Tag Archives: identity

Like a Piece of Gum.

by Day Greenberg

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Last time, I wrote a blog post about what I think about grit research. That post referenced a running metaphor that Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth made in her TED talk about grit. “Running ahead” with that metaphor, I challenged it with my own analogy about access to high-quality running shoes, in that there are some crucial resources that act as gatekeepers on people’s paths toward their goals. These gatekeepers (e.g., a high-quality educational opportunity) make rushing forward—AT ANY SPEED—toward a goal either easier, or much, much harder.

This time around, I want to introduce you to one particularly gritty young person I know, and to the metaphors he has used in discussions of his access to educational gatekeepers. This person—a youth engineer who is currently in the middle of prototyping an actual pair of running shoes—has some very relevant points to share about forward momentum and what it requires.

M*, an active member of our afterschool STEM club, visited our club at the end of last year (his 5th grade year) and asked to join. We turned him down, reminding him that the school year was almost over, and that our program membership usually begins in 6th grade. This fall, he showed up at our welcome back party and joined that same day. Since then, he has been actively involved in engineering for sustainable communities, developing novel footwear design solutions to community member’s needs related to injuries, cold and wet weather, and economic constraints.

We asked M what he thought about doing science and engineering afterschool in our program. Here’s what he said:

Author (A): Why are you doing it?

M: Cuz last year, I couldn’t make it out here. And I seen something, and I started thinking maybe that could be me next year. So, I stuck around. On the bottom of your shoe. Like a piece of gum. And I waited… [looks at author smiling] That’s a big cheese.

A: Cuz I love that metaphor! …Now what does that mean to you?

M: That I’m patient.

A: … So how do you feel now that you’re done with being patient and done with the wait?

M: Now I can build stuff!

A: How’s that feel?

M: Good. It gets my hopes up to build, like, all these type of things that people need, or all these things that we need. So, we build. And we create. And we present. And we search for facts, and people’s opinions. And we do.

A: And what do you mean by “do”?

M: We work off of them [facts researched, and people’s opinions], and sometimes we actually take their things and put them into our things, and create a whole big thing! [moves arms out wide] Like a whole big thing of ideas for our invention. Like, something be cool, so, it builds up… it just started spreading when people started talking about it. …it just made it into this big ole resource that people need. So, I worked off of it. Or, if somebody says they did it [that the product he wanted to create already exists], then that might stink, so I bounce back. Or sometimes I just rush forward.

A: When do you rush forward?

M: When I see stuff that is really, things that I really need.

In M’s comments, I definitely see grit. It’s quite hard to miss. We told him “no,” and he came back. After an entire summer, he still remembered. And the way he describes it, there was no way we could have gotten rid of him, even if we tried. He was sticking around and waiting for his turn. No matter what.

But you see, the thing is, this young man who described himself as “a piece of gum” was not acting as “a piece of gum floating in space.” He had something (and someone) to stick to. In his mind, he was anchoring himself to me, and to the club. By proxy (whether he was/is fully aware of it or not), he was also anchoring himself to our cache of precious resources—educational information, social relationships, institutional affiliations, professional network connections, experiential opportunities, not too mention the financial and material support we have the ability to share.

Where we went, he wanted to go too. As he would likely tell it, we couldn’t get rid of him, and we had to accept his presence eventually. Not only that, we had to finally give him access to the resources, environments, and opportunities he so craved.

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So, I have my own interpretations and perspectives about this story and what it can tell us as science education researchers and practitioners, but to be honest, I’m still in the process of figuring that out. One of the benefits of longitudinal, qualitative research is that the investigation of data can be viewed as a journey, one that runs in parallel to the journeys your participants/students complete during your research/practice (and I’m not done with exploring M’s journey just yet).

For now, why don’t you tell me: what lessons can potentially begin to be uncovered here with M, in your opinion? What connection do you see between his grit, our shared resources together, and his supported, forward momentum past multiple different gatekeeper stations (some of which he has already passed, and some of which he has yet to encounter)? Where is the balance of power, responsibility, and perseverance located, in M’s world?

Where is it located in yours?

 

*Name kept private.

 

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.

 

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!