Date of Award

Summer 7-18-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kris Gutiérrez

Second Advisor

Ben Kirshner

Third Advisor

Manuel Espinoza


This dissertation was motivated by a longstanding interest to understand how to design and sustain robust learning ecologies for youth from nondominant communities. Toward this end, this study examined El Pueblo Mágico, a social design experiment, designed to re-organize traditional forms of learning for novice undergraduate teachers and elementary school children. Grounded in cultural historical theories of learning, social design experiments (Gutiérrez & Vossoughi, 2010) attempt to re-mediate functional systems by saturating environments with new tools and practices oriented toward transformative ends. Designed to foster mediated praxis, participants engage in a tool-saturated ecology organized around practices that promote reflection, theory-building, and a new pedagogical imagination. The present study examined the processes of mediated praxis of undergraduate teachers whose learning spanned two environments, an undergraduate course and an innovative STEM-oriented after-school program. Specifically, this study sought to understand: 1) shifts in novice teachers' common sense notions around teaching, learning, and culture, 2) how the learning ecology was organized to foster shifts in their common sense understandings. By documenting initial undergraduate perceptions of teaching, learning, and culture, students' commonly held assumptions were recorded. An important finding was that narrow notions of teaching and learning and static notions of culture have the potential to foster banking models of education (Freire, 1970), deficit thinking (Valencia, 2011), and the "othering" of students of color (Deloria, 1998). Through the appropriation of new theoretical tools, reflective-mediated practice, and sense-making of those new understandings in joint activity with children, undergraduates examined their previously held assumptions and engaged in new learning activity. This study also identified three tenets central to mediated praxis and design: 1) The cultivation of a "mirror" to create a space to refract and work through inner contradictions and foster a pedagogical imagination (Gutierrez & Vossoughi, 2010); 2) The organization of a simultaneity and layering of learning which positioned all participants as learners in ways that challenged the binary roles of teacher and student (Rogoff, 2003); and 3) The development of boundary artifacts that stitched together theory and practice across environments (Gutiérrez, 2008). This study has implications for teacher education, design based research, and higher education.