Jessica is a 5th grade African American girl who has been a regular at the Boys and Girls club since early elementary school and is familiar with all the adult staff at the club. Jessica is also in the music program at the club. Music students from the local University teach the youth how to play the violin. The University supplies the instruments. Jessica was one of six youth selected by the music teachers to perform in an ensemble during the annual dinner for BGC partners. When M4C started in Fall 2014, it conflicted with Jessica’s music classes, even though she was keen to join. In the Spring, we worked with the club’s schedule to not overlap with music (which draws many youth) and Jessica was able to participate in M4C, along with three of her good friends Toni, Tiffany, and Davida. Jessica self-reported in interviews that while she typically gets an A in school science, “science is not my thing” because she only gets As because “[the teacher] give easy work.”
Typical M4C Engagement
During the school year, Jessica tended to group tightly with Toni, Tiffany and Davida. Toni, who is loud and a bit brash, is the leader of the group. She tends to dominate the other girls and makes all decisions as to what they were going to make and how to go about making. For example, when exploring electronics with littleBits, Toni instructed Jessica on which bits to collect from the library of bits available, and Toni mostly manipulated the bits herself. Jessica was a rather passive groupmate who sat and watched. She would ask questions “what does this one do?” but would not act to take some of the bits over to explore on her own.
In the summer M4C intensive camp, Jessica and her friends elected to repurpose old jeans into fashionable tote bags with light-up decorations (conductable circuits). Jessica had some experience with sewing –she had used a machine before but “a long time ago.” We worked with her to teach her how to thread and set up a machine, making sure to check the direction of movement of the thread above (counterclockwise) and the bobbin below (clockwise). Jessica also experimented with the different stiches on the machine, and varying the width and intervals of the stitches by twisting different knobs. She showed visible delight in becoming the expert amongst her peers in working the machine. She tried out a few kinds of stitching, figured out how to turn the knobs in which direction to get a particular setting with a particular wanted stitch. She was very proud of herself and took her stiches to show T and T. Throughout the 10 days of the camp, Jessica positioned herself as the sewing machine expert. Whenever one of the others had an issue (stuck needle, etc), they yelled for Jessica to solve the problem. When Jessica could not solve the problem alone, she asked for Edna (adult facilitator), and solved the problem together with Edna, without the peers.
When working on the e-circuit, Jessica watched a short video explaining how to align the parts, how not to cross the positive and negative paths, and proceeded to sew with Edna’s help. She lamented aloud to her peers, since she was the first to start sewing, “Y’all this is HARD!” However she persisted, and when she was done, kept warning her friends to “you just wait when you have to sew the circuit, its HARD.”
Jessica was very proud of her tote bag. As she said in an interview:
“I was like the first one to finish. And it was pretty easy and now I know how to sew with the machine and hand sew. And I like how it lights up and it was a jean, it was jeans at first and now it’s a purse. People would think its hard but its not.”
This was interesting, and her pride was evident, especially since Jessica herself complained during each M4C session, while she was making the bag and sewing the conductable circuit, how very hard work it was. She wants to continue with M4C and learn how to make e-textile fashion.