With funding from the National Science Foundation, “Making” STEM Relevant in Underserved Communities aims to engage members of local underserved communities in a Making and DIY program while studying a research-based model for supporting Making in different social, cultural, and socioeconomic contexts. The project fills an immediate need in the informal science education field by developing ways to engage underrepresented audiences in Making. Using an iterative approach, we will define the barriers and challenges associated with a mobile Making program and examine opportunities for replication and scaling. In particular, we will determine which elements of the implementation are idiosyncratic to our local setting and which are generalizable to other locations, formats, and venues.
A distinctive feature of the project is a mobile Making van that brings materials, equipment, and tools directly to the school sites. A mobile program expedites the expansion of Making into underserved communities by alleviating the cost and time associated with developing permanent maker spaces in these neighborhoods. However, it is unclear whether a traveling program can provide participants with the same sense of ownership they might experience in a permanent physical space. The proposed project will determine the logistical feasibility of a mobile program as well its effectiveness in developing a sense of ownership and relevancy among students and their families.
Research-based design principles for effective out-of-school time (OST) programs guide the development of the Mobile Maker program to ensure its effectiveness. Based on existing research and past experience, we have identified five essential elements for effective outreach in underserved communities: 1) access to resources; 2) ethnically diverse near-peer leaders; 3) authentic, relevant activities; 4) legitimacy within the community; and 5) ongoing input and guidance from participants. During this two-year project, we will identify the relative importance of these essential elements and develop a model in support of impactful Mobile Making programs for underserved communities.
Success of the proposed project will be determined by the impact of the activities on the participating students and parents. Attendance numbers, surveys, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and field observations will be used to evaluate changes in participants’ interest, self-efficacy, and perceived relevance of science and technology in everyday life. Based on the results from each semester’s analysis, we will modify the project features as needed and then investigate the effectiveness of these modifications in the following semesters. By constantly comparing all data sources, we will determine to what extent and in what way each of the model’s features contributed to the project’s overall success.