School Seminar Sewing in the Science: Wearable Technologies as Vehicles for Classroom Instruction by Dr Colby Tofel-Grehl. 23rd November 2017


Sewable electronics, or electronic textiles, provide a unique opportunity for teachers and researchers to disrupt the long held student perspective of who is a scientist. Historically, students perceive white males as scientists; this historic perception may be part of what has led to a less diverse STEM workforce. The medium surrounding electronic textiles (e-textiles) relies on a unique set of skills, rooted in crafting, to facilitate the construction of wearable tangible projects that incorporate lights, sensors, and buzzers. This disruption of the social concept of who "does" science and what that looks like creates a new entry point for women and historically disengaged minorities to perceive themselves as scientists. These materials have also been shown to shift who teachers perceive to be students of science.

Additionally, students can also use these materials to engage novel solutions to real world STEM problems. For example, students used sewable electronics to design and build temperature sensing lunchboxes to prevent the consumption of spoiled food. Because these sewable circuits engage an iterative design process, they provide students opportunities to problem solve while engaging multiple facets of STEM learning. Many of these projects use computational circuits that involve coding and thereby act as an introduction to computing in an authentic context.

This talk focuses on the ways in which e-textiles can be engaged in core content classrooms. The author showcases findings from a quasi-experimental study looking at both qualitative and quantitative data to explore the value added by e-textiles. Four classes of students taught with e-textiles were compared to four classes of traditionally taught students. Findings indicate that learning outcomes between treatment and control indicate equivalent gains. However, e-textiles students demonstrated statistically significant gains in their self-perceptions as scientists. Further, shifts in teacher instructional practices surrounding discourses were observed. This talk unpacks the implications for teaching and instruction as related to the integration of e-textiles in standards based science classrooms.


Dr. Tofel-Grehl received her PhD in curriculum and instruction from the University of Virginia in 2013. Her research explores the ways in which novel technologies afford teachers different opportunities for seeing students as student scientists rather than students in a science class. Her research focuses on the intersection of classroom discourse, science teacher education, and Maker Space technology as a fulcrum for equitable educational opportunities for both urban and rural students. Her work has appeared in several top journals including the Journal for Advanced Academics, Gifted Child Quarterly, and Teacher's College Record. Currently, she serves as an assistant professor at Utah State University and the director of secondary science program.

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