Many youth work extra jobs to supplement family income. Because they are working during the hours that they spend outside of high school classes, they may not have time to devote to formal out-of-school STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs, which have been shown to foster the subsequent pursuit of STEM careers. However, “work, even on a day-to-day basis, is imbued with learning opportunities” even when these opportunities are “not recognized as educationally significant or worthwhile” (Boud & Symes, 2000). To identify how workplaces might be legitimate and important sites of STEM learning, which fall outside of traditionally-recognized, out-of-school STEM learning opportunities such as after-school clubs, the purpose of this study was to identify the types of engineering practices, applied scientific and mathematical content, and engineering habits of mind that youth engaged in while they were at work in different locations. By identifying engineering-related practices, bodies of knowledge, and habits of mind derived from youths’ workplaces, the purpose of this study was to lay the groundwork for the development of educational approaches, which have the potential to leverage youths’ workplace-derived skills and bodies of knowledge toward youth-defined purposes, including but not limited to engineering careers. Specifically, this study was conducted with transnational (youth whose families maintain close ties with two different countries) Latinx high school students, and all of whom worked one or more jobs outside of school. These jobs included manual laborers on farms, customer service representatives for small businesses, painters, construction workers, and service reps in the food service industry. We interviewed the youth to learn about the skills and practices they were using at their workplaces; where possible, youth were also observed at their workplace. Constant comparative analyses of the data found that youths’ workplaces were rich sites of interrelated engineering practices (iterative testing); application of scientific and mathematical content (e.g., epidemiology, materials science, mathematical models for maximizing efficiency); and habits of mind (e.g., systems thinking). Knowledge generated from this study will lead to more equitable learning spaces by providing insights about how after-school programs or school-based curricula can more purposefully leverage youths’ workplace experiences, providing them with relevant and contextualized engineering programs that position working youth as experienced experts in valued STEM content and practices.
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