Supporting STEM+C Learning Through Connected Spaces

1/17/2024 6:18:00 AM Hannah Wirth

The Well Experience logoAcademic mentor: Mike Tissenbaum

Community partner: The Well Experience | Driven to Reach Excellence and Academic Achievement in Males (DREAAM)

Project Description: 
The Connected Spaces project is developing a technological toolkit and design framework that connects geographically distributed middle and high school learners to like-minded colleagues who are also interested in making and fabrication so they can provide technical assistance and mentorship. By supporting distanced collaborations, we hope learners who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM+C career pathways, who often lack the access, opportunity, or encouragement to pursue STEM+C careers may find and form communities that value their experiences and perspectives. As a result of these connections, we anticipate participants will improve their sense of belonging and identity as makers and develop increased interest in pursuing STEM+C career pathways. The Connected Spaces (C/S) technology framework is being developed to connect middle and high school students taking part in maker activities across Illinois and New York in a distributed community of makers. The C/S framework is a collection of tools that enables the formation of, and ongoing support for, small, distributed learning communities of makers actively engaged in creating digital and tangible tools to address issues of personal value and meaning. C/S is composed of two primary technological components: a digital dashboard for providing connection and knowledge awareness, and the mentor projector for supporting collaboration and debugging. We aim to understand how to support distributed STEM+C learning across a diversity of connected community and university makerspaces.

Through the development C/S and its rollout across community and university makerspaces with diverse populations, our research aims to answer the following overarching questions:

  • What forms of social interactions and collaborative construction between novice makers can be supported by connecting middle and high school students as a
    distributed community of makers?
  • How do learners' perceptions of STEM+C careers and their desire to pursue
    them change after interacting with peers, facilitators, and mentors through Connected Spaces?

Role of the Community-Academic Scholar:
Connected Spaces has after-school maker sessions planned for Spring 2024 and a summer maker camp for Summer 2024. The Community-Academic Scholar will be working with the Connected Spaces team during the Summer 2024 implementation. They will be tasked with interacting with the students (20-25 middle-school students) during the weeks of the camps and helping with facilitation. In the weeks leading up to the camps, the scholar will also be involved in the planning and curriculum development for the camp along with the rest of the research team. The scholar will be working with the students to support them with their maker projects which will involve electronics, coding, and constructing. Some basic knowledge of these skills will be beneficial, but not necessary. Furthermore, since most of the students are from racially minoritized backgrounds, it will be important for all members of the research team to approach this work with cultural sensitivity and humility. During and after the camps, the scholar will assist with data collection and analysis.