Building More Inclusive Makerspaces to Support Informal Engineering Learning Experiences
The project will refine, research and disseminate making exhibits and events that the museum has developed and tested to support early engineering skill development. The project will use cardboard, a familiar and flexible material, to support the activities. The goal is to develop insights and resources for informal educators across the museum field and beyond into how to effectively structure and facilitate open-ended maker education experiences for visitors that expand the number and kinds of museums and families who can engage in these activities. Maker education is often linked to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning and uses hands-on and collaborative approaches to support activities and projects that foster creativity, interest, and skill development. To address patterns of inequitable access to and participation in both formal and informal learning opportunities, the project will be designed to engage families from under-represented communities and research how they participate in informal engineering activities and environments. The project will make a suite of resources available for museums and other ISE practitioners that will be developed through iterative testing at all of the different settings. These resources will be made widely available via an open access online portal.
The project will research how effectively the use of cardboard making exhibits and events engage families, particularly families from underrepresented groups, in STEM and early engineering. The project's theoretical framework combines elements of: (1) learning sciences theories of family learning in museums; (2) making as a learning process; (3) early engineering practices and dispositions, and (4) equity in museums and the maker movement. The research will be conducted within two multi-month implementations of a large-scale Cardboard Engineering gallery at the Science Museum of Minnesota and two-week scaled implementations of the gallery at each of three recruited partner museum sites. The project design interweaves evaluation and research aims. Paired observations and surveys will be used to research how effectively the project is working in different venues. This integration of research and evaluation will generate a large data set from which to generalize about cardboard making across contexts. Case studies will be used to identify barriers to engagement that can be remedied, but they will provide a rich data set for understanding family learning and engineering in making. Research findings and products will be posted on the Center for Informal Science Education website and submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals such as Visitor Studies, ASTC Dimensions, the Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research and others.
This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of learning settings.