Category Archives: critical science agency

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.

http://videohall.com/p/864

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!

Working towards a critical and consequential science literacy

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

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

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

 

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

by Christina Restrepo Nazar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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