Dr. Searle and Dr. Litts Conduct Research With Native American Communities on STEM Education and Makerspaces

Native American students working on an ARIS project

Dr. Kristin Searle and Dr. Breanne Litts, along with ITLS graduate student Teresa Casort and ITLS alum Stephanie Benson, spent the first two weeks of June conducting a summer camp for fifty Native American youth in seventh and eighth grade. Students learned to use the Augmented Reality and Interactive Storytelling (ARIS) platform to make augmented reality games (think Pokemon Go). As research assistant Stephanie Benson explained, "The participants each went on a tour of local sites that held some sort of meaning in their communities. Then they got into groups and brainstormed ways to use the meaningful information they gathered and express it in game or narrative form." Ultimately, the community’s public relations department hopes to use youths’ games to share information about the community with visitors.

The camp is part of a $300,000 grant Dr. Searle and Dr. Litts, working with Dr. Bryan Brayboy of Arizona State University and Dr. Yasmin Kafai of the University of Pennsylvania, received from the National Science Foundation to develop makerspaces and making activities in collaboration with two Native American communities in the Southwest.

The Southwestern United States

Dr. Searle noted that, “Nationally, we’ve been paying a lot of attention to making as a pathway into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but we’ve forgotten about a lot of communities, like the Native American communities we work with, that have been making forever without the aid of high-tech tools like 3D printers.” One of the grant’s goals is to integrate community-based making practices with some of the high-tech tools currently available.

Dr. Litts explained, “We’ve really concentrated our investigation on exploring how we can leverage storytelling practices to design more culturally responsive making activities with a variety of media.”

In addition to summer camp activities, Dr. Searle and Dr. Litts hosted three students from the Native American Summer Mentorship Program, a program that provides opportunities for Native American students from USU Eastern’s Blanding campus to spend three weeks interning in STEM research labs in Logan. Such experiences provide students with mentoring and an opportunity to see what a career in a particular field might be like. Students experimented with paper circuits, electronic textiles, 3D printing, and making ARIS games. One of the students built significant portions of an ARIS game called Campus Zombie Chaos that was used as an example game for the middle school summer camp described above.

In the coming months, Dr. Searle and Dr. Litts will be working with their community partners to plan a series of making activities for teachers and families.

Native American students working on an ARIS project

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