This week I read an article that described a study of an afterschool STEM program for middle school African American students. The study took place at a school in which 98% of the students are African and 90% of the students receive free or reduced price lunch. Many of the students stay for an afterschool program that provides snacks, dinner, and the opportunity to do any activity of their choice. One of the options for the girls was the STEM program. The lead researcher was very involved in facilitating this club for 3 semesters. She gathered information about the club by interviewing the girls throughout the entire process and having them interview eachother. This study is much different than the other ones I’ve looked at because the students pretty much all are from working class families and go to a somewhat underfunded school. There is no makerspace at this school and not as much support from administrators.
Wade-Jaimes describes the growth of the girls and the club over her three semesters of observation to be due to something she calls activity theory. Activity theory is the idea that when people do something with a group of people with a shared goal, they will begin to identify with that group and become a community. Based on the girls’ interviews and the researcher’s descriptions, it does seem that this afterschool program fostered this within the girls. When Wade-Jaimes first began her research, the girls did not really work together on anything within the club and the only people that the advisor was interested in having in his club were the girls who were already singled out as the smart and well behaved girls. This excluded many girls from the club initially and the researcher began talking about the club to girls who didn’t realize that it might be a goood fit for them because of this idea that they had to be perfectly well behaved. This also brought up the point that it is a stereotype that black girls are seen as loud or agressive, so many girls mighht have a preconceived notion that science isn’t for them due to this stereotype. As the program continued on the girls started to have more of a say in what they were doing. They started to do experiments that they were interested in, got to make the rules for themselves, which gave a sense of responsibility, and they created a name for the club. This marks the shift towards the activity theory that allows for students to find community within something.
This paper was great because it also talked about what didn’t work out very well within the club. The lead researcher described a few instances in which she felt the students were criminalized due to their racial identity. For instance, at one point the girls were using shears to do something outside having to do with gardening, but the school policeman strongly reprimanded both the girl and the head researcher for allowing this to happen. This creates a negative environment for these students to learn even if the actual club is a safe space. Another issue was that the girls began to be exclusive with the STEM club. They expressed in their interviews that they did not think new members should join because it would mess up the group dynamic and they would not understand the rules. Eventually it seems that this issue was resolved though because the girls that participated in the club for many semesters began to be mentor figures for the younger girls who joined.
I think this was a very important paper to read because it shows that every school I teach in will have a different environment and culture and different issues that must be overcome. I set out trying to find effective pedagogy for minority students and I think this afterschoool program is a very good example of effective pedagogy in general. The students responded really well to having a big role in making the different rules for the club and having a say in the types of projects they were doing. This along with working with other girls in the group created a community and allowed girls who may not have seen STEM as part of their identity before to find that within a supportive community that they helped create.
Wade-Jaimes, Katherine, Jonathan D. Cohen, and Brendan Calandra. 2019. “Mapping the Evolution of an After-School STEM Club for African American Girls Using Activity Theory.” Cultural Studies of Science Education 14 (4): 981–1010. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-018-9886-9.