Making for Change: Becoming Community Engineering Experts through Makerspaces and Youth Ethnography

Monday, September 1, 2014 to Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Making and Tinkering Programs
Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum/ISE Professionals
Education and learning science | Engineering
Access and Inclusion: 
Black/African American Communities
Hispanic/Latinx Communities
Michigan State University

Many communities across the country are developing "maker spaces," environments that combine physical fabrication equipment, social communities of people working together, and educational activities for learning how to design and create objects. Increasingly, maker spaces and maker technologies are being designed to provide extended learning opportunities for school-aged young people. Unfortunately few youth from under-represented populations have had the opportunity to participate in these maker spaces. This proof-of-concept project, a collaboration of faculty from Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina, Greensboro with staff of the Boys and Girls Clubs in Lansing and Greensboro, will address two challenges faced by middle school youth from backgrounds underrepresented in engineering professions: 1) a lack of opportunities to learn engineering meaningfully and to apply it to understanding and solving real-world problems (i.e. learning), and 2) few experiences that foster the ability to see oneself as an important, contributing producer and consumer of engineering (i.e. identity). The team will develop and study an informal (out-of-school) STEM learning model to engage middle school youth from underrepresented backgrounds in experiences related to engineering-for-sustainable-communities. The model engages youth both in maker spaces and in conducting community ethnography studies to identify local problems and then to design potential solutions for them. The participants will also be connected into a broader social network of experts. Using a design-based research approach and applying social practice theory and systems theory, the work will identify how critical aspects of the learning environment shape identity work. This will yield information on the value and affect of the instructional tools that will be produced. The team hypothesizes that, by alternating over time between maker spaces activities and community ethnography studies, youth will a) reflect upon what they know and need to know to define problems and design solutions, b) develop stronger engineering identities, and c) realize the potential they have to make change in their community. Professionals in education and engineering will benefit from additional empirical evidence for how identity unfolds over time, across learning contexts, and how it promotes opportunities to learn in engineering.

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Team Members

Angela Calabrese BartonPrincipal Investigator
Edna TanEdna TanCo-Principal Investigator

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