Eli Tucker-Raymond (CRAFT Network Co-PI)
Elijah Lee-Robinson (High School Student)
Derek Price (High School Student)
Several years ago our Remaking STEM project research team (CRAFT Co-PI Maria Olivares and CRAFT Steering Committee members Brian Gravel and Amon Millner) engaged in a project with middle and high school teachers to integrate computational making approaches into their classrooms. In one project, an 8th grade science teacher, Donna Peruzzi, had students make kinetic sculptures that represented two ideas: 1) one of Newton’s laws of motion and 2) a “hashtag” social movement . We spent a significant amount of time analyzing data from one group that had focused on action/reaction and #BlackLivesMatter. At the end of their unit on Netwon’s Laws of Motion, the group used cardstock and other materials over the course of ten class periods to plan their project and construct their mechanism from a template. They were responsible for selecting the mechanism template and the topic, designing the artistic components to go with the mechanism and then creating an artist/scientist statement to accompany the project. In that time they also responded to and offered feedback to others groups’ projects that included topics such as #metoo, #climatechange, #LQBTQIA, #nobannowall, and #takeaknee. See a description for teachers about how to implement the project here.
We interviewed the three member group at the end of the unit to ask them about their making processes, how they worked together, and what was important about the project to them. They raised several points about the importance of being able to express their identities as Black people in science and connecting science to social issues important to them.
At some point during analysis of that final interview, the research team realized that if we were committed to intergenerational solidarity and honoring learners’ perspectives, as articulated in the CRAFT (Critical Relationality Alliance for Transformation) Network’s commitments, we should engage the students whose work we were analyzing. We have spent the past three years working with two of the students to produce an academic paper analyzing their work in their 8th grade classroom. We are still working on it. Below are excerpts from a conversation between Eli (researcher) and Derek and Elijah (students) about their work together and what they have learned. We offer it as insight for others into participatory research approaches in critical making spaces, some of the tensions, and some of the opportunities.
Photo: The mechanism the 8th grade group made. A single cam that turns the picture of the fists side to side.
Eli: So when [first] we called you I think you guys were sophomores.
Eli: Now you’re seniors. (We need to get this paper done.) When we called you, why did you, I guess, metaphorically pick up the phone. Why did you want to join the project?
Elijah: I think I was just like, curious about what you guys were doing with the research. Because at that point, it was like, “Oh, wait, I remember doing that. Whatever happened with that?” Because we never saw anything. And we never heard from you guys ever again. So it was like, okay, it’s an interesting topic, I would like to see where they’re going with it.
Derek: For me, I think that since you had reached out to us again, that made me feel like, “oh, maybe this is something that’s actually important” because you took your time out, you know, two years later. So that really, honestly kind of impacted me. I was like, well, I’ve never had someone I guess kind of you start something, but then you follow up years later. So I think that first was kind of a hook for me. But, I had remembered the project, I was interested in the project, and it hooked me in and I want to learn more. So I thought it would be a great opportunity.
Eli: Oh, cool. Yeah, I think we didn’t know what was gonna happen when we emailed you, but we were hoping to get your take on it. I think we understood that whatever meaning we might make of it on our own wasn’t going to be adequate…
In research programs, particularly in design research, there are tensions between the immediacy of the impact on the participants, and the amount of time it takes to conduct the research. While our project was committed to co-design with the teachers, who were the main focus, we did not initially consider co-research relationships with students in the classrooms. And yet, this class project in particular had an impact on Derek and Elijah. As people committed to rearranging relationships between researchers and participants, what might it look like to engage participants in an ongoing way? We imagine action research paradigms, involving participants from the beginning of the process and at subsequent stages through dissemination, are a way to engage people. Yet, our funding source, the National Science Foundation, has not historically funded much education action research. One question for the equity-minded research community includes how researchers might recognize participant interest in contributing to research projects so that we can be more inclusive about who participates in research. Another might be for us to figure out ways to inform funders of the benefits of more equity-oriented types of research, such as action research or community based design research. Without beginning to answer those questions, we not only exclude participants’ voices, but we may also be denying them opportunities to learn (King & Pringle, 2019). As part of the conversation, Eli asked Derek and Elijah what was valuable to them about participating in the analysis and writing:
Elijah: I think I learned an important skill of, well not even a skill, more like the idea that I’m not the same self, I was during each like time period. We analyzed, we did like three or four different phases of analysis and I came back with different thoughts each time. Like, disagreements with myself in the analysis. “Oh, why was I seeing this?” And obviously, it’s not. But it was me. It’s not me anymore, but it was me. So like, bringing that not only to my own life of, oh, I can change my mind. I’m allowed to learn more, and then change my beliefs off the bat, but like–off of just projects and research I do in education, or just like in my life, like, not stopping at my first thoughts but going back, and rethinking a new way or rethinking with a different lens.
Derek: Yeah, I would add on to Elijah, and even say, just like, the collaborative piece of working with one, you know, someone my age, my good friend, but also you guys who reached out to us, and you know obviously weren’t any groups during the project, but you’re kind of this outside resource that we were able to talk and ask questions and collaborate with. I think that’s made me a stronger thinker, because you guys would push our thinking a lot of times. I would see Elijah’s comments on the post, and I’d say, “Whoa, I really didn’t think of that.” So that was like one step of one level, right? Because that’s a different perspective that he has, and we were both in the same boat as we were members of the project. But then Maria or you or Brian or Amon would also have a question about us. And you guys are someone who didn’t participate in the eighth grade project, right. So that added a level of perspective from someone who actually didn’t build the project. So there was just a lot of time to really think, honestly, I mean, I think it’s been, it’s been hard because I think sometimes I remember I mentioned, “Oh, I feel like we’re going in circles, analysis, and then analysis, analyzing the analysis.” You know it’s kind of like when someone says read the book twice and you’ll see so much stuff that you didn’t see the first time.
For Elijah, one of the side benefits of participating in the project was his ability to document and reflect on his developing ideas. The time it has taken for us to do the many rounds of analysis and writing together, has allowed him to see that his ideas are not static, that they change over time. In a sense, this is the opposite of what we expect from published research. We expect published ideas in science to hold up over time. But our own development, participation, and thinking is very much dynamic. For Derek, the multiple people on the project allowed him to understand just how many stories might exist of a single phenomenon. At the same time, that the research team reached out at all signaled to him just how important his own perspective was on events. While Eli had initiated the idea of the conversation about our own takes on the research process with Derek and Elijah, he asked them to come up with their own questions for each other and for him..
Derek: I have a question. What has it been like to work on a project with this longevity with two teenagers and what’s it like working with us versus doing a project with some of your colleagues who are very different in age than me and Elijah?
Eli: Yeah. I think maybe it’s not so much age, but it’s like, if I work with Maria or Brian, like, they’ve read all this educational theory or whatever. I can use certain words with them and they know what I mean because we’ve been working together, we know where each other is coming from. And we work together because we have a shared sort of perspective on learning and teaching. And so that sort of is a difference. Because one thing I’ve been thinking about with you all is like, “how do I share where I’m coming from, or where our team is coming from, in terms of teaching and learning?” And how do I help you guys sort of see that? Without imposing it? You know what I mean?
Eli: It’s been a dance for me in terms of, I mean, the reason we asked you to be involved is because we knew that what we thought wasn’t enough. And we wanted to honor your perspectives on the work. And so I don’t want to impose that. But also, like, there are things that I think are happening, that you all interpret differently. And I wish I could go to something specific right now. But, you know, I’d be like “Ahhhh, I really don’t think that’s what it is”, you know, in my head. I never said that to you before. But then I’m like, “just let it go because that’s the reason that Derek and Elijah are participating. So that their perspectives can be part of this.” So sort of, in research, researchers’ voices are privileged. But what we’re trying to do is like, not privilege the researcher voice. And so but at the same time, that’s been hard, because it’s so ingrained. I got to really watch myself in terms of thinking about making sure that I’m not privileging what we’re [the research team is] coming up with. And so that’s partly what’s sort of been so troublesome about, I think the writing, is like trying to figure out how to integrate all our voices, without sort of having one dominate or without erasing whose voice is present. You know what I mean? So anyway. Yeah, it’s taken a long time. But also so, I haven’t spent this much time on a paper before, like, over years, not hours…over probably hours [too]. So, it’s felt like a different kind of commitment.
In working with the students on this research, Eli has had to push aside his ego at times, his identity as “the expert” and at the same time, act as a teacher, or a guide for Derek and Elijah navigating the process of writing an article that his “peers” will find to be acceptable research. The research community has long called for expansive visions of research. Ones that call for the inclusion of experience, knowing, and being as legitimate sources of research findings. Ones that call for story and counternarrative to inform our approaches to teaching and learning. Together, we are figuring out part of what our colleagues at CRAFT, (co-PI) Edna Tan and (steering committee member) Angie Calbrese Barton (Calabrese Barton and Tan, 2020), call rightful presence–the right to reauthor rights. It is an allyship in which our work together is a reimagining of whose understanding matters in education research. It is dialogic action–centering young Black voices to disrupt settled ideas about science education. It is an extension of our investigation with their teacher into who matters in classrooms. Throughout this project we have asked research team members, teachers, and student participants to reimagine our relationships to one another. We have tried to engage in a relational professionalism, paying Elijah and Derek for their work at the same time that we support them as they apply for college admissions (Olivares & Tucker-Raymond, 2019). We hope that our experiences have helped you reflect on your own work in making spaces and education more generally. As part of the work of our network, we aim toward an intergenerational solidarity in making research – challenging adultism and welcoming younger people to the conversation.
Thanks to Edna Tan for comments and insights on this writing.
This project, Remaking STEM, or Integrating Computational Making into STEM Classrooms, was funded by NSF #s 2021880 and #1742369. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Foundations and Inspirations
Calabrese Barton, A., & Tan, E. (2020). Beyond equity as inclusion: A framework of “rightful presence” for guiding justice-oriented studies in teaching and learning. Educational Researcher, 49(6), 433-440.
King, N. S., & Pringle, R. M. (2019). Black girls speak STEM: Counterstories of informal and formal learning experiences. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 56(5), 539-569.
Olivares, M. C. & Tucker-Raymond, E. (2020). [Blog]. Critical Relationality: A Justice-Oriented Approach to Education and Education Research. Medium. https://medium.com/@mariaco_87227/critical-relationality-a-justice-oriented-approach-to-education-and-education-research-8bf911c381b4