Multi-Generational STEM Makerspaces in Affordable Housing: Co-Designing a Model with the Community

July 1st, 2020 - June 30th, 2023 | PROJECT

Makerspaces are learning environments that engage participants in authentic science and engineering practices, using hands-on and collaborative approaches to support activities and projects that foster creativity, interest, and skill development. Recently there has been a rapid growth of makerspaces in schools and in informal places like museums, libraries, and community centers. However, many of these spaces are not accessible to all members of society. This project will produce a model for a STEM makerspace that focuses on increasing access. The model has four critical components that operate together: affordable housing, informal STEM learning, maker education, and multi-generational learning. This project will develop and study the community-based, multigenerational makerspace model for Bayview Towers, a 200-unit affordable housing complex in Connecticut. The Multi-Gen STEM Makerspaces project brings together CAST, a non-profit education research organization, the NHP Foundation/Operation Pathways, a national affordable housing provider, and the Boston University Social Learning Lab, which researches the social context for STEM learning. The project will produce a Multi-Gen Maker Playbook comprised of an educational guide for a series of four-week workshops around different themes and modes of making. The Playbook will also serve as a program model that guides similar communities on how to create and run sustainable and thriving maker programs of their own. Families in the Bayview Towers community will build an understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts through participation in an onsite makerspace. Families will relate what they are doing through making to longer-term goals connected to STEM learning, education, and careers. The project will also enable the engagement of individuals in the co-design (individuals provide creative contributions) of making that can be translated into community structures and values that support a sustainable makerspace. The affordable housing context will provide understanding of individual and other social factors that impact learners' sense of STEM identity. The project will support mobility from poverty by including STEM learning as part of the resident services.

The research will examine how low income communities access, engage, and learn in makerspaces, and relate their learning to relevant goals. The team will use design-based research (DBR) whereby participants and researchers work together to design interventions intended to explore theory through cycles of enactment, analysis, and revision. The DBR research will answer the following questions:

  1. In what ways, if any, does the model support residents experiencing STEM learning as consequential?
  2. What kind of making goals do residents set and how do they embed STEM in these goals?
  3. If residents experience STEM learning as consequential through the workshops, do they also see the relationship between their making goals and longer term goals?
  4. Do those residents that use the makerspace more frequently experience more positive outcomes in terms of consequential STEM learning?
  5. How do the various makerspace structures - training of facilitators, dedicated space and equipment, Playbook - support the model?
  6. Are groups of residents participating regularly in the makerspace and if so, who is in these groups? Do these groups start to identify as a maker community? Is the community finding the makerspace of value?
  7. In what ways does the organization and operations of the makerspace support building a sustainable model for multigenerational and consequential learning?

Participants will include 90 youth and 90 adults from the resident community at Bayview Towers. Research data to be collected includes open-ended response measures for scoring residents' interpretation, analysis and understanding of each workshop elements. Also, interview protocols will be used to guide the refinement of the Multi-Gen Maker Playbook features and analyze usability, feasibility, engagement and user experience of the Multi-Gen Maker Playbook within the platform. The program will use semi-structured interview protocols on participants' goals and STEM identity and focus group protocols on community maker values and makerspace structures. Additionally, a Likert-style survey on STEM identity will also be adapted from the Science Identity Scale. Project evaluation will examine the overall achievement of program goals and objectives. Project results will be communicated by traditional means of dissemination to scholars and practitioners. The team will also create targeted digital media, including online articles, podcast interviews, and blog posts, to reach a broader audience.

This Innovations in Development award is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Sam Catherine Johnston, Principal Investigator, CAST, Inc.
Kathleen Corriveau, Co-Principal Investigator
Jess Gropen, Co-Principal Investigator
Kim Ducharme, Co-Principal Investigator
Kenneth White, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2005796
Funding Amount: $946,578


Access and Inclusion: Low Socioeconomic Status
Audience: Adults | Families | Museum | ISE Professionals | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Engineering | General STEM
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Making and Tinkering Programs | Public Programs

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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