- Year 2023
- NSF Noyce Award # 2243461, 2243462
- First Name Sandy
- Last Name Spitzer
- Discipline STEM Education (general)
Mary K. Stapleton, Diana Cheng, and Kimberly Corum, Towson University; Vanessa Dodo Seriki, Morgan State University
Kimberly Corum, Diana Cheng, Vanessa Dodo Seriki
The Collaborative Research: Making STEM Matter: Transforming Learning through Teacher Leadership, Justice-Centered Pedagogy, and Makerspace Technology project is a Noyce Track 3: Master Teaching Fellowships Track project, involving collaboration between Towson University (TU), Morgan State University (MSU, a Historically Black University), Open Works (a nonprofit organization and makerspace dedicated to educational and economic development in Maryland), and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), a high-needs Local Educational Agency (LEA). There is an urgent need for improvements to STEM instruction in Maryland and in Prince George’s County, an area which experiences high levels of income inequality and in which major educational disparities persist (MSDE, 2022). Within PCGPS, percentages of students scoring at or above proficient in mathematics (Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry) are less than 5% and students attaining proficiency in science is only 20.5%, indicating significant need when compared with other Maryland LEAs.
There is also a need for additional capacity related to integrating makerspaces in K-12 schools in Maryland. It is estimated that there are more than 2,000 makerspaces across the United States (Nation of Makers, 2022), and Maryland is poised to be a leader in the makerspace movement. The Maryland Makerspace Initiative Program was established by the state legislature and signed into law in Summer 2022. This program will provide a $5 million dollar fund to support creation and growth of makerspaces across the state of Maryland and marks the first time that a state has attempted to create such a network (Pinkett & Holman, 2022). Given the current momentum to increase the number of makerspaces across the state of Maryland, it is an opportune time to help teachers and educators harness the transformative power of makerspaces in STEM education.
Leveraging makerspace technologies in STEM education can be a powerful source of equity in education, particularly when embedded into justice-centered [STEM] pedagogy (e.g., Barton, Tan, & Greenberg, 2017; Vossoughi, Hooper, & Escudé, 2016). As students work to create in a makerspace, they can authentically and organically raise and investigate important mathematical and scientific questions (e.g., Blikstein, 2013; Martin, 2015). However, neither teaching STEM for social justice nor experience with makerspace technology are explicit outcomes for most teacher preparation programs. Thus, we recognize that in order for teachers to engage in this kind of pedagogy, they must receive intentional, high-quality, and hands-on professional learning that makes explicit connections between makerspaces, STEM content, and social justice. The Making STEM Matter project is specifically designed to provide such learning, both directly and indirectly.
The project staff will maintain an active research agenda throughout the project to understand the processes by which teachers improve their instructional practices with a social justice and equity lens, expand their technological expertise in making, and support other teachers in developing this expertise. Specifically, the project staff will focus on the following research questions (RQs): RQ1: How do MTFs conceptions of makerspace technology evolve throughout the project? How do these conceptions support/inhibit equitable teaching practices in their classrooms? RQ2: How do MTFs beliefs about STEM, teaching, and learning impact how they see makerspace technologies as instructional tools to teach social justice issues? RQ3: How do MTFs develop and implement leadership (both formal and informal)?
The goal of the Making STEM Matter project is to prepare teachers to be effective leaders with an explicit focus on equity and justice in STEM education. This focus on equity and justice is in alignment with the strategic priorities of PGCPS, and suffuses our work and informs our theory of action. Addressing issues of equity in terms of race, gender, and socio-economic status continues to be a strategy for broadening the participation of those underrepresented in STEM professions. However, attending to these types of inequities takes on what Crenshaw (1988) identifies as a restrictive view of equality whereby the focus is on preventing future harm caused by racism, sexism, or classism rather than dismantling the systemic structures that are designed in such a way that particular groups of people are privileged over others. In this proposal, we aim to take a more expansive view of equality and equity by focusing on teacher leadership for STEM education that is connected to students’ histories across space and time (Heredia & Tan, 2017), is grounded in culturally relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1994/2022), and is an extension of Morales-Doyle’s (2017) justice-centered [STEM] pedagogy (JCSP).
Fifteen Master Teacher Fellows (MTFs) will participate in a sustained professional learning community (PLC) over the 5-year funding period. The structure of the PLC is informed by relevant research about teacher development and includes enrollment in 15 credits of graduate-level coursework (including a graduate project) as well as continuing professional development (CPD) programming that will result in 9 CPD credits through the Maryland State Department of Education.
The PLC is designed to foster community building within the MTF cohort and support their learning and leadership activities during their 5-year commitment to the Making STEM Matter project. The PLC will be facilitated by project staff (PI and Co-PIs), with leadership provided each semester by one project staff serving as PLC coordinator, and one or two additional project staff serving as PLC coaches. Participation in the PLC will provide structured opportunities and time for MTFs to engage in learning activities, share ideas, practice new skills, receive feedback, and build community with a network of colleagues who are also aspiring leaders. The PLC will leverage existing TU graduate courses as well as custom CPD programming designed specifically for the Making STEM Matter project that will support MTFs as they build their leadership skills, content and pedagogical skills for JCSP, and understanding of how to develop and deliver effective professional learning experiences for colleagues.
The Making STEM Matter project will contribute directly to improvements in STEM education in PGCPS and across Maryland. Most directly, we will improve the instructional practices and capacity for teacher leadership for the 15 supported MTFs. As part of a professional learning community, MTFs will learn to use makerspace technology, embedded within JCPS (Morales-Doyle, 2017), to improve instructional practices to support their students’ STEM education. MTFs’ use of socio-scientific issues and teaching STEM for social justice, combined with the fabrication opportunities available in makerspaces, will prepare their students to apply their STEM knowledge to take action on pressing social issues. Alongside this work, this professional learning community will provide explicit education on teacher leadership, including skills and dispositions for working with adult learners, to intentionally prepare MTFs to share their knowledge with their schools and communities. The Making STEM Matter project will also contribute to a sustainable network for improving STEM education in Maryland, while also adding to the research base on STEM education and teacher leadership development in urban LEAs. Project staff and MTFs will produce substantive dissemination works, including curricular materials to be made freely available online through the TU Center for STEM Excellence. This well-established website (over 17,000 views annually) will provide a collection of JCSP and maker-enhanced lessons created by MTFs, serving as a permanent resource for teachers.
The broader impacts of the Making STEM Matter project will incorporate two elements: first, the enhanced capacity of the MTFs themselves and second, additional capacity from the project partnerships. There is a significant need in PGCPS (as expressed by our district partners) for teachers with the content knowledge and leadership experience to fill roles such as curriculum writing, STEM coordinators and coaches, and department or grade level chairs. Thus, beyond the 5-year funded period, the MTFs will have a variety of opportunities to use the experience and leadership provided by the project to transition into these leadership roles and truly transform the culture of STEM across PGCPS. The Making STEM Matter project will incorporate MTFs’ personal reflections, including constructing a personal professional development and leadership plan in Year 1 and then updating it in Year 5, in order to intentionally prepare MTFs to take on these leadership roles beyond the funded period, in alignment with their individual goals and interests.
The Making STEM Matter project will impact STEM education state-wide. Many school systems in Maryland are working to incorporate social justice and equity-focused STEM lessons into their curriculum. As a result, there is a demand in Maryland, not only for these lessons, but also for professional learning opportunities to support teachers in implementation. The TU Center for STEM Excellence’s well-established website will serve as a repository for the lessons created by MTFs and will be freely available to teachers in future years. Select lessons developed by MTFs will become part of the existing Maryland Loaner Lab program (an equipment loan program that serves over 15,000 Maryland students annually). These new Maryland Loaner Lab kits will contain the makerspace materials, tools and curriculum needed to engage students in social justice STEM lessons in their own classrooms and will be made available at no cost to Maryland teachers and students. Select virtual professional learning experiences developed by MTF teachers will be recorded and made available on the TU Center for STEM Excellence website as free asynchronous learning opportunities to support teachers as they incorporate social justice focused makerspace lessons into their classroom teaching. Additionally, through both MTF activities and our research agenda, this project will lead to publications in academic journals, teacher practitioner journals, and presentations at regional and national conferences make resources available to teachers nation-wide.