Equity and the Maker Movement: Integrating Children's Communities and Social Networks into Making

By Tan, Edna; Barton, Angela Calabrese et al. | Science and Children, March 2018 | Go to article overview

Equity and the Maker Movement: Integrating Children's Communities and Social Networks into Making


Tan, Edna, Barton, Angela Calabrese, Schenkel, Kathleen, Science and Children


For many children, gaining access to STEM education is an uphill battle. Inequity and underrepresentation of children from marginalized communities persist. Research has pointed not only to an access opportunity gap but also to an identity gap--children from non-dominant communities often do not "see" themselves in dominant STEM structures (Authors 2013). The maker movement has evoked interest for its potential role in breaking down barriers to STEM learning and attainment (Martin 2015). Characterized by hands-on working with materials (e.g., cardboard, fabric, wood) and digital components (e.g., 3D printing), making is highly sought after by educators as a productive STEM opportunity for children. However, many making experiences designed for children have been criticized for their trivial, "once-off" nature, without prolonged, meaningful engagement toward more complex projects (Blikstein and Worsley 2016). As makerspaces in and out-of-school are proliferating, few studies exist that investigate how children are supported in working toward robust and personally meaningful STEM making projects, especially for children from historically marginalized communities.

While working as co-teachers and researchers with upper-elementary children (grades 4-6) in two after-school making programs at local Boys and Girls Clubs, we have found that explicitly recruiting children's rich funds of knowledge anchored in children's existing social networks supported children in sustained, consequential making. Funds of knowledge are all the practices and knowledge children have developed by living their lives (Moll et al. 1992). Taking an explicitly anti-deficit focus, which means paying attention to the rich experiences children have and positioning them as capable and competent in STEM, we recognize the children as capable collaborators who possess relevant, community-based knowledge and experiences related to making. Children engaged in weekly making programs at their local Boys and Girls Clubs for a full school year (sustained programming), working on projects that served a need in their community. The making programs are collaborative efforts between the Boys and Girls Clubs and local university science education faculty, funded by both federal and local sources. We consider the children's making as consequential in three ways:

* By integrating their funds of knowledge and fellow community members' expertise, children engaged in positive maker identity work that supported them in seeing themselves as community makers.

* Children drew from both STEM and community knowledge in their making.

* The maker projects were used immediately to solve a community need that children collectively identified with community members.

In this article we highlight the five ways that we have found community ethnography as pedagogy for STEM-rich making to yield powerful outcomes for children.

Ethnography as Pedagogy

Children's funds of knowledge were recruited by engaging them in community ethnography (studying cultures from an insider point of view) as a pedagogical approach. Even as the children are informed insiders in their community, equipping them with ethnographic skills (e.g., designing surveys, conducting interviews) helped children and adult mentors appreciate the rich sources of community data that inform the children's making projects. For example, children interviewed peers, families, and community members on safety concerns in the community (e.g., walking alone at night, lack of adequate street lights, bullying) and ideas for ways to solve those problems. They also sought feedback about their project design ideas, both the technical and social dimensions. For example, Samuel's light-up football had to be of a soft material for younger children to be able to use it safely (social). He then had to consider technical dimensions--that is, how to position the rechargeable batteries within the ball to add weight to the ball in the center so that it "feels like a real NFL ball. …

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