The purpose of this NSF-funded study “Might Young Makers Be the Engineers of the Future?” is to understand Young Makers in K-12 and how their knowledge, skills, and attitudes might prepare them to pursue advanced STEM education and careers. Makers are an emerging community of self-described DIY-enthusiasts, tinkerers and hobbyists. This work seeks to examine and better understand the context of their activities, particularly in informal engineering education and tinkering activities. Makers embolden characteristics from the Engineer of 2020, and in particular practical ingenuity, creativity, and propensity toward lifelong learning; making is of particular interest to the field of engineering and to engineering educators.
Our specific research questions to be answered are: (1) What knowledge, skills, and attitudes do Young Makers possess that could be related to engineering?, and (2) How do pathways of Young Makers intersect with engineering?
This study advances the currently limited knowledge of the Young Maker community by developing theory characterizing Young Makers and their pathways through the lens of formal engineering education. The aim is to establish evidence as to how Makers embody specific attributes of the Engineer of 2020 and discover additional attributes of Young Makers that could define the engineer of the future and effects their pathways to STEM majors and related careers.
The results of this study will transform the conversation of who Young Makers could become, linking Making with engineering in the same way that students who excel in science and math are pointed toward engineering by parents and career counselors. We aim to illuminate pathways for Young Makers to become the engineers of the future. In addition, this study could inform future innovation in formal K-12 STEM pedagogy based on successful attributes of informal engineering education and tinkering activities.
Using qualitative research methods of artifact elicitation and critical incident interviews, we are developing a theory describing Young Makers and their preparation to pursue advanced STEM education and careers. To date, 40 Young Makers and 22 parents have been interviewed at Maker Faire events. We intend to continue interviewing Young Makers at Maker Faire events and through additional channels in the coming year, in addition to continuing transcription and analysis toward our goal of developing a Young Maker theory.
As interest and engagement in Making in K-12 increases, it is also interesting to note that this involvement overlaps with introductory engineering efforts. As this may very provide pathways to STEM majors and careers, it also may force reexaminations of what rudimentary STEM knowledge students may bring with them to university. As part of our ongoing synthesis of research findings, we are also considering what curricular, pedagogical and system-wide implications this may have for the engineering education enterprise.
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