Learning through Youth Community Tinkering Overview of the Research Program

Project: Research project

Project Details


In 2013, with funding from GBMF, a research-practice team at the Exploratorium worked to develop and
document STEM/STEAM learning programs conducted in partnership with the SF Boys & Girls Club. This
multi-phased study aims to understand how tinkering and making programs can be designed and implemented in
ways that expand and deepen learning opportunities, particularly for children from communities historically
underrepresented in STEM fields. Organizing educational experiences around tinkering often involves an
emphasis on the process of creating and learning, and an effort to bring scientific practices and concepts alive in
the context of children’s creative pursuits. These efforts draw upon a range of progressive educational traditions
and take an interdisciplinary approach to STEM learning that privileges problem-solving and iteration, and
grounds scientific inquiry in the developmentally rich context of invention, art and play (Vossoughi, et. al,
In the curricular design and research, we therefore highlight both scientific and artistic practices and concepts,
looking closely at the ways these disciplines intersect to support students’ deepening engagement and
understanding of the phenomenon at hand. Throughout the proposal, we refer to STEM/STEAM learning in
order to foreground this intersection, and because we anticipate that our findings will be relevant to educators
and researchers working in both STEM and STEAM. Our larger goal is to contribute new insights on
science learning, as well as learning and equity writ large, that will help to enrich educational
practice in school, after-school and community settings.
The primary purpose of this project is therefore to build new knowledge and develop learning tools that will
contribute to more equitable and robust making and tinkering opportunities. A growing number of researchers
and educational leaders see in making the potential to engage young people in personally compelling, creative
investigations of the material and social world (Martin, 2015; Martinez & Stager, 2013), to democratize tasks
and skills previously available only to experts (Blikstein, 2013), and to expand participation in STEM fields by
leveraging the strengths of interest-driven, multi-disciplinary STEM learning environments (Brahms, 2014;
Honey & Kanter, 2013; Sheridan et al., 2014). Yet, the existing literature on making has yet to document longterm
trajectories of learning or deeply engage with the growing body of research on the intersections between
learning, culture and equity (Vossoughi & Bevan, 2014). This project will address this gap by utilizing cuttingedge
theories of learning and equity to analyze a rich set of longitudinal data on making/tinkering environments
that serve non-dominant youth.
This project consists of two phases that bring together the collaborative design, implementation and study of
STEM-rich after-school tinkering programs for children (K-5) and youth (teen facilitators) in San Francisco Boys
and Girls Clubs. These programs predominantly serve African American, Latino/a and Asian American youth
from low-income backgrounds. Phase 1 focused on program design, implementation, preliminary analysis and
writing. Phase 2, for which we request funding here, will involve systematic analysis of the data collected thus
far, triangulation and follow-up data collection, and the identification, drafting and sharing of our core findings.
After a brief review of phase 1, we outline our plan for phase 2 in greater detail.
Phase 1: January 2013-June 2014 [
Effective start/end date3/1/179/30/19


  • Gordon E. and Betty I. Moore Foundation (5256)


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.