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Project Descriptions

A Participatory Design Investigation of the Relationship between Program Setting and Science Identity Development

September 1, 2022 - August 31, 2027

Science identity has been shown to be a necessary precondition to academic success and persistence in science trajectories. Further, science identities are formed, in large part, due to the kinds of access, real or perceived, that (racialized) learners have to science spaces. For Black and Latinx youth, in particular, mainstream ideas of science as a discipline and as a culture in the US recognize and support certain learners and marginalize others. Without developing identities as learners who can do science, or can become future scientists, these young people are not likely to pursue careers in any scientific field. There are demonstrable links between positive science identities and the material and social resources provided by particular places. Thus, whether young people can see themselves as scientists, or even feel that they have access to science practices, also depends on where they are learning it. The overarching goal of this project is to broaden participation of Black and Latinx youth in science by deepening our understanding of both science identities and how science learning spaces may be better designed to support the development of positive science identities of these learners. By deepening the field’s knowledge of how science learning spaces shape science identities, science educators can design more equitable learning spaces that leverage the spatial aspects of program location, culturally relevant curriculum, and participants’ lived experiences. A more expansive understanding of positive science identities allows educators to recognize these in Black and Latinx learners, and direct their continued science engagements accordingly, as positive identities lead to greater persistence in science. This project is a collaboration between researchers at New York University and those at a New York City informal science organization, BioBus. It is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) Program which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments.

This participatory design research project will compare three different formats, in different settings, of afterschool science programming for middle schoolers: one located in a lab space on the campus of a nearby university, one located in the public middle school building of participating students, and one aboard a mobile science lab. For purposes of this study, the construct of “setting” refers to the dimensions of geographic location, built physical environment, and material resources. Setting is not static, but instead social and relational: it is dynamically (co)constructed and experienced in activity by individuals and in interaction by groups of individuals. Therefore, the three BioBus programming types allow for productive comparison not only because of their different geographic locations, built environments, and material resources (e.g., scientific tools), but also the existing relationships learners may have with these places, as well as the instructional designs and pedagogical practices that BioBus teaching scientists use in each. This project uses a design-based research approach to answer the following research questions: (1) How do the settings of science learning shape science identity development? What are different positive science identities that may emerge from these relationships? And (2) What are ways to leverage different spatial aspects of informal science programming and instruction to support positive science identities? The study uses ethnographic and micro-analytic methods to develop better understandings of the relationships between setting and science identity development, uncover a broad range of types of positive science identities taken up by our Black and Latinx students, and inform informal science education to design for and leverage spatial aspects of programming and instruction. Findings will contribute to a systematic knowledge base bringing together spatial aspects of informal science education and science identity and identity development, and provide new tools for informal science educators, including design principles for incorporating spatial factors into program and lesson planning.


Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2215201
Funding Amount: $1,977,195.00


  • Jasmine Ma
    Principal Investigator
    New York University
  • Latasha Wright
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • REVISE logo
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • Discipline: General STEM | Life science
    Audience: Middle School Children (11-13) | Educators/Teachers | Museum/ISE Professionals | Learning Researchers
    Environment Type: Public Programs | Afterschool Programs | Laboratory Programs | Informal/Formal Connections | K-12 Programs | Higher Education Programs
    Access and Inclusion: Ethnic/Racial | Black/African American Communities | Hispanic/Latinx Communities

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