Category Archives: Creativity

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.

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!

Creativity in STEM

Day Greenberg recently wrote a blog post about one of our newer GET City members, M*, who was not able to join in the 2014- 2015 GET City session, by virtue of not being in middle school (our grade requirement), but made sure Day knew he would be back. Now that he’s in 6th grade he is an active force in our group. I can completely imagine what M’s persistence to join must have looked like because we see it every session. There were probably six different elementary school-aged youth who regularly come to the door (or come on in and sit right down) to ask if they join GET City today. One elementary youth in particular, L*, and I have a lot of fun talking about WHY she can’t wait to be part of GET City. Her answer is simple, “You guys make awesome stuff!” We regularly talk about the flying shoes she wants to create — she has a clear vision of why she wants to make them, and what she’s going to use them for. Her imagination, her desire to change the way she interacts with her world, and her belief in the potential of science (and GET City) come together in this amazing vision that pulls on the importance and potential of creativity in STEM.

Creativity in STEM is getting an increasing amount of attention these days; but it’s a narrow kind of attention. It mostly seems to be coming from business leaders and politicians — from those who want to push innovation because that’s what drives economic development and competition. From these perspectives, the standard bar for creativity (as an idea or product that is both novel and effective) is judged against cultural norms; which means those who can be deemed creative are those already within that culture and that ideas / products will only be judged as creative if they contributed in a way perceived as important to those top dogs who issued the call.

The value of being called “creative” or considering yourself creative is something I’ve long been interested in. Why do so many people think it’s for artists only? What makes it tricky to see the creativity in science? I was recently at a professional development seminar where not one of forty faculty members and graduate students were willing to identify themselves as creative. Who says you have it or don’t? If you don’t have it, who does? These are all questions I look forward to teasing out, but for the purposes of this blog post, I’ll re-focus in on my main question: how can thinking about being creative in STEM expand opportunities for youth voice and agency?

I’m excited to start some conversation groups in the last few months of GET City to see what the youth have to say about creativity in our science and design work — what it looks like to them, where they see it, why they think it’s important, and how we can be better about supporting it. This top-down push for creativity in STEM doesn’t match up with science education; it’s a mis-aimed point: advocating for creativity in our science classes shouldn’t just be about how creativity can push the agendas of those in charge. It should be about the power of creativity to elevate the experiences of those whose expression might otherwise not be recognized as authentic participation in science. Creativity has transformative power for individual’s meaning-making and agency in science — we see this frequently when we ask our youth engineers what their inventions say about them, because two narratives often pop up: 1) “that I care about my community,” and 2) “that I’m a creative person.”  I think that speaks volumes about what happens when we support creation. Flying shoes included.

*names withheld for privacy