STEM through the Looking Glass

/, Phase 2, REU/STEM through the Looking Glass

Summer intern’s reflection and thoughts on teacher and student STEM computational making during our summer workshop. Learn more about the Phase 2 Summer Workshop on our About page.

By Chloe White

Last week was really amazing for me. I am a senior chemistry and education studies double major at Spelman College interested in STEM education policy, administration, and curriculum. I plan to pursue research in hopes of transforming STEM standards and practices while making necessary tools and materials accessible to all students. Therefore, I truly enjoyed being both a researcher and participant during last week’s workshop. The experience was something I never had before especially because the makerspace environment was very new to me. It was great to be able to see teachers and students co-learn with each other while creating projects that would enhance their own communities. It was also great to see the students be vocal about things that they want to see changed in their schools/communities during the beginning stages of the making. To see making in action, a movement that before

I joined this program I’d never known, was and is still an experience I will never forget.

As someone who is insistent on finding new ways to foster students learning styles, making is definitely a way of learning that I can not only see being beneficial to every student but especially low-income/less fortunate and disabled black students. The making aspect of this project has sort of a power dynamic that doesn’t lean more to one side (neither the student nor the teacher) while also giving the student a voice that the general classroom does not have. When I say this, I mean that if we look at the typical American classroom, most teachers (coming from my experience and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the oppressed) take on an authoritarian-like role and therefore students’ ideas, thoughts, imaginations, etc. are not taken into consideration or seen as valid because the teacher is the know-all-be-all figure in the classroom. This shift in power dynamic, to me, is so beneficial for underrepresented and marginalized groups in STEM because so often our ideas are skipped or not seen as beneficial but this workshop illustrated so much validation. The goals for this project are based upon principles for co-learning so it was great to see there weren’t too many “no’s” or “you can’t do this”. I definitely thought that was the most amazing aspect of the workshop because every idea that came to mind, whether relevant or not, seemed to serve its purpose.

I definitely learned a lot about student-teacher and youth-adult dynamics this past week. Understanding the how and why young students (between the ages of 10-16) act (whether due to culture, socialization, or assimilation) in the classroom has a lot of importance and this workshop gave me an outlet to step back and assess those two things. As for the students, it was really great to see them become more comfortable around some of their own teachers and build a different type of relationship (friend/companion/associate) with them which to me is the most important relationship of all. Relationship between student and teacher is most important because, to me, the more comfortable/knowledgeable you are both with/of your teacher(s) the more successful you will become in the spaces in which your teacher(s) reside. Not necessarily talking about success from a GPA point of view (although that is great too) but success in growth, learning, building and maintaining meaningful relationships, and improving emotional intelligence.

I appreciated being able to see both the breakthroughs and the frustrations because so often the education system only glorifies one or the other and not both simultaneously or equally. Seeing kids, who most likely are not given the opportunity to fail in both school and society, fail and just think about other ways of completing/fulfilling their projects while not necessarily tearing themselves down in the process was very uplifting to see.

As a former child who wasn’t given access to these spaces in school, whether makerspace or just to learn openly and freely whilst making mistakes, this workshop did give me some hope for the education system. The education system has a long way to go in terms of abolishing the banking method(s) embedded within its teaching practices and course standards. The banking method as a term was coined by Paulo Freire (1970). In The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire defines the banking method as students being empty containers which educators must deposit knowledge into because the scope of action allowed to students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. However, after observing this week, I think “making” is just one way to move away from that if implemented and organized correctly within STEM classrooms. The “making” aspect of learning highlights the students who are mainly kinesthetic learners, whom I think are neglected most within the basic american classroom, while also allowing space for other types of learners to explore creating in what may be a revolutionary way. I would also think that “making” would be a great outlet for the music-focused aural learner because the use of music while working could be the norm in a given space.

Although “making” as a modern movement has been around since 2005, it is just as new to me as the integrated curriculum way of teaching that is being utilized in some states. I think the two concepts would complement each other and help make both more effective for the student. Ultimately, the basis of this research has enlightened me with every day that passes and I appreciate what this specific research project has set out to accomplish and analyze.

Thank You,

Chloe White