Research Lee Martin

“Making” as a Pathway to Engineering

November 2013

The “Maker Movement” brings together engineers, hobbyists, artists, and tinkerers to design, build, and repurpose materials that are “playful, creative, yet also technically sophisticated and ambitious,” according to Assistant Professor Lee Martin.

This kind of “tinkering” or making, especially among young people, can lead to careers in engineering. Unfortunately, according to Martin, playful, creative and ambitious project-based learning is often missing in K-12 settings, leaving many youth with no pathway to this critical field of study.

With a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation, Martin aims to provide a better understanding of how making fosters students’ abilities to learn when facing novel engineering and design problems and how making may transform students’ sense of themselves and their future plans in the field of engineering.

“Making is a potentially powerful learning activity, and has the potential to engage more youth, particularly more diverse youth, in pathways to engineering and design,” said Martin, who has studied youth engagement in a maker community outside of a formal school setting. “But bringing it into a school setting could lead to only a superficial approach—for example, having students use 3-D printers.”

The prestigious $430,000 CAREER grant, which will fund Martin’s research over five years to compare making in formal and out-of-school settings, provides a mobile maker studio (akin to a bookmobile) to expand access to making for traditionally underrepresented and under-served students, and will develop tools and curriculum to guide students’ engagement in engineering and design practices and habits of mind.

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