Background/Context: Large gaps in achievement and interest in science and engineering [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.
Purpose: This paper describes how and why youth engage in making in an after-school, youth-focused, community-based makerspace program “Making 4 Change.” Four in-depth stories of engagement are shared. Using a mobilities of learning framework, we discuss how youth appropriated and repurposed the process of making, and unpack how the program attempted to value and negotiate youths’ ways of making from an equity-oriented perspective.
Research Design: Utilizing a two-year critical ethnography, involving 36 youth over two years in two making settings, we assumed roles of both program teachers and researchers. Data collected included field notes, session videos, weekly youth conversation groups, youth created artifacts, and interviews. Analysis was iterative, involving movement between a grounded approach to making sense of our data, and a mobilities of learning framework.
Findings: Three forms of engagement—critical, connected and collective—supported youths’ sustained and mutual engagement in the makerspace. Across the three, it was essential to balance purposeful playfulness with just-in-time STEM modules, invite a broadening range of identities youth could draw on and perform, and to more critically address the affordances and constraints inherent in a community makerspace.
Conclusions: From the insights gained, we suggest that framing youths’ experiences through the lens of equitably consequential learning and becoming challenges the field to consider how making—as a practice—is always linked to 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. But such understandings are not without tensions, for the work that youth do, which can invoke nontraditional tools and practices towards nontraditional ends, can be fraught with complexities that youth and adults alike are unprepared to handle.