Yasmin B. Kafai

Lori and Michael Milken President’s Distinguished Professor
Chair, Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Division

Graduate School of Education
University of Pennsylvania

Phone: 215-746-3468

Email: kafai@gse.upenn.edu

Professional Biography

Yasmin B. Kafai is a learning scientist and designer of online tools and communities to promote coding, crafting, and creativity across grades K–16. Her work empowers students to use computer programming to design games, sew electronic textiles, and grow applications in biology with the goal of supporting creative expression, building social connections, and broadening participation in computing. She helped develop with MIT colleagues the popular programming tool Scratch—known as the YouTube of interactive media—where millions of kids create and share their programs. With her pioneering research on children’s learning when programming digital games, she was an early contributor to the field of serious gaming. Currently, she is developing a high school curriculum with electronic textiles that introduces students to computer science. She is also creating new fabrication tools and activities that bring biomaking into classrooms. She has written and edited books for MIT Press in addition to several national policy reports. Her award-winning work has received generous funding from the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.   

In her recent book series on youth digital media, she unveils the connections between playing online, learning programming, and making games for more constructive and creative participation in networked communities. With Connected Play: Tweens in a Virtual World, written with Deborah Fields, she investigates what happens when kids play in virtual worlds, how this affects their offline lives, and what this means for the design of educational opportunities. A second book Connected Code: Why Children Need to Learn Programming, written with Quinn Burke, examines the downfall and comeback of programming and connects coding to design and participation in digital media cultures. The third book Connected Gaming: What Making Video Games Can Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, also with Quinn Burke, looks at constructionist approaches to serious gaming and proposes new directions for educational gaming.

Other recent publications include co-editing Textile Messages: Dispatches from the World of e-Textiles and Education, focused on the emerging field of electronic textiles for learning about circuitry and programming; the two-volume series Makeology: Makerspaces as Learning Environments (Volume 1) and Makers as Learners (Volume 2) that examines the growing maker movement in K–12 education; Diversifying Barbie and Mortal Kombat: Intersectional Perspectives and Inclusive Designs in Gaming and Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming that discuss developments in equity and education in gaming; and The Computer Clubhouse: Constructionism and Creativity in Youth Communities which presents an overview and learning outcomes of the international network of community technology centers.

Dr. Kafai coauthored the 2010 National Educational Technology Plan for the United States Department of Education and wrote the 2006 synthesis report Under the Microscope: A Decade of Gender Equity Projects in the Sciences for the American Association of University Women. She also briefed the National Research Council for the 2011 report Learning about Science through Games and Simulations and was a contributing member of the National Research Council’s workshop series Computational Thinking for Everyone. For the academic community, she served as editor of the Journal of the Learning Sciences and president of the International Society of the Learning Sciences. Her community outreach includes a $25,000 Rosenfield Community Prize together with Youth Opportunities Unlimited and recognition by the City of Los Angeles for her mentoring partnership initiatives.

A graduate of the Technische Universität Berlin, she was awarded a DAAD fellowship to work with Elliot Soloway in computer science departments first at Yale University and then at the University of Michigan before attending graduate school at Harvard University. She worked with Seymour Papert and Idit Harel at the MIT Media Laboratory from 1989–1994 where she received a postdoctoral fellowship from the Nintendo Corporation. In 1994, she joined the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles, and was a postdoctoral fellow of the National Academy of Education and a recipient of the National Science Foundation Early Career Award. She is a fellow of the American Educational Research Association and the International Society of the Learning Sciences. 

Selected Publications

Kafai, Y. B. & Burke, Q. (2016). Connected gaming: What making video games can teach us about learning and literacy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Kafai, Y. B. & Burke, Q. (2014). Connected code: Why children need to learn programming. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Kafai, Y. B., Searle, K. A., Fields, D. A., Lee, E., Kaplan, E., & Lui, D. (2014). A crafts-oriented approach to computing in high school: Introducing computational concepts, practices and perspectives with e-Textiles. Transactions on Computing Education, 14(1) 1–20.

Kafai, Y. B. & Fields, D. A. (2013). Connected play: Tweens in a virtual world. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Buechley, L., Peppler, K. A., Eisenberg, M., & Kafai, Y. B. (Eds.) (2013). Textile messages: Dispatches from the world of electronic textiles and education. New York: Peter Lang Publishers.

Kafai, Y. B. & Burke, Q. (2013). Computer programming goes back to school. Phi Delta Kappan, 95(1), 63–65. 

Kafai, Y. B., Peppler, K. A., & Chapman, R. N. (Eds.) (2009). The computer clubhouse: Constructionism and creativity in youth communities. New York: Teachers College Press.

Kafai, Y. B., Heeter, C., Denner, J., & Sun, J. (Eds.) (2008). Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New perspectives on gender and gaming. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Kafai, Y. B. (2006). Constructionism. In K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 35–46). New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Kafai, Y. B. (2006). Playing and making games for learning: Instructionist and constructionist perspectives for game studies. Games and Culture 1(1): 34–40.

Kafai, Y. B., & Resnick, M. (Eds.) (1996). Constructionism in practice: Designing, thinking, and learning in a digital world. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kafai, Y. B. (1995). Minds in play: Computer game design as a context for children’s learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.