Tag Archives: Youth makers

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.


Collective Science Literacy

Collective STEM literacy: Pushing us all forward
Written by Sarah Keenan

We usually think of literacy as an individual competence – whether it has to do with our ability to read and write or to understand and apply scientific concepts. Scientific literacy, and STEM literacy more broadly, is the ability to make sense of the science in our world; but how does this develop? Sense-making, knowledge about and interaction with scientific concepts happens constantly – beyond the walls of school, beyond books, and definitely extending beyond adult authority figures who hold the “right” answers. This kind of literacy learning is a social and collective act: collaboration with peers helps youth decide what counts as important knowledge and gives them the opportunity to scaffold each others’ growth, as their individual strengths and understandings combine to develop a strong, collective STEM literacy.

In Making4Change, youth take action on community problems that hold meaning for them, engineering and designing solutions to these problems with an eye for green energy technologies. By exploring the ways in which our community culture shapes the nature of problems, the STEM literacy of the youth in this program is tapped into a community need. This gives them a platform to highlight their own STEM literacies beyond what might be recognized in school, and to challenge existing solutions.

Every project in M4C is shaped by the collective STEM literacy of the groups – every participant influences the direction of the project. By developing solutions with a group, individual competencies needed to achieve the goal of the project are identified and unite youth by giving them each a chance to share their STEM abilities. Each year we find students position themselves as experts in certain STEM literacies (for example: soldering, light bulb energy usage, etc.) in such a way that their peers can take advantage of this knowledge, building their individual STEM literacy and while contributing back to the collective literacy and ability of the group.

A lot of time our time in M4C is spent in groups, with youth members leading and mentors giving advice to help develop the collective STEM abilities of the group. For the most part our sessions take place in one room, which allows for a crossing of boundaries between projects, so youth are able to share skills and knowledge across different groups. The “expert feedback” days are an opportunity to expand the collective nature of this literacy, as youth present their inventions to professionals, receive their feedback and use outside expertise to inform the direction of their project and push their own abilities.

M4C provides a place where STEM is connected with the daily lives of youth, legitimizing their interests and abilities, giving them a platform to showcase their expertise and collaborate with their peers. As these youth frame STEM as useful to themselves and their projects, individual abilities build a collective literacy that pushes every person’s ability to act as an agent for the public good.

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.

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!


Youth Makerspace Manifesto

GET City Makerspace Manifesto

by the GET City Youth

(after a 40 hour youth participatory action research investigation into makerspaces, and 2 years of making in a make-shift makerspace)

“A place where you can invent, have fun, and make stuff to save the world. You can gather to create and learn using green energy. It should be open to all kids at the Boys and Girls Club so we can learn and have fun, with room for little kids AND for big kids.

It should be kid-friendly, colorful, and have a lot of space and things that you can make stuff with, like a lot of tools, lockers, computers/tablets, 3D printers, safety goggles/gloves, a first aid kit, safety precautions, and instructions/rules/schedules on white-board and chalkboards walls too. And whiteboard tables, chalkboard doors, storage carts, snacks, sliding “teacher chairs” with wheels and armrests, and shelves under the tables, and lots of power outlets on tables and hanging from the ceiling with extension cords, so we don’t have to go all around the room so we can just stay where we’re working and get more work done.

Michigan State already has one. Our Boys and Girls Club doesn’t have one and kids should have more opportunities like that. Most kids don’t. Instead of people asking “what’s a makerspace?” they will know because it’s open to ALL kids. And the kids will tell their parents and their parents will tell their friends, and their friends will tell the whole entire world from generation to generation. And it’s all because of us.

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.

We have made: rape alarm jackets, smart phone apps to prevent bullying, environmentally friendly light-up footballs, heated jackets and more!

” #youthmake, #makerspaces, #making4change


Youth’s Engineering Design for the Public Good

In our collaborative work in community settings, we have been interested in how youth investigate and take action on scientific issues that matter to them and their communities. We have investigated the role that youth interactions with a range of experts — including STEM and community-based — play in their efforts to engage in engineering for the public good. In particular we have been interested in how does doing engineering for the public good shape the ways in which youth framed their engineering problems and design solutions as they interacted with a range of STEM and community experts? And, how and for what purposes did the youth leverage interactions with STEM and with community experts in their engineering design work for the public good?

To answer these questions, we are currently delving, in-depth, into cases of middle school youth who are engaged in engineering design on safety issues in their community. For example, some of these cases include: 1) The case of two young women who envisioned and prototyped a solar powered heated sweatshirt in response to a set of safety, scientific and community concerns as part of an afterschool club. 2) One young man who designed a solar powered light up football for use in the dark when streetlights don’t work. 3) Three boys who designed wind powered phantom jacket.  All cases are from youth who are members of community-based maker club housed in a community center serving low-income youth in the midwest.

What are finding is that as youth worked with networks of experts, they negotiated technical/social dimensions of their engineering design with increasing complexity. (e.g., how they framed the special vulnerabilities of their communities such as access, cost as well as the particular technical specifications they cared about). Such connections with external community leaders (technical and community-centered) also served as pathway brokers or “on-ramps” for youth to delve more deeply into both the content and particular community needs. Lastly, youth drew upon the ways in which experts engaged their projects as “sources” of legitimization for how and why they sought to re-purposed and re-mixed community and technical ideas, tools, and practices acquired as they navigated and brokered across a range of communities of practices.

We think these ideas are important because they illustrate how youth expanded the boundaries of participation in engineering through multiple and far-ranging interactions, reshaping how learning engineering design might be refigured towards the public good.


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   ——-


Youth Showcase their Making Talents!

by Christina (mentor), Fall (youth maker & blogger), and Anna (youth maker)

On Thursday, 7 May 2015 the youth who participate in Green Energy Technologies in the City (GETCity) presented their final engineering designs to the Lansing, Michigan community at the Boys and Girls Club of Lansing. The program involves 20 participants per week and provides opportunities to engage youth in engineering for sustainable communities (with a green energy focus). In particular youth take on problems that are locally relevant and of global importance while deepening their understandings of science ideas and practices. The goal is for youth to use their developing expertise to take action in their community. The design challenge for this school year focused on an initial driving question, “What devices, powered by alternative energy, will help solve problems in my community?” The youth then moved from an defining initial problem space to optimizing design solutions through iterative cycles of design.

The inventions the youth showcased were the center of attention of community members, parents, and other club youth alike. Youth presented in a stage-like audience beginning with their group-authored movies that described the engineering work they engaged in throughout the year ending with showcasing their invention and details on the problem space their invention addresses. Fall, a GETCity veteran and returning volunteer notes:

At the end of the year event, I saw everyone’s final work on their experiments that they have been working on for the past couple of months. These inventions look amazing and I loved seeing everyone that is in GETCity having fun and wanting to learn more about science and green energy. Also it was nice getting to help out and getting to come back to GETCity [this year].


Continue reading

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: www.hfrp.org.

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.