Because it’s cool and I can

I started my program at Warner after encountering what I perceived as a lack of curiosity in the high school students I work with. I taught a series of courses that involved “making” – Maker Madness and Junk Drawer Engineering. The first time I heard, “Miss, why are we doing this?” I blurted the response “Because it’s cool and because we can!” I’m developing a more formal and informed teaching philosophy, but “it’s cool and I can” isn’t something I want to lose.

In the theoretical framework I wrote for EDU434  I said:

Learners’ motivation has a direct effect on conceptual changes within the learners. Learners’ choice to engage in, level of engagement, and desire to persist in learning are all factors in conceptual change (Palmer, 2005). Learners’ exhibit this motivation during tasks that are cognitively demanding. These tasks allow novices to experience setbacks, learn from these experiences, and apply new knowledge that is constructed from these experiences (Larson, 2000).

What I want that to look like in practice is this:

The artist, P.Nosa, is using STEM to support his art. When STEM educators focus on “finding better ways to link the world of scientists with the needs of society, creating ‘productive’ citizens, and formalizing science as a legitimate school subject”(Barton, 2003, p. 25) they aren’t targeting the P.Nosas. While work like his isn’t being explicitly excluded it seems that federal funding supports programs that equate “productive” with a “globally competitive, knowledge- and technology-intensive economy” (NSF, 2010, p. 2). My theoretical framework doesn’t appear to touch on his motivation either.

Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) efforts don’t seem to miss capturing these obscure/abstract motivations. STEAM is an initiative started at the Rhode Island School of Design which list its three objectives on their website:

  • transform research policy to place Art + Design at the center of STEM
  • encourage integration of Art + Design in K–20 education
  • influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation

I work with an undergraduate student who majors in studio arts. I brought up STEAM within earshot of her, she scoffed and said “When they say ‘STEAM’ they really mean ‘industrial design’”. Fair. But could they also mean “costume technology”? I doubt swimmable, light-up mermaid tails make the U.S. more globally competitive, but why can’t our kids make UFO-themed chicken coops simply because they can?

My task going forward is to do some more work understanding student motivation and refine my theoretical framework. Rather than connect what they learn to their everyday lives, I want to provide students the opportunity to apply STEM to their potential (future? aspirational?) lives. I’m working on it!


P.Nosa made a patch for me and my daughter at the World Maker Faire this past September.  My five words: “mother and daughter at makerfaire”. (I cheated).

I want to replace a video yule log with this chicken coop video on repeat in the Daniels Household this Christmas:

Barton, A. C. (2003). Teaching science for social justice. Teachers College Press.

Larson, R. (2000). Toward a psychology of positive youth development. American Psychologist 55, 170-183.

Palmer. (2005). A motivational view of constructivist-informed teaching. International Journal of Science Education, 27(15), 1853-1881.

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