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The Makerspace Movement: Sites of Possibilities for Equitable Opportunities to Engage Underrepresented Youth in STEM

by Angela Calabrese Barton, Edna Tan & Day Greenberg - 2017

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.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 6, 2017, p. 1-44
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21785, Date Accessed: 9/27/2021 1:05:51 AM

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About the Author
  • Angela Barton
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    ANGELA CALABRESE BARTON is a professor of science education and teacher education at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on teaching and learning science with an emphasis on equity and social justice concerns in lower income urban communities. Drawing on critically oriented research methods (multi-sited ethnography, collaborative and participatory design-based research, and case study), she investigates youth learning and identity work across setting and over time. She also works closely with teachers to design/adapt curriculum/pedagogy towards incorporating youths’ cultural knowledge and experiences. She also engages in curriculum research and development focused on teaching engineering for sustainable communities in the middle grades. She has designed and taught after school and community-based science/engineering over two decades. Recent publications include: "Crafting a future in science: Tracing middle school girls’ identity work over time and space" in American Education Research Journal and "Putting on a green carnival: Youth taking educated action on socioscientific issues" in Journal of Research in Science Teaching.
  • Edna Tan
    University of North Carolina at Greensboro
    E-mail Author
    EDNA TAN is associate professor of science education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She takes a critical, sociocultural ethnographic approach in her work with youth and science teachers, both in the classroom, informal science programs and across these spaces. Her work focuses on how youth from non-dominant backgrounds can be empowered to work with their teachers in creating hybrid spaces for meaningful science engagement, authoring positive science identities and identity trajectories. Recent publications include "Desiring a career in STEM fields: Girls’ narrated and embodied identities-in-practice" in Journal of Research in Science Education and "Urban girls identity trajectories through the participation between figured worlds" in American Educational Research Journal.
  • Day Greenberg
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    DAY GREENBERG is a doctoral student at Michigan State University, studying educational psychology with a concentration in science education. Her work centers on witnessing, supporting, and honoring youth voices and journeys that are often silenced and marginalized in STEM. She studies the relationships, resources, and strategies that preadolescent youth identify as important or helpful for empowering them to conduct identity work in science and engineering as they author pathways with purpose and agency. The goal of this work is to make out-of-school STEM learning environments and programs more connected, accessible, empowering, and transformative for youth. This is her first publication.
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