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Project Descriptions

Understanding the Role of Informal STEM Educators in Creating Maker-based and Community-Centered Technology and Computer Science Learning Hubs for Urban Youth

September 1, 2020 - August 31, 2023 | Public Programs

As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of settings.

Making, which supports interest-driven skill-development and learning, has been recognized as having the potential to engage underserved youth in STEM. Makerspaces are community spaces that allow participants to create items using tools, such as 3-D printers, computer-aided design, and digital fabrication technologies. Makerspaces and making-related programs are often inaccessible, unaffordable, or simply not available to underserved youth. Digital Harbor will partner with recreation centers, two in Pittsburgh and two in Baltimore, to research, refine and implement an equity-based approach to making that will engage underserved youth aged 12-16 in making. The project will prepare out-of-school time (OST) educators to collaboratively develop culturally sensitive curricula with underserved youth to engage them in maker-based technology and computer science experiences. The project will (1) design a professional development program that will prepare and support local educators to collaboratively design and deliver localized, maker-based, STEM curricula; (2) research the impact of these programs on both educators' and youth's self-efficacy, creativity, and attitudes towards STEM; and (3) develop and evaluate an online Localization Toolkit that will prepare educators in makerspaces across the nation in using an equity-based approach to create localized content. The project will result in four new maker sites (two in Baltimore and two in Pittsburgh directly impact 4 sites (10 educators and 240 youth). The project will result several resources that will support the development and educational programs of other community sites. The resources will include the Localization Toolkit, Case Studies, Best Practices, and Research Study. The Localization Toolkit has the potential to strengthen infrastructure and capacity building in OST maker-based programs, as well as other informal and formal education programs using similar pedagogies and design principles.

The project will use a mixed-methods approach in researching the challenges and processes involved in establishing the four maker sites in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the approaches and effectiveness of the professional development program on OST educators, and the impacts of the project of participation on the self-efficacy, creativity, and attitudes on participating youth and educators. The research study will apply several instruments and data collection sources to develop quantitative data, including youth attendance logs, the Upper Elementary and Middle/High School Student Attitudes toward STEM survey, a retrospective technology self-efficacy survey and pre-post surveys. In addition to project document review, the researchers will collect qualitative data through educator interviews, educator focus groups, and youth focus groups. Project research and resources will reach key audiences of learning scientists and OST educators through articles in peer-reviewed and practitioner journals, public events and professional conferences. These audiences will also be reached through the project website, which will share project resources. The project will reach OST sites across the country directly through dissemination partners, including the National Recreation and Parks Association, Association of Science and Technology Centers, and statewide out-of-school networks.

This Innovations in Development award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2005502
Funding Amount: $221,469
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2005484
Funding Amount: $864,984


  • REVISE logo
    Principal Investigator
    University of Maryland Baltimore County
  • Andrew Coy
    Principal Investigator
    Digital Harbor Foundation
  • Discipline: Computing and information science | Engineering | General STEM | Technology
    Audience: Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17) | Educators/Teachers | Museum/ISE Professionals
    Environment Type: Public Programs | Making and Tinkering Programs
    Access and Inclusion: Urban

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