TVC or Why STEAM Needs to be More Inclusive: 10th Anniversary Edition

Nettrice Gaskins
4 min readMay 20, 2024
Dr. Ken Knoespel (Georgia Tech) and local middle school students

The setting was the Robert C. Williams American Museum of Papermaking in Atlanta, Georgia that is dedicated to the preservation of paper technology. The show was titled Africa Beyond Paper and, in addition to various colonial maps, a lukasa board of the Luba kingdom was one of the main artifacts on view. All the elements of the lukasa board carry symbolic meaning. “Reading” the lukasa involves holding the board and tracing the designs and symbols with a forefinger.

My journey to techno-vernacular creativity & innovation

I was completing my PhD studies next door at Georgia Tech and looking for a site to conduct my research. I wanted to see if the use of cultural artifacts and art in math, or computer science would engage underrepresented and underestimated students. After finding a school to participate in my study, one of the teachers emailed me.

I also wanted to let you know that 10 of the students we will be bringing are MOID. If you let me know in a little more detail what all the students will have to do I can talk with the MOID teacher and see if the students will be able to conduct the workshop.

Not knowing what MOID meant I proceeded to schedule the workshop with the middle school students who were predominately Black and Latino. MOID stands for “moderately intellectually deficient” with characteristics that include being slow in understanding and using language and having some difficulties with communication. Luckily, I did not revise my plan because the students showed everyone that they were ready for everything that was made available to them. Understanding language and communicating was not a problem.

A lukasa board

When I visited the middle school I had students will look closely at various artworks/cultural artifacts and respond to inquiry questions. They create their own personal meaning/vision maps and used Culturally Situated Design Tools or CSDTs, which are online apps that allow students to create simulations of cultural arts — Native American beadwork, African American cornrow hairstyles, urban graffiti, and so on — using underlying mathematical and computer science principles.

Personal meaning mapping using cultural designs and drawing (overlay)
Simulating cultural designs using an Afrofuturism CSDT

Next, at the Papermaking Museum, the students had an opportunity to use a ‘digital lukasa’ touchtable, which is like a table-sized iPad for multiple users, with an interactive app that allowed them to use objects to trigger buttons, touch buttons to select options, and move things around. What resulted from this were digital stories that were projected on the walls.

Learning how to use the digital lukasa touchtable
Digital lukasa story projections (on the wall)

The students’ MOID status didn’t prevent them from participating. Remember that these students were supposed to have difficulties with language and communication. In fact, the students stayed engaged throughout the workshop. I had the students complete a questionnaire and conducted face-to-face interviews with them. One of the middle school teachers used my materials/methods in other classes and reported that students were more engaged than she had ever seen them.

Working with indigenous high school students in Albuquerque, New Mexico

I took this workshop model on the road and noticed that every time I started a class or workshop with artifacts and artworks from students’ cultures/communities there was immediate engagement and the students stayed engaged throughout the activity. It didn’t matter if the activity was analog or digital, art or math/coding. I often combine analog, digital or electronic tasks or projects in one workshop. The content of the workshop is interdisciplinary (analyzes, synthesizes and harmonizes links between disciplines) and transdisciplinary (integrates subjects with humanities).

Learning about Native American art and math using a CSDT in Atlanta, GA
Learning electronics (soldering) in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Learning electronics at Santíssima Trinitat in Barcelona, Spain

The workshop content is also multidisciplinary and this approach led to the creation of a conceptual or theoretical framework (model) that I’ve applied to my current work at the Lesley STEAM Learning Lab and in my first full-length published book, Techno-Vernacular Creativity and Innovation (2021). The latter is half theoretical and half practical so that teachers and researchers can learn about the ways in which non-mainstream cultural works are STEAM, as well as how these works can be used to teach students who are from underrepresented and underestimated groups.

Happy 10th Anniversary!



Nettrice Gaskins

Nettrice is a digital artist, academic, cultural critic and advocate of STEAM education.