The Design Stances of Experienced Young Makers

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting


American Educational Research Association


Chicago, IL

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The maker movement is fundamentally changing the way educators and educational researchers envision teaching and learning. This movement contends making—an active process of building, designing, and innovating with tools and materials to produce shareable artifacts—is a naturally rich and authentic learning trajectory. Even more, learning through making intuitively “makes sense” to educators, parents, researchers, and kids, but we lack empirical evidence to demonstrate its effectiveness and, even more, how the maker movement is impacting education. Thus, I empirically investigate the connection between making and learning guided by the question: how is learning demonstrated in makerspaces? Specifically, taking a design experiment approach (DBRC, 2003), I examined making as an activity that demonstrates learning.

In this design experiment, five experienced young makers at three makerspaces in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, completed a 90-minute making activity: make flow. I defined experienced young makers as 10-17 year olds who either identify as a maker or are actively involved in a makerspace. Further, the three makerspaces were intentionally each selected to represent the types of youth makerspaces emerging from the maker movement; one is situated as an exhibit within a museum, another is a pop-up or mobile makerspace at a library, and the other is an after-school community space. Throughout the making activity, I tracked (through observation and photographs) each participant’s making trajectory through 15 minute snapshots of their process and interviewed participants about their process and final artifact immediately after they completed the making activity.

Drawing from metarepresentational competence/representational trajectories (diSessa & Sherin, 2000; Halverson, 2013) frameworks and employing bidirectional artifact analysis (Halverson & Magnifico, 2013), three design stances (aesthetic, functional, and pragmatic) materialized as a useful lens through which we can understanding the learning that happens in makerspaces. Each design stance exhibited yielded unique practices and skills throughout the making activity. Young makers who took up an aesthetic design stance articulated goals of making something that aesthetically represents and/or communicates something; exhibiting artistic practices and skills. Those who adopted a functional design stance expressed a primary goal making something that works well; using engineering practices and skills. And those who adopted a pragmatic design stance communicated their chief goal as solving a specific problem; drawing on both artistic and engineering practices and skills. Collectively, these design stances also proved to be project-centered not learner-center; that is, through interviews, participants described different making projects through which they adopted other stances. In this paper, I further discuss defining features of each design stance and how this is related to the makerspace-context in which they made.
Findings of this study have direct implications for how we understanding learning in makerspaces and how we assess learning in making activities. Cooperatively assessing learning according to the design stance they exhibit ensures that the measurement aligns with the intended goals of the learner, and supports a key characteristic – pursuit of personal interest – of makerspaces.

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