RESEARCH: "Making Connections: Exploring Culturally-Relevant Maker Experiences through an Iterative, Cross-Institutional Approach"
Making Connections, a three-year design-based research study conducted by the Science Museum of Minnesota in partnership with Twin Cities' communities, is developing and studying new ways to engage a broader audience in meaningful Maker experiences. This study draws and builds on existing theoretical frameworks to examine how community engagement techniques can be used to co-design and implement culturally-relevant marketing, activities, and events focused on Making that attract families from underrepresented audiences and ultimately engage them in meaningful informal STEM learning. The research is being done in three phases: Sharing and Listening - co-design with targeted communities; Making Activities Design and Implementation; Final Analysis, Synthesis and Dissemination. The project is also exploring new approaches in museums' cross-institutional practices that can strengthen the quality of their community-engagement. In recent years, Making - a do-it-yourself, grassroots approach to designing and constructing real things through creativity, problem-solving, and tool use - has received increasing attention as a fruitful vehicle for introducing young people to the excitement of science and engineering and to career skills in these fields. Maker Faires attract hundreds and thousands of people to engage in Making activities every year, and the popularity of these events, as well as the number of museums and libraries that are beginning to provide opportunities for the public to regularly engage in these types of activities, are skyrocketing. However, Maker programs tend to draw audiences that are predominantly white, middle class, male, well educated, and strongly interested in science, despite the fact that the practices of Making are as common in more diverse communities. Making Connections has the potential to transform how children begin to cultivate a lifelong interest in engineering at a young age, which may ultimately encourage more young people of color to pursue engineering careers in the future.