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Hacking a Path Into and Through STEM: Exploring How Youth Build Connecting Pathways Between STEM-Related Landscapes

by Edna Tan & Angela Calabrese Barton - 2020

Background/Context: Minoritized youth from historically marginalized backgrounds continue to face systemic inequities in STEM. Existing strategies aimed at increasing diversity in STEM, which are guided by the STEM “pipeline” metaphor and are deficit-oriented, have yielded lackluster results.

Purpose/Objective/Research Questions/Focus of Study: This paper investigates how minoritized youth attempted to build connecting pathways between STEM-related worlds, how such attempts unfolded, and the resultant outcomes pertaining to their developing STEM expertise and subsequent STEM engagement. We introduce the idea of pathhacking, where youth had to create their own pathways into STEM, often with improvised tools and in treacherous territory, because there were no pre-laid paths.

Research Design/Data Collection and Analysis: Data were drawn from longitudinal critical ethnography of 48 youths across STEM-engagement spaces, in both community and formal school spaces. Attention is paid to the particular resources, both relational and material, and the barriers that affect youths’ efforts to hack pathways toward deeper and more connected engagement in STEM. Spaces included school classrooms, school settings, after-school STEM programs held in community clubs, other spaces in communities such as residential neighborhoods, and local universities.

Findings/Results: Three broad claims are presented: (a) Pathhacking involves youth engaging in practices that challenge and expand ways of being in STEM-related spaces; (b) Pathhacking practices, when coordinated through social activity, reorganize social worlds for both individuals and collectives, expanding future pathhacking possibilities; (c) To aid in pathhacking, youth utilize tools including critical STEM-mobility artifacts and allies as brokers across scales of activity.

Conclusions: The current U.S. education-policy climate focuses attention on student achievement in individual subject areas, highlighting the achievement gap. We illustrate the challenges minoritized youth face as they seek more consequential STEM engagement through hacking connecting pathways. Institutions, people, tools, and practices—all imbued with and embedded in histories—have structured these youths’ opportunities to hack connecting pathways and have also provided points of access and resistance for the youth to resist marginalization during the process.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 2, 2020, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23204, Date Accessed: 5/31/2020 6:52:05 PM

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About the Author
  • Edna Tan
    The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
    E-mail Author
    EDNA TAN is a professor in the Teacher Education & Higher Education department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her work focuses on how youth from historically underrepresented backgrounds can be empowered to use science and engineering as tools to address systemic injustice as a core part of developing disciplinary content expertise. She takes a critical, ethnographic approach in her work with youth and science educators, across formal and informal settings. Recent publications include “Towards Critical Justice: Decolonization & Reinhabitation in STEM-Rich Making with Youth from Non-Dominant Communities” (with A. Calabrese Barton), in Equity & Excellence in Education, as well as STEM-Rich Maker Learning: Designing for Equity with Youth of Color (also with A. Calabrese Barton) from Teachers College Press.
  • Angela Barton
    University of Michigan
    E-mail Author
    ANGELA CALABRESE BARTON is a professor in the Educational Studies department at the University of Michigan. Her research is grounded in the intersections of teaching and learning science, with an emphasis on equity and social justice, and takes place within three interrelated strands: (a) working within the intersection of formal/informal education in support of understanding and designing new possibilities for equitably consequential teaching and learning; (b) designing teaching/learning tools and experiences that promote more expansive learning outcomes, such as critical agency, identity work, and social transformation; and (c) methodologies for embracing authentic ‘‘research 1 practice’’ work that attends to practitioner and youth voice and critically engages the goals of equity and justice. Recent publications include “A Longitudinal Study of Equity-Oriented STEM-Rich Making among Youth from Historically Marginalized Communities” (with E. Tan), in American Education Research Journal, and “Critically Engaging Engineering in Place by Localizing Counternarratives when Engineering for Sustainable Communities” (with C. R. Nazar, C. Morris, & E. Tan), in Science Education.
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