Category Archives: Identity

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!


Making 4 Change Video Overview

Enjoy a quick video highlighting the goals and design of Making 4 Change. The youth co-authored this video with us, originally for the NSF video show case for research and development projects focused on teaching and learning. Enjoy!

Click HERE for video!

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Youth makers and change agents!



Come visit the video productions prepared by youth makers who have designed for community safety in sustainable ways. They are changing their communities — and our world — one prototype at a time! #makerspace #making4change

——  Youth Maker Movies   ——-


Designing Equity-Oriented Makerspaces Part I

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

Angie Calabrese Barton & Edna Tan

Makerspaces and Equity

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

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

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

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

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

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


Equity Challenges

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

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


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





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

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

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

Designing Equity-Oriented Makerspaces Part II

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

Angie Calabrese Barton & Edna Tan

Making 4 Change

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

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

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

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

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


Unpacking design concerns

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

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

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