Blog for Critical STEM + C Futures: Re-Imagining Equity Paths for the Next Generation of Maker Teaching and Learning

Posted by: Justice Walker on November 14, 2022

BioMaking: How Will this Next-century Technology Shape up in Pre-college Teaching and Learning?


I had been teaching high school life science for nearly a decade before first learning about biomaking—the ability to design and make something using biomaterials or by genetically altering a cell. This happened soon after I started Ph.D. studies because my advisor Yasmin Kafai—along with soon-to-be mentors Karen Hogan and Orkan Telhan—had been exploring (through an NSF-funded grant) what it would take to build and use an open-source biofabrication device (i.e., 3D printer for biomaterials) to use in pre-college settings. At the time, we called this biodesign, for the classroom. I learned and appreciated very quickly that this was paradigmatically different from traditional inquiry projects in life science where learners, at best, leverage creativity in pursuit of novel experimental design to test and examine—rather than biological materials to fabricate and make!  


To my mind (and many others), the last time education had experienced this sort of game-changer was back in the late seventies when computers were becoming more affordable and accessible, and when folks like Alan Kay, Seymour Papert, and Cynthia Solomon were then advocating for a new type of learning design—where one could design, create and construct material and digital artifacts as a way to not only express, but also to show the world what we knew. Seymour called this sort of learning Constructionism, and it was exactly what seemed consistent with how I observed what is happening in the life sciences—a sort of renaissance where biological materials, tools and processes are becoming more and more accessible and available, beyond ivory university towers and commercial labs, and in pre-college settings. This is changing fundamentally not only how we learn life science, but potentially also how we understand learning processes involving biology. 


As exciting a prospect as this sounds for growing beyond the19th century institutions and 20th century practices where life science education exists today, accompanying these innovations are issues that we need to take seriously. This is to say that—although many of the technologies that made computing, and now, biomaking possible today were born out of sometimes subversive efforts to democratize technology—there is always the possibility and often high risk that these technologies will reify or even exacerbate social and cultural inequities that undermine efforts in education, industry and—I’d argue—innovation (since intellectual diversity is quintessential  in creativity)! 


We only have to look at the maker movement to appreciate the apparent paradox between do-it-yourself (DIY) tech movements and the Your-Way-Doesn’t-Count attitude that often results. I often argue in my research, and I learned this important point—from experience and my advisor—which is that in order to avoid recreating problems through technologies that hold so much promise, we need to make our concerns about parity a forethought—rather than an afterthought. This spans everything from who gets to participate and what counts as practice, to also include how what we make may instantiate existing or create new problems (I call this Critical Biomaking). This is especially true in pre-college education where the decisions we make today can have lasting and often intergenerational impacts (we also saw this in computing). 


And so, in an effort to raise attention to these sorts of ideas I work a lot in convening folks in various spheres who use cool technologies. I do this in order to reflect, understand and potentially shape different, more responsible, futures for biomaking in teaching and learning. 


This month’s theme will bring several topics together, while highlighting inspiring projects that connect them. The projects highlighted in this month’s playlist, as well as the upcoming webinar, will address computing and bio technologies which have had unprecedented impacts on contemporary education, the Maker movement which has provided a vantage point to explore teaching and learning through creativity, personal interests, and production, and last, but certainly not least, how equity can be emphasized at the forefront of learning experience designs. Looking forward to your participation!


Tools and Materials

Amino Labs




Carolina Supply: BioBuilder



BioBricks Foundation

BioBuilder Educational Foundation


BioDesign Challenge

Baltimore Underground Science Space


Counter Culture Labs


GIY BioBuddies

Global Community Bio Summit

Grow by GinkoBioWorks

International Genetic Engineering Machines (iGEM) Competition


Xinampa BioHub



Dabholkar, S. Designing Emergent Systems Microworlds to learn computational thinking in the context of synthetic biology.


Gutmann, A. (2011). The ethics of synthetic biology: guiding principles for emerging technologies. Hastings Center Report, 41(4), 17-22.


Hamidi, F., Stamato, L., Scheifele, L., Hammond, R. C. V., & Asgarali-Hoffman, S. N. (2021, May). “Turning the Invisible Visible”: Transdisciplinary Bioart Explorations in Human-DNA Interaction. In Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1-15).


Holbert, N., Berland, M., & Kafai, Y. B. (Eds.). (2020). Designing constructionist futures: The art, theory, and practice of learning designs. MIT Press.


Huang, A., Nguyen, P. Q., Stark, J. C., Takahashi, M. K., Donghia, N., Ferrante, T., ... & Collins, J. J. (2018). BioBits™ Explorer: A modular synthetic biology education kit. Science advances, 4(8), eaat5105.


Kafai, Y. B., Hogan, K. M., Telhan, O., & Walker, J. T. (2020, October). Learn.Design.Bio.K12: A workshop report on connecting computing and biodesign in K-12 education. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania. Available at: 


Kafai, Y. B., & Walker, J. T. (2020). Bringing 21st-century science into schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 102(1), 38-41.


Kafai, Y.B. and Walker, J.T. (2020, October). Tools for Biomakers: Reviewing Affordances and Constraints for K-12 Hands-On Making with Biology. FabLearn 2020.


Kafai, Y.B. and Walker, J.T. (2020, May). Twenty Things to Make with Biology. In Tangney, B., Byrne, J., & Girvan, C. (Eds.). Proceedings of the 2020 Constructionism Conference, 551-559. Dublin, Ireland.


Merritt, T., Hamidi, F., Alistar, M., & DeMenezes, M. (2020). Living media interfaces: a multi-perspective analysis of biological materials for interaction. Digital Creativity, 31(1), 1-21.


Papert, S. A. (2020). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. Basic books.


Strawhacker, A., Verish, C., Shaer, O., & Bers, M. U. (2020). Designing with Genes in Early Childhood: An exploratory user study of the tangible CRISPEE technology. International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, 26, 100212.


Verish, C., Strawhacker, A., Westendorf, L., Pollalis, C., Sullivan, A., Loparev, A., ... & Shaer, O. (2019). BacToMars: A Collaborative Video Game for BioDesign.


Walker, J. T., & Kafai, Y. B. (2021). The biodesign studio: Constructions and reflections of high school youth on making with living media. British Journal of Educational Technology, 52(3), 1116-1129.


Walker, J. T. (2021). Middle School Student Knowledge and Attitudes Toward Biotechnology. Journal of Science Education and Technology.


Walker, J.T., Barerra, A., Sepulveda, R. & Perez-Piza, M. (2022, June). Critical Biomaking: Socioscientific Issues as Contexts for Life Science Maker Education. 2022 International Conference of the Learning Sciences Annual Meeting. Hiroshima, Japan. 


Walker, J. T., Strawhacker, A., Angleton, C., Allan, J., Konwar, A., Obayomi, O. & Kong, D. S., (Eds.), 2021. Proceedings of the Global Community Bio Summit (GCBS) 4.0, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Retrieved from:


Walker, J.T., McGrath, J. Guilbert, A., Milone, V., Padilha, E., Hu, A., Chan, D., Luursema, J.M., Seyfried, G., Chavez, M., & Kong, D.S., (Eds.), 2022. Proceedings of the Global Community Bio Summit (GCBS) 5.0, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Retrieved from:



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