“Nobody will have to suffer what I suffer”: Weaving personal relevance into interest-driven learning pathways


PDF Icon.fwIn order to address the underrepresentation of minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), it is important to understand identity development in non-dominant youth; more specifically, how do these individuals come to desire to become someone? (Ahn et al., 2014). Recent efforts in this regard include leveraging young people’s new media participation and interest-driven practices (Ito et al., 2010; Pinkard & Austin, 2010; Subramaniam, et al, in press). However, engaging non-dominant youth in sustained interest-driven learning experiences that motivate them to pursue STEM learning pathways continues to be a challenge.

Building on these efforts, we introduce personal-relevance practices interwoven within interest-driven activities to a set of socioeconomically disadvantaged tweens (ages 11-13), through HackHealth. HackHealth is an after-school program funded by the National Library of Medicine that aims to increase tweens’ interest in health and the sciences, their health literacy, their health-related self-efficacy and their awareness of the important connection between their everyday health behaviors and their ability to maintain their health and prevent disease.

We present the learning pathways of focal tweens who engaged in health explorations that were personally relevant to them: managing Type 1 diabetes, helping a friend who is engaging in self-harm, and assisting a parent who is suffering from an illness. The tweens utilized technology to investigate their topics, created and shared media artifacts, and engaged in or encouraged health behavior change. Utilizing qualitative methods, we highlight how such explorations assisted these tweens in seeing themselves as health ambassadors for their family and their communities, and map the relationship of personal-relevance practices to sustained interest in STEM learning pathways.


Ahn, J., Subramaniam, M., Bonsignore, B., Pellicone, A., Waugh, A. & Yip, J. (2014). “I want to be a Game Designer or Scientist”: Understanding the Developing Identities of Urban, African-American Youth. Proceedings of the 11th International Conference of the Learning Sciences.

Ito, M., Baumer, S., Bittanti, M., boyd, danah, Cody, R., Herr-Stephenson, B., … Tripp, L. (2010). Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out: Kids living and learning with new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.

Pinkard, N., & Austin, K. (2010). Digital Youth Network: Creating New Media Citizens through the Affinity Learning Model. International Journal of Learning and Media, 2(4). doi:10.1162/ijlm_a_00055

Subramaniam, M., Ahn, J., Waugh, A., Taylor, N. G., Druin, A., Fleischmann, K. R., & Walsh, G. (in press). The role of school librarians in enhancing science learning. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science.