Category Archives: Youth Makers

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

Community Ethnography as Pedagogy, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

Angela Calabrese Barton & Edna Tan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Our projects are for people and for the community”

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

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

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

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

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

Other projects represented by GET City youth include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authentic Partnerships for Change

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.

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Making 4 Change Community Event

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.

 

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.