CU and Casey Middle School Students Create a “Making & Tinkering Lab” to Investigate Alternative Energy Sources

December 17, 2013

by Lisa Schwartz and Kris Gutiérrez

In May, the Learning Sciences space in the School of Education was humming with the voices of children and adults mixed with the sound of motors and the glow of LED lights. The voices belonged to Professor Kris Gutiérrez’s research and teaching team, CU Undergraduates in the Educational Psychology for Secondary Schools Maymester course, and youth from Casey Middle School. Together these participants worked on projects involving alternative energy sources, including solar car construction, solar theremins, potato batteries, and the popular videogame Minecraft.

The “Making and Tinkering Lab” was based on Professor Gutierrez’s syncretic approach, a pedagogy that leverages everyday and scientific knowledge to push students toward consequential STEM learning, and her longstanding work in social design experiments that provide transformative learning contexts for undergraduates and children.

As CU music education student Coire Geare reflected, “I grew in the sense of asking questions and learning to teach with a light pedagogical touch… When I get out into the field and start teaching I know that the theories will have a place in my classroom, particularly in the area of lesson and curriculum design.” French major Tawnia Mullis expressed, “I was blown away by the progress that my students made.”

Post-doctoral Research Director and course co-instructor Lisa Schwartz conceptualized the focus on alternative energy sources and led a making and tinkering design team of undergraduate research opportunity (UROP) students in Physics, Education and the Arts (Luke Charbonneau, Blair Thurman, Sam Goodman and Stephanie Loots) together with doctoral student and co-instructor Sam Severance. This team worked in concert with course instructors Professor Gutiérrez and doctoral students Mike Dominguez and Daniela DiGiacomo at CU and at Casey.

Grants from UROP, Women Investing in the School of Education (WISE) and Information Technology provided support for the development of the program.

Professor Gutiérrez explains, “This innovative model of teacher preparation brings rich learning and pedagogical theories to life as novice teachers make sense of their new understandings in collaboration with youth in ‘maker spaces.’”

Kris Gutiérrez
Lisa Schwartz
Daniela DiGiacomo
Michael Domínguez
Sam Severance