With a background in art, Professor Kylie Peppler brings a unique perspective to designing toolkits for complex learning, viewing hands-on creativity as foundational to STEM education. “As we start to pull the crafts out of K-12 education, we weaken embodied understanding into just a flattened space with abstract thinking only,” says Peppler, whose research shows just the opposite is needed. So, in teaching computational thinking, she uses everything from Lego robotics to e-textiles to paper circuits to “materialize” topics such as systems thinking or theories of complexity.
Professor Peppler is also using physical materials to diversify STEM participation, designing toolkits that aim to attract more women and minorities to the field. “The kits that we use shape not only the learning opportunities but also who participates in the field,” she says. “For example, we’ve been looking at traditional female crafts like crochet and knitting, weaving, and the Jacquard loom, and how careful, orchestrated engagement with these crafts can promote algorithmic learning about really advanced mathematics.” Peppler’s studies show that kits for sewing and stitching circuits promote better learning about electric circuits than traditional materials used in classrooms.
Extending her research into the workplace, Professor Peppler asserts that when it comes to education, “I’ll go not only as young as I can but also as old, because a lot of these things also have implications for workplace learning and ongoing education for adults.” Partnering with a variety of employers, including Boeing, she is researching a platform for simulating interactions between workers, robots and machines in future factories to improve agility and productivity. According to Peppler, instead of displacing workers, technology can “make workers smarter and give them the information they need to create things.”