth with whom we work have historically been marginalized in STEM, and attend schools where STEM education may be limited, this is of critical importance.
  1. Connecting youth into a broader, social network of wide-ranging experts. In an attempt to markedly depart from the solo-practice, individual-driven ethos of mainstream makerspaces, M4C youth makers are charged to create innovations that meet a genuine community need. Part of our challenge is seeking out local experts who can speak to various aspects of the youths’ innovations and to invite them to serve as mentors/adult partners of the youth and committing to a somewhat long-term relationship with the youth as they progress in their making. Our goals are to expand what it means to be an expert and the forms of expertise valuable in this space, connect youth to a range of experts (technical and other), as well to support youth in crafting a social network of support that may support these new hybrid forms of making (and making identities) beyond the physical and sociohistorical constraints of the makerspace.

 Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 4.12.59 PM