EAGER: MAKER: Play in the Making: Supporting Design Thinking in Maker Spaces among Underrepresented, Underserved, and Minority Students through Game Design
The goal of this two-year exploratory research project is to develop an empirically-based teaching and learning model for broadening participation of girls, minority, and low-income middle school students in STEM and Making through game design. The model will center around a series of design challenges that engage middle school students in solving personally and socially significant real world problems using low and high-tech tools that are available in Maker spaces. While game design has been recognized as a potentially powerful means of STEM learning, it has been most commonly used to introduce children to programming. We have yet to explore the potential of making games as a means of enhancing design thinking and inspiring other forms of Making. Making games is not a common activity in Maker spaces, yet game making is an activity that appeals to a wide range of young people. Game design may be a way to attract youth who might find more typical Maker space activities to be intimidating or unappealing. This project will lay the foundation for further inquiry into the pathways that young people from underrepresented backgrounds might take from game design into other forms of Making and STEM learning.
The project leadership will collaborate with six mentors (3 teachers and 3 librarians) to iteratively design, test, and refine design challenges in a formal and informal learning environment. Students will engage in the design thinking process that emphasizes the role of empathy and understanding human needs as central to effective design. They will be introduced to a variety of tools ranging from paper-based and cardboard construction to e-textiles, programming, and robotics as they participate in design cycles of empathizing, defining, prototyping, and testing. Parents will be invited to participate in different stages of the design process as informants, co-designers, and user testers to support students' learning and Making process. The pedagogical strategies that will be developed as part of the project for students will inform ways to design and organize activities in the Maker context to create more inclusive learning experiences for students. Furthermore, the project will explore what support mechanisms mentors need in regard to Making and design thinking to effectively facilitate students' learning and Making. The results from this project will illuminate participation structures that are important to build a Maker community where students, educators, and parents work together as learning partners in schools and libraries. This project is a part of NSF's Maker Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) portfolio (NSF 15-086), a collaborative investment of Directorates for Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE), Education and Human Resources (EHR) and Engineering (ENG).