Empowering Children of Migratory/Seasonal Farmworkers with Gamification and Culturally-Responsive Engineering Design Instruction

NSF EHR:BSCER funded project

Arizona’s migratory/seasonal farmworkers (MSFW) are the backbone of our nation, harvesting the fresh food we all enjoy and supplying the vital resources that help nourish and sustain our families. Yet, despite their significant social and economic contributions, these essential workers earn wages at or  below the poverty level. The limited resources of MSFW also restrict how they can support their children, particularly when it comes to gaining an education and a profession that ensures upward mobility in society. To date, children of MSFW families have been invisible in the broadening STEM participation conversation; this equity gap can be closed by creating efforts focused on their unique lived experiences.

To provide educational nourishment that is aligned with the lived experiences of migratory adolescents, it is important to consider the unique challenges and experiences that come with being a child of a migratory/seasonal farmworker. MSFW families tend to be concentrated in low-income communities, which propagates to  under resourced and under-funded (typically Title I) schools. MSFW families are predominately from Latinx backgrounds, and Latinx communities have faced disparities in accessing enriching STEM activities . Ample evidence has documented the positive effect of out-of-school learning experiences have on students interest, beliefs about their abilities to do STEM, identity development, and decision to pursue a STEM career. Access to STEM-related opportunities is scarce in communities where most families earn wages at poverty level. Equally important to providing access to these vital enrichment experiences is the quality of the learning experience so as to foster students’ interests, promote confidence, and support their perceptions of themselves as STEM people (identity development).

There has been no concerted effort in understanding how migratory adolescents develop an identification as a STEM person nor their pathways into STEM. This project will build foundational knowledge on how a high-quality STEM-enrichment culturally responsive gamified activities support migratory students’ exposure to engineering, foster STEM identity development, cultivate a critical STEM agentic perspective, and promote STEM career pathways. This project will expand our knowledge on how to infuse gamification with culturally responsive instruction. Gamification can bring to life abstract realities, use game-like features to stimulate engagement, and, mainly, take students on a journey that use cultural and home knowledge to solve pressing challenges that affect their communities.

This project will extend the efforts in an existing summer program (i.e., Migratory Student Summer Academy; MSSA) created exclusively for migratory high school students at Arizona State University. MSSA is the only program in Arizona that provides summer enrichment opportunities for migratory students. This project will develop STEM-focused enrichment activities centered on the unique lived experiences of migratory students.

The objectives of the project are to:

1) provide opportunities for migratory students to engage with STEM concepts in a culturally responsive and meaningful way,

2) develop students perceptions of themselves as individuals who can do engineering (i.e., identity development),

3) foster a disposition to use engineering as a tool for social change (i.e., critical STEM agency), and

4) ensure that migratory students view their communities and family knowledge as valuable sources of knowledge that can be leveraged to solve engineering problems that impact their community.

The mechanisms used to determine the success of the culturally responsive engineering activity will be pre- and post-survey responses and, most importantly, longitudinal interviews to understand students’ perceptions of their capabilities to use STEM as a tool for social change and their perceptions of themselves as STEM people.

Intellectual Merit:

This project fills a gap in the literature on how to better support the migratory adolescent population in Arizona by understanding the effect culturally responsive STEM activities have on their STEM identity development, career aspirations and disposition to use engineering as a tool for social change. Establishing scholarship on how to support STEM engagement with migratory adolescents in Arizona will have practical significance for other U.S. states that also have high proportions of migratory adolescents (e.g., California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, etc.). This project will provide the much-needed intellectual insight of migratory adolescents’ STEM trajectories and will expand our knowledge of how to incorporate gamification elements that resonate with youth with culturally-responsive centered activities.

Broader Impacts:

Children of migratory/seasonal farmworkers (MSFW) are an “invisible” group of students who have been pushed into the margins of the STEM equity conversation by being largely ignored in STEM efforts. This project will bridge the equity gap by connecting engineering activities with migratory students’ unique lived experiences through a culturally responsive approach. The success of this project will benefit future offerings of the MSSA program to Arizona migratory youth and can be transferable to other summer programs focused on migratory youth throughout the nation. The online activities will be developed in a platform that can be accessed online, enabling ready adoption by other states that have College Assistance Migrant Programs (CAMP; e.g., California, Idaho, etc.) that specifically emphasize high school student engagement. This project will also help an early-career women of color at a Hispanic-Serving Institution and a Ph.D. student, from a migratory background, to develop skillsets and knowledge in new research arenas.