skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on January 1, 2023

Title: Designing for future action: How STEAM programming can support youth engagement in community changemaking projects
A key form of scientific literacy is being able to leverage the knowledge, practices, and commitments of ethical science to everyday civic matters of social consequence. Learning how to engage in civic life in equity-focused ways needs to be intertwined with learning disciplinary—or transdisciplinary—knowledge and practices. In this article we discuss how an art-science learning program at Science Gallery Dublin in Ireland supported subsequent civic participation by adolescent youth. Using longitudinal case studies of young people, we document how they became agents of change in their homes, schools, and wider communities over several years after participating in the program. This work provides insight into how specific design features of informal learning environments help launch or expand the science-linked identities of youth interested in participation in civic life and social action. These cases also illustrate how to develop educational models that support young people to take informed action toward matters of community and environmental consequence, a key aspect of building a more sustainable and thriving future.
; ; ; ; ;
Murphy, B.
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Connected science learning
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Objectives We examine the community epistemologies in youth’s iterative refinements of STEM-rich inventions across settings and time. Iteration in STEM-rich engineering/invention work refers to re-thinking ideas/designs within prototyping processes (Cunningham & Kelly, 2017). The objective of this paper is to examine the political dimensions of iteration through a) how iteration involves pre- and post-design “lives” of inventions especially towards new social futures, and b) the intentional incorporation of cultural epistemologies towards advancing new forms of legitimate inventor knowledge/practice (Yosso, 2005). Framing We draw from critical justice and consequential learning studies. Critical justice focuses on recognizing diversity and addressing structural inequalities perpetuated through systemic racism and classism. It seeks re-shifted relations of power and position within multiple scales-of-activity in learning, intersected with historicized injustices in learning environments. Consequential learning examines what matters to people, and how associated values and practices, when coordinated through social activity, allows for imagining new social futures (Gutierrez, 2012). Viewing the iterative process of inventing through a justice-oriented consequential lens calls into question traditional modes of knowing, and challenges/expands who and what areas of expertise are recognized and valued. Methods Our study takes place in two community makerspaces in mid-sized cities. Both center community engagement and supportmore »youth in designing/inventing to address problems they and their communities care about. Both also support minoritized youth in inventing through engagement with a wide range of community/STEM stakeholders. In researcher-educator roles, we collaborated with both makerspaces to establish programs supporting youth in sustained engagement in STEM and making/inventing in culturally-sustaining ways. In our two-year, longitudinal critical ethnography, data were generated in weekly community making sessions between 2016-2018. Data include artifacts, youth conversation groups, and videos capturing youth interaction with STEM and community experts at various stages in their design process. Analysis involved multiple stages and levels of coding based on open-coding and constant comparison procedures. Findings We ground our paper in four in-depth longitudinal cases of youth’s iterative design work: Nila’s light-up #stopracism sign; Su’zanne’s massaging slipper, Sharon’s geodesic play dome, and Jazmyn’s portable fan. Across cases, we illustrate three findings. First, youth located broader injustices within local making/inventing discourses with support from community and STEM allies, suggesting youth drew from multiple epistemologies, some grounded in community cultural wealth, others in STEM. For example, Su’Zanne drew from a familial culture of care and resistance in recognizing injustices nested in homelessness while iterating a way to make her slipper “more massaging.” The geodesic dome youth-makers drew from collective solidarity/resistance in making a structure for younger peers due to unjust lack of play infrastructure. Second, iterative engagement involving community wealth afforded further design and inventing experiences and expanded ownership over inventions across many stakeholders. For example, youth turned Nila’s #stopracism sign on during group discussions when they felt that racism needed to be foregrounded. Third, the afterlife of youth invention processes impacted the emergent inventor-maker culture through influencing the iterative process. Significance Iterations expand hybridization of cultural knowledge/practice and STEM-rich inventing, re-shaping whose cultural knowledge matters, and fostering justice-oriented collective outcomes.« less
  2. Research on citizen science programmes has highlighted that they can foster science content and knowledge gain, enhance pro-environmental behaviour and cultivate civic action among participants. Especially in the case of place-based citizen science, which requires hands-on repeated activity in an out-of-door setting through a scientific lens, evidence suggests that some of these outcomes may be linked to the unique people–place relationships and interactions afforded by such programmes. Even still, studies that empirically examine the influence of place on citizen science participant and programme outcomes are scant. This is due, in part, to the methodological challenges involved in interrogating complex aspects of a person's sense of place—aspects like place attachment—the emotional bonds between people and place. Here, an adapted three-dimensional model of place attachment is proposed as a theoretical framework from which place-based citizen science experiences and outcomes might be empirically examined in depth. The model, which posits personal, social and natural environment dimensions of place attachment is contextualized with research findings from the US-based Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) citizen science programme. Data from COASST suggest that participants do exhibit place attachment in all three dimensions of attachment, categorized within seven unique constructs, although questions remain regarding themore »unique intensity, make-up (shape) and scale (spatial, social and nature-science) of individual-level attachment along the three central dimensions. Critically, more research is needed to investigate whether the unique place attachment ‘profile’ of participants is a function of personal, social or programmatic variables pre- and post-programme participation. To encourage further scholarship on potential links between the experiences, exposures and programme components of place-based citizen science and the place attachment profiles of participants, this paper includes a brief review of the research opportunities presented by the adapted three-dimensional place attachment model discussed. Advancing this line of inquiry is an important component of broader efforts to understand how sense of place is altered via place-based citizen science and whether or not that is linked to specific programme outputs or participant outcomes in science knowledge, ecological understanding and civic engagement.« less
  3. When asked about how they deal with unforeseen problems, novice learners often describe a process of “trial and error.” This process might fairly be described as iteration, a critical step in the design process, but falls short of the practices that engineering education needs to develop. In the face of novel and multifaceted problems, future engineers must be comfortable and competent not just trying again, but identifying failure points, troubleshooting, and running systematic tests with relevant data. To examine the abilities of novice designers to test and effectively refine ideas and prototypes, we conducted qualitative analysis of structured interviews, audio, video, and designs of 11 girls, ages 9 -11, working on computational papercrafts as part of a museum-based STEAM summer camp. The projects involved design and construction of expressive paper and cardboard sculptures with gears and linkages powered by servomotors. Over the course of one day, the girls generated designs inspired by a camp theme, then had to work with mechanics, electronics and craft to create working versions that would be displayed as part of a public exhibit. Computational papercraft was selected because it lowers cost and intimidation. Our design conjecture was that by making materials familiar and abundant, learnersmore »would have more relevant knowledge, could easily modify and replicate components, and would therefore be better able to recognize potential faults and more likely to engage in testing and refinement. We also supported design and troubleshooting with a customized circuit board and an online gear simulator. In the first stage of this study, we looked at what engineering practices emerged, given these conditions. We asked: What opportunities for testing and refinement did computational papercrafts open up? What resources and tools do young learners employ when testing and refining designs? Analysis showed that technical supports for testing and refinement were successful in supporting valued testing and refinement practices as youth pursued personal goals. Use of the simulator and customized microcontroller allowed for consideration of multiple alternatives and for “trial before error.” Learners were able to conduct focused tests on subsystems of their paper machines, and to make “small bets,” keeping initial ideas and designs fluid. Inexpensive materials also allowed them to test and refine at late project stages, without feeling that they were wasting time or materials. The analysis sheds light on young students practices of testing and refinement, and how to best support young people as they begin learning trajectories in engineering. The approach is especially relevant within making-oriented engineering education and other settings working to broaden participation in engineering.« less
  4. Community and citizen science on climate change-influenced topics offers a way for participants to actively engage in understanding the changes and documenting the impacts. As in broader climate change education, a focus on the negative impacts can often leave participants feeling a sense of powerlessness. In large scale projects where participation is primarily limited to data collection, it is often difficult for volunteers to see how the data can inform decision making that can help create a positive future. In this paper, we propose and test a method of linking community and citizen science engagement to thinking about and planning for the future through scenarios story development using the data collected by the volunteers. We used a youth focused wild berry monitoring program that spanned urban and rural Alaska to test this method across diverse age levels and learning settings. Using qualitative analysis of educator interviews and youth work samples, we found that using a scenario stories development mini-workshop allowed the youth to use their own data and the data from other sites to imagine the future and possible actions to sustain berry resources for their communities. This process allowed youth to exercise key cognitive skills for sustainability, including systemsmore »thinking, futures thinking, and strategic thinking. The analysis suggested that youth would benefit from further practicing the skill of envisioning oneself as an agent of change in the environment. Educators valued working with lead scientists on the project and the experience for youth to participate in the interdisciplinary program. They also identified the combination of the berry data collection, analysis and scenarios stories activities as a teaching practice that allowed the youth to situate their citizen science participation in a personal, local and cultural context. The majority of the youth groups pursued some level of stewardship action following the activity. The most common actions included collecting additional years of berry data, communicating results to a broader community, and joining other community and citizen science projects. A few groups actually pursued solutions illustrated in the scenario stories. The pairing of community and citizen science with scenario stories development provides a promising method to connect data to action for a sustainable and resilient future.« less
  5. Civic-science integrates science knowledge with civic practice but differs from the citizen-science prototype by reframing science as a public good and citizens as both recipients of and actors in policy. We draw from our studies of a civic-science model in which adolescents (majority African-American) collaborate with teachers and community partners to mitigate an environmental problem in their urban community. Based on students’ reflections on what they learn from these projects we have developed Environmental Commons theory, referring both to the natural resources on which life depends and the public spaces where people negotiate how they will care for those resources and for the communities they inhabit. We contend that, to solve twentyfirst century environmental and climate challenges, it is myopic to rely on elite groups of scientific experts and policymakers. Instead, a civic science skill set should be part of the preparation of younger generations to be informed citizens and youth from urban ethnic minority communities should be a high priority. From an eco-justice standpoint, these groups bear a disproportionate share of the burdens of environmental pollution and climate change yet historically have been marginalized by the institution of science and, until recently, relatively neglected by environmental movements.