Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Volunteer Educators' Influence on Youth Participation and Learning in 4-H STEM Learning by Design Programs
by Worker, Steven Michael, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2016, 217; 10165795
Abstract (Summary)

The purpose of this study was to describe the co-construction of three 4-H STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning by design programs by volunteer educators and youth participants in the 4-H Youth Development Program. The programs advanced STEM learning through design, a pedagogical approach to support youth in planning, designing, and making shareable artifacts. This pedagogical approach is a special case of project-based learning, related to the practices found in the science learning through design literature as well as the making and tinkering movements. Specifically, I explored adult volunteer educators’ roles and pedagogical strategies implementing the 4-H Junk Drawer Robotics curriculum (Mahacek, Worker, and Mahacek, 2011) and how that, in turn, afforded and constrained opportunities for youth to display or report engagement in design practices; learning of STEM content; strengthening tool competencies; dispositions of resilience, reciprocity, and playfulness; and psychological ownership. The curriculum targeted middle school youth with a sequence of science inquiry activities and engineering design challenges.

This study employed naturalist and multiple-case study methodology relying on participant observations and video, interviews with educators, and focus groups with youth within three 4-H educational robotics programs organized by adult 4-H volunteer educators. Data collection took place in 2014 and 2015 at Santa Clara with an educator and seven youth; Solano with three educators and eight youth; and Alameda with an educator and seven youth.

Data analysis revealed six discrete categories of pedagogy and interactions that I labeled as participation structures that included lecture, demonstration, learning activity, group sharing, scripted build, and design & build. These participation structures were related to the observed pedagogical practices employed by the educators. There was evidence of youth engagement in design practices, STEM content learning, strengthening of tool competencies, learning dispositions, and psychological ownership - however, their expression, manifestation, and opportunities were afforded and/or constrained by the various participation structures. Furthermore, conflicts were evidenced in the use of participation structures; emphasis of educators on formal reasoning and planning versus youth preference for hands-on tinkering; and tensions amongst youth peers while engaging in design teams. Two themes emerged regarding the educators’ pedagogy: adaptations in response to structural and curricular constraints and pedagogical approach influenced by self-identification with a professional field of engineering.

This study contributes to our understanding of STEM learning through design in out-of-school time. This research helps clarify the tensions among major co-actors, youth, educator, and curriculum, as the learning environment was co-constructed and how that, in turn, afforded opportunities for youth to learn and develop. This study illuminated the complex negotiations between these co-actors and explored questions about who can and does decide the nature of the activity structures. These co-actors were not without conflict, thus suggesting that these spaces and pedagogies do not exemplify STEM teaching on their own, but neither do they preclude practices that deepen young people's interest and motivation for STEM learning.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ching, Cynthia Carter
Commitee: Martin, Lee, White, Tobin
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Education
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 78/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Education, Educational psychology, Science education
Keywords: 4-h youth development, Stem education, Stem learning by design, Volunteer educator pedagogy
Publication Number: 10165795
ISBN: 978-1-369-20171-0
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