The following is an excerpt from an article in the spring 2021 issue of Afterschool Matters about Black Girls Create, a culturally responsive maker program designed by LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D.
Black Girls Create addresses issues of equity, inclusion, and relevance for Black girls by providing a curriculum and a learning environment that incorporates girls’ cultural and intellectual histories and expands the meaning and purposes of STEM learning. A unique aspect of Black Girls Create is that it focuses on making and maker culture. Maker afterschool programs in which girls learn about digital fabrication and engage in STEM in meaningful ways are associated with improvements in their STEM interest and self-efficacy.
Making can involve traditional craft and hobby techniques, such as sewing or woodworking. It often incorporates digital technologies in either manufacture or design. For example, manufacturing processes might use laser cutters or 3D printers; designs might use microcontrollers or LED lights for specific effects. Digital fabrication involves the design and manufacturing of products using advanced technology. Common forms of digital fabrication are computer numerical control (CNC) machinery, 3D printing, and laser engraving and cutting.
Makerspaces and related activities give young people who have disengaged from formal STEM instruction opportunities to design, tinker, and build in nontraditional ways, thus enhancing their confidence and interest in STEM. Making gives Black girls access to sophisticated digital tools they can use to build, create, and think. Maker learning can engage Black girls in STEM and broaden participation in STEM by centering on digital fabrication activities that align with Black culture and strengthen their connection to their heritage.
[Culturally responsive maker programs] can broaden participation of Black girls, a historically underrepresented group in STEM, by addressing identity gaps that prevent some Black girls from seeing themselves as capable STEM learners.
Culturally responsive making is an emerging field in both research and practice in informal STEM learning environments. For this project, culturally responsive making is operationally defined as tapping cultural knowledge and maker technologies to engage Black girls in creating, designing, and producing artifacts related to a particular concept, theme, or person. It connects with Black female learners’ interests and activities along a spectrum of cultural practices, from traditional to vernacular. It also engages Black youth in cultural affirmation and sociocultural critique.
Making situated in an appropriate cultural context can broaden participation of Black girls, a historically underrepresented group in STEM, by addressing identity gaps that prevent some Black girls from seeing themselves as capable STEM learners and future STEM professionals.
During the pilot implementation of Black Girls Create, we engaged Black girls in digital fabrication to increase their interest in STEM and their confidence in their ability to learn STEM. Its culturally responsive pedagogy focused on Black women’s contributions in STEM. The combination of making, social history, cultural responsiveness, and mentoring addressed the participation gap and identity gap experienced by Black girls in ways designed to lead to more positive racial and gender identities.
Acknowledging and incorporating participants’ culture helps them create meaningful connections to academic subjects—particularly when they are members of underrepresented groups.
Incorporating Black culture into program design and implementation was a critical feature of Black Girls Create. Culture is the mechanism through which people learn how to be in the world, how to behave, what to value, and what gives meaning to their lives. Culture is the context for learning, whether in formal or informal settings. Acknowledging and incorporating participants’ culture helps them create meaningful connections to academic subjects—particularly when they are members of underrepresented groups who may believe that certain subjects are unrelated to their current or future lives. Many Black girls and young women believe that science and math are not interesting and that the content is too difficult for them to master. As a result, many of them disengage from learning and fall behind in these core subjects.
Decades of research show that situating learning within Black students’ cultural context and connecting academic subjects to their cultural knowledge produce better academic outcomes. When these connections are made, especially in science and math, Black learners are more likely to show interest in the subject, engage in all aspects of the learning process, and master the content.
LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women who integrates culturally responsive teaching and learning, digital fabrication, and cultural knowledge into STEM programs to increase Black girls’ interest and value in STEM education and careers. Read more about her program, Black Girls Create in the spring 2021 issue of Afterschool Matters.