Calabrese Barton explores makerspaces as WT Grant Foundation Distinguished Fellow

February 16, 2016
Girl working in a maker space

A student looks at a device used in engineering as part of a recent project, led by Angela Calabrese Barton, to design a youth-centered makerspace.

Professor of teacher education Angela Calabrese Barton will spend the next two years embedded in museums to explore the potential of makerspaces to create equitable learning opportunities for youth.

She is embarking on the project as a recipient of the William T. Grant Foundation’s Distinguished Fellows Program, which gives mid-career researchers a rare opportunity to be immersed in practice settings.

Makerspaces are typically collaborative community settings where people can create various manufactured works or inventions. Calabrese Barton, a recognized leader in science education, is particularly interested in how the growing maker movement could help low-income young people and youth of color gain knowledge about engineering. She has started working closely with staff and students at Impression 5 Science Center in Lansing, Mich., which is developing a new makerspace called Think Tank. Next year, she will spend time at the Tinkering Studio, an existing makerspace in San Francisco’s Exploratorium.

Her $200,000 grant was one of six awards recently announced by the foundation.

Angela Calabrese Barton

Angela Calabrese Barton

“I’m very excited about this opportunity to understand another perspective and test out the research ideas I have,” said Calabrese Barton. She has spent the last 19 years studying informal learning environments as a mechanism for breaking down cultural and institutional barriers.

Makerspaces are expected to increase engagement for learning science concepts. However, the movement has not yet been successful in reaching groups typically underrepresented in the sciences.

Among her plans for the fellowship, Calabrese Barton is interviewing makerspace practitioners around the country to understand how they address equity-oriented design issues. She will share knowledge from her research and the research literature with the team at Impression 5. She will also be involved in day-to-day planning and activities, such as leading conversation groups with a youth advisory board. Her future work at the Exploratorium will involve studying how an established makerspace provides learning opportunities in partnership with local educators.

“This fellowship is coming at an important time. Engineering has become a critical part of the science education reform initiatives,” said Calabrese Barton, referring to the emphasis on scientific practices outlined by the Next Generation Science Standards being adopted by educators across the country. “I want to step outside my comfort zone and find out what’s working in these settings and not in schools.”

Calabrese Barton will also lead the development of a new community makerspace being created at the Boys and Girls Club of Lansing, a long-time partner for her work.

She previously received a grant from the National Science Foundation to engage middle-school students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in engineering in makerspaces.

To learn more about her research group, check out the Invincibility Lab.