Category Archives: Identity

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.

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.

Youth as Counter-storytellers: Using Multimodality to Discuss Meaningful Science and Engineering Learning (Part I: The Case of Faith)

By: Christina Restrepo Nazar

How do we increase access for marginalized and minoritized communities who have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM education? Our youth may have the answer!

K-12 STEM education initiatives are one of the most pressing issues being discussed across universities, policy centers and schools nationwide.  Often times we enter with assumptions as researchers and practitioners into schools and communities by pledging to “fix” problems and proposing best practices for success.This is why I am very excited to be part of the Invincibility Lab team where we constantly work towards (re) identifying community assets and forefronting experiences, ideas and subjectivities of youth in how they describe and identify what is meaningful science learning. In this series of three blog posts, I will discuss my work with Faith, AD and Christopher, three youth inventors who participated in GETCity, our equity oriented makerspace. Although I have worked with the youth for almost three years, for this particular study, we met for an hour a week for a period of 6 months creating multimodal messages of what it meant to engage in meaningful science learning, specifically when engineering for sustainable communities. The case co-construction was comprised of negotiating  multimodal artifacts that describe their STEM learning across spaces and over time.

The Case of Faith: A 14 years old, African American female high school student, she created a solar panel fan-hat, primarily to keep church members cool during the summer time. Her  design was created when she was 12 years old. She discussed three important problems when deciding on an engineering design: 1) ladies who go to her church wear stylish hats that often times cannot be worn during the summer time due to the very hot un-airconditioned church 2) the church she goes to has ceiling windows where solar light shines through, enough that she believed can power a solar panel and 3) her family’s personal appearance in avoiding being hot and sweaty in public places (e.g. school, work, church). In her design, she identified important criteria and constraints based on the needs of her community, for example, the type of hat she used, the design considerations regarding placement of motor, fan with blades and solar panel, and wires that connected to the solar panel.

Screenshot 2016-03-05 08.38.57

Faith’s sketch up of her FANcy Hat!

When we started our multimodal case study, Faith was very adamant about describing frustrations related to how her engineering design was not linear. She constantly had problems in finalizing one design requirement, and then those problems shifted based on community needs. In the beginning of her design  year, we gave her an engineering design cycle based on the NASA model, which focused on stating the problem, generating ideas, selecting solutions, building, evaluating and presenting results. However, Faith described her invention as one that had “multiple circles and many steps” because her design was constantly being re-informed by how her community best viewed their needs through the hat. Eventually, after much negotiation, Faith and I decided to create her own engineering cycle that showed the steps she took in her design and how community needs informed and re-informed the design as it moved forward.

Although her fan-hat design was an engineering project for sustainable communities, during her case study development, a lot of the discussions we had were around how important community ethnography and obtaining perspectives from friends and family were crucial to how she thinks about herself as a friend and listener. Many times there were stories of how she helped her friends, family and others with emotional problems and that her advice was always to create a sculpture that housed all their frustrations. To create the sculpture you have to use tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers, which are also used by engineers. By doing so, she connected these community needs in engineering to her interest in psychology. In her case, she described herself as an  “imagination creator” because she is constantly re-imagining what it means to create and do with and for others, and this is clearly seen through the videos, pictures and audio she chose to describe her engineering design and career choice on her multimodal case.  In one of her videos, she made the case for redefining what it means to do engineering with and for communities: by thinking of  a new way to apply science and engineering as a psychological tool. She named this psychoengineering.

This very important example of Faith’s engagement in meaningful science learning is just one example of youth can counter narrate their experiences. What makes Faith’s case so unique is that although her engineering work in GETCity happened over 2 years ago, she still uses examples from her engagement with community ethnography to set criteria and constraints in her design process, to inform how she now thinks about creating new perspectives for her learning and participation with science. For example, redefining what it means to do engineering design because of her focus on community needs, and also how she thinks of applying engineering design to psychology through a career path she wants to develop for herself with psychoengineering. Finally, she used all these meaningful learning experiences and counternarratives to drive the creation of her multimodal case.

Youth makers making communities sustainable

Marcos Gonzalez

In my first blog entry for Invincibility Lab website I would like to write about how youth makers are the foundation for the present and future of sustainable communities. And you must be wondering, what is a sustainable community? Good question. What make a community sustainable are their people. That is why I started with the premise that youth makers are important for these communities.

Now, let’s go back to what is a sustainable community. Sustainable communities are communities where its members actively engage in practices that ensure the environmental, social, and economic health of future generations. For example, the members of a sustainable community are always thinking about future generations while they partake in the resources they have now. When we talk about resources we are not only talking about water and land, we need also to consider energy. Every time we use the TV or the computer, we are consuming energy that future generations, may not be able to enjoy. So, what we can do to ensure that the upcoming generation in our community could have an opportunity to enjoy of energy sources? Some of you got it right: renewable energy sources.

In M4C our youth makers have this issue very present when they start designing their projects. Most of the designs from the youth makers have a component of renewable energy. For example, the light umbrella from Ariel and the bird house heating system both use different forms of renewable energy, such as human or solar, which they figured out how to convert to electrical energy.

Another important aspect of sustainable communities is engaged, informed citizenship. That is, sustainable communities’ members are actively involved in their community’s problems. Every time the youth makers starts a new project, they collect data with surveys about the needs in the community. Once they have that information, they use it to incorporate new elements to their design or develop a product that can serve the community’s needs. The youth’s active role in identifying a problem and design a solution to that problem is an important characteristic of sustainable community members. Remember, a community is sustainable because of their members’ practices.

The youth makers in M4C demonstrate how to transform a community to a sustainable community with creativity and the will to help others. The sustainable future of these communities is secure when we create spaces for youth where their voices, ideas, and dreams, are heard. They are the principal community’s assets to attend the problems that affect them and find solution for their problem.

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.

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?

 

References:

Connor, S. (2012). IQ tests are “fundamentally flawed” and using them alone to measure. Retrieved January 1, 2016, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/iq-tests-are-fundamentally-flawed-and-using-them-alone-to-measure-intelligence-is-a-fallacy-study-8425911.html

Duckworth, A. L. (2013). The key to success? Grit. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit?language=en

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. http://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1087

Hampshire, A., Highfield, R. R., Parkin, B. L., & Owen, A. M. (2012). Fractionating Human Intelligence. Neuron, 76(6), 1225–1237. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2012.06.022

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools. Educational Researcher, 35(7), 3–12. http://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X035007003

Richardson, K. (2002). What IQ Tests Test. Theory & Psychology, 12(3), 283–314. http://doi.org/10.1177/0959354302012003012

Schwartz, K. (n.d.). Does The Grit Narrative Blame Students For School’s Shortcomings? Retrieved January 1, 2016, from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/05/05/does-the-grit-narrative-blame-students-for-schools-shortcomings/

Productive Identity Work Classroom Series #2- Knowledge

Written by Katie Schenkel

Welcome to my second post in the Productive Identity Work Classroom Series. In this post, I am going to talk about leveraging your students’ knowledge to promote positive outcomes. Teachers know that knowledge is important for students’ success in science and engineering. Standards and textbooks point to the specific types of content knowledge that students will need. However, everyone has other important and valuable types of knowledge that is sometimes ignored by traditional curricula. This post is going to focus on ways class communities can value the various types of knowledge that students bring into the classroom. Just like you, students know many things from their family, experiences and everyday life! When students can combine this knowledge with their new science and engineering practices, transformational learning and doing can occur.

Here are three tips for helping your students utilize their different funds of knowledge in science class:
1. Connect the unit goals to your students’ community. For example, during your ecology unit, have your students investigate invasive species in your community and design plans to mitigate the problems caused by the species. Have your students draw upon what special characteristics they know about their community. Have them share their ideas, proposed solutions and engage with local experts.
2. Highlight and use your students’ contributions to class to guide the class flow. For example, if a student describes a scientific phenomenon they saw at home or another parts of their life, bring it up multiple times later on in the class discussion and link class activities to that phenomenon in future activities. This could be as simple as working to understand as a class why the school’s basketballs seemed flat right when they were taken out of the coach’s car, but seemed to magically inflate as practice continued. It could be part of the day’s discussion then be incorporated into gas law experiments in future units.
3. Provide opportunities for your students to showcase their other skills, interests and talents in science class. For example, I knew some of my students were enthusiastic about creating computer slideshows while some of my artistic students enjoyed making informational posters. Therefore, I would occasionally give students the option to complete their assignment using the format they preferred. I provided them a rubric so they knew what information was needed on their assignment. To really help students to showcase their skills, interests and talents, you can even invite them to come up with another way to share their knowledge that fits their expertise better. They can use the rubric as a guide to know what information they need, but can use their own experience to determine the best way for them to meet the criteria of the assignment. Finally, remember to celebrate their expertise by providing opportunities to share their work in a meaningful way.

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Jennifer helping other youth makers using her sewing skills

What ways have you found to value and leverage all of your students’ knowledge?

Productive Identity Work Classroom Series #1- Recognition by Others

by Katie Schenkel


 

As a new member of the Invincibility Lab team, I have been quickly learning about what is important for productive identity work in science and engineering. Our productive identity work framework depends on 1)developing knowledge and practice within a community of practice, 2)recognition by others and 3)positioning/agency. Through a series of blog posts, I am going to provide some examples of how to promote each of these three parts from my experience as a teacher. The first post will focus on how to help students receive recognition for their expertise from their communities.

Showcases are a great way for students to be noticed and praised for their STEM work by the larger community. Last fall, my class hosted a showcase at the end of their robotics project.

Here are the simple steps we took to make sure that it was a success:

  1. Invite the students’ families to attend. At my school, many families could not come so the students and I would video and email or text the projects to their families.
  2. Invite the school community to the showcase. For example, our school nurse, guidance counselors, some teachers and other science classes attended.
  3. Make sure the showcase is an open house. Your community is busy! People will be more likely to stop by if they know they can just drop in for a few minutes.
  4. Position the students around the room and invite the guests to go learn from all of the students about their projects. If guests have extra time, ask them to complete a questionnaire about what they liked about the students’ work.

You may be worried that no one will come to your showcase, but rest assured because I have two tips. If there are not many visitors, simply divide your class and have the students take turns visiting each other’s projects. Also, emailing or texting the videos to the students’ families was important for many of the students. It is just making your class’s showcase more virtual and accessible. What ways have you found to foster greater recognition for your students’ expertise?

Also, you can check out our productive identity framework here if you want to learn more!