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Creators/Authors contains: "Gravel, Brian E."

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  1. Abstract Background

    We investigate the factors that shape teachers’ implementation of a school STEM reform—the creation of a high-school makerspace. Educational reformers have increasing interest in making and makerspaces in schools. Prior research shows how factors shape reform at the classroom, school (organizational), and institutional levels, as well as across levels. However, most research on teachers tends to focus on classroom-level effects, which may not capture the full complexity of how they navigate multilevel reforms. We consider teachers’ decision-making from an ecological perspective to investigate what shapes their implementation efforts, using observational and interview data collected over 2 years in a large comprehensive high school.


    We find teachers’ efforts are shaped by four “distances”—or spaces teachers traversed, physically and conceptually—related to skillsets and distributed expertise, physical space, disciplinary learning, and structural factors. The distances operate as a constellation of factors—independently identifiable, co-operatively manifesting—to shape implementation. We position teacher deliberations and decision-making as portals into the forms of organizational and institutional supports offered in multilevel reforms.


    The paper contributes insights into makerspace implementation in schools, adding to the emerging literature on how making can transform STEM learning experiences for students. We conclude that teachers’ decision-making around multilevel implementations can inform our understanding of how makerspaces are implemented and their impact on students’ experiences, as well as how seeing teachers as multilevel actors can offer new insights into reform dynamics writ large. We offer implications for makerspaces in schools, as well as methodological and theoretical considerations for how organizations and institutions can better support teachers as agents of STEM reform.

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  2. Abstract Background

    Computational approaches in STEM foster creative extrapolations of ideas that extend the bounds of human perception, processing, and sense-making. Inviting teachers to explore computational approaches in STEM presents opportunities to examine shifting relationships to inquiry that support transdisciplinary learning in their classrooms. Similarly, play has long been acknowledged as activity that supports learners in taking risks, exploring the boundaries and configurations of existing structures, and imagining new possibilities. Yet, play is often overlooked as a crucial element of STEM learning, particularly for adolescents and adults. In this paper, we explorecomputational playas an activity that supports teachers’ transdisciplinary STEM learning. We build from an expansive notion of computational activity that involves jointly co-constructing and co-exploring rule-based systems in conversation with materials, collaborators, and communities to work towards jointly defined goals. We situate computation within STEM-rich making as a playful context for engaging in authentic, creative inquiry. Our research asksWhat are the characteristics of play and computation within computational play? And, in what ways does computational play contribute to teachers’ transdisciplinary learning?


    Teachers from grades 3–12 participated in a professional learning program that centered playful explorations of materials and tools using computational approaches: making objects based on rules that produce emergent behaviors and iterating on those rules to observe the effects on how the materials behaved. Using a case study and descriptions of the characteristics of computational play, our results show how familiarity of materials and the context of play encouraged teachers to engage in transdisciplinary inquiry, to ask questions about how materials behave, and to renegotiate their own relationships to disciplinary learning as they reflected on their work.


    We argue computational play is a space of wonderment where iterative conversations with materials create opportunities for learners to author forms of transdisciplinary learning. Our results show how teachers and students can learn together in computational play, and we conclude this work can contribute to ongoing efforts in the design of professional and transdisciplinary learning environments focused on the intersections of materiality, play, and computation.

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