Introducing the AbDLC

AbDLC member Bryce Taylor (Parts and Crafts, Somerville, MA) tinkers with a vintage German anniversary clock during the November 14, 2014 launch of the AbDLC.

AbDLC member Bryce Taylor (Parts and Crafts, Somerville, MA) tinkers with a vintage German anniversary clock during the November 14, 2014 launch of the AbDLC.

What happens when you put 32 maker and design educators in a room together for six hours? On a crisp fall afternoon this past November we did just that—we also added a few tools, some objects, time to think, learn, reflect, discuss, and have fun—and the results were fantastic.

After wrapping up the first phase of our action research collaboration with the Oakland Learning Community (OLC), on November 14, 2014 the Agency by Design team brought together maker and design educators from across the United States to launch the Agency by Design Learning Community, or AbDLC.

This talented group of techies and tinkerers hails from Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Toronto, and the golden state of California. Members of the AbDLC represent maker and design education programs in schools, after-school settings, museums, libraries, and a variety of makerspaces.

AbDLC members Mariah Landers (Alameda County Office of Education) and Rebecca Grabner (Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA) explore the inner workings of a coffee grinder during the November 14, 2014 AbDLC launch event.

AbDLC members Mariah Landers (Alameda County Office of Education) and Rebecca Grabner (Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA) explore the inner workings of a coffee grinder during the November 14, 2014 AbDLC launch event.

After spending two years developing a suite of Agency by Design thinking routines with our teacher partners in the OLC, we’ve brought together the AbDLC to pilot test our new thinking routines and provide real world pictures of practice of these routines in action. Consistent with Project Zero’s work developing learning communities, an additional goal of the AbDLC is to catalyze a national community of maker and design educators.

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Looking Forward—and Looking Back—to AbD’s Action Research with Educator Learning Communities

OLC members engage in an AbD systems redesign activity at Oakland International High School.

OLC members engage in an AbD systems redesign activity at Oakland International High School.

If you have been following this blog, you know that the Agency by Design research team has had the privilege of working with a group of educators from six schools in Oakland, California that we fondly refer to as the Oakland Learning Community (OLC). Many educators in this group have been partners in the journey of our project from its earliest days, and together we have come to learn some exciting things about what it means to bring a Project Zero research perspective to the emergent world of maker-centered learning and design education.

After two years of collaborating with our teacher partners we are looking forward to a new phase of action research that will commence this month. In the spirit of our work—which relies heavily on the power of reflection—we feel that before we move forward it is important to take a moment to look back on where we have been… and to note a few things we have learned along the way.

Butchers, Bakers, Candlestick Makers…

An anvil awaits the hammer strikes of emerging blacksmiths at East Bay School for Boys.

An anvil awaits the hammer strikes of emerging blacksmiths at East Bay School for Boys.

Throughout our early site visits and interviews our team has tried to determine what it means to bring maker-centered learning into the sphere of K–12 education. What are the real benefits of maker-centered learning? is a question that is now being explored across the country as districts and schools hear more about the promises of maker-centered learning and design education and determine how these pedagogies might fit within various school contexts. In response, some schools are building out high tech Fab Labs and developing coding curricula while others are adding looms, wood shops, and forges for blacksmithing. Some schools are emphasizing design thinking and entrepreneurial coursework while others see making experiences as salient reminders of the importance of project based learning and interdisciplinary studies. Clearly, it is an exciting landscape, but one that is very hard to define. Continue reading

Out and About at the First Ever MIT Mini Maker Faire

Educators from Parts and Crafts, a Somerville maker education program for young people, show Maker Faire attendants how to make speakers out of simple materials.

Educators from Parts and Crafts, a Somerville maker education program for young people, show Maker Faire attendees how to make speakers out of simple materials.

It was a soggy Saturday in Cambridge, but that didn’t stop hundreds of people from coming out to the first ever Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Mini Maker Faire. Dozens of makers packed into two huge tents where robots clanked about, catapults hurtled objects through the air, and an interactive light up dance floor colored the very ground guests walked on.

Many of the exhibitors at the MIT Mini Maker Faire were affiliated with MIT as students, research team members, or members of student affinity groups—and it was exciting to see all of the coding, kooky projects, and serious inventions being developed by curious tinkerers throughout the school. It was also exciting to engage with makers from other local schools, after school programs, and hacker spaces. Representing the Agency by Design project, I was particularly amazed to see how many educational organizations were at the Maker Faire—all ready to work with students or talk about their programming.

So much happens at a Maker Faire—it’s hard to take it all in. Below are just a few highlight images from my visit:

Check out the batteries on this beauty. The MIT Electrical Vehicle team shows off a 1976 Porsche 914 that they have converted into a battery operated vehicle.

Check out the batteries on this beauty! The MIT Electrical Vehicle team shows off a 1976 Porsche 914 that they have converted into a battery operated vehicle.

The Build-It-Yourself Laboratory, an online platform dedicated to "inspiring and guiding the next generation of builders" had a playful and fun vegetable-rich display at the MIT Mini Maker Faire.

The Build-It-Yourself Laboratory, an online platform dedicated to “inspiring and guiding the next generation of builders” had a playful and fun vegetable-rich display at the MIT Mini Maker Faire.

There were no lack of Legos at the MIT Mini Maker Faire!

There were no lack of Legos at the MIT Mini Maker Faire!

Student from Olin College of Engineering's Robotic Sailing Team were eager to talk about their autonomous robotic sailboat.

Students from Olin College of Engineering’s Robotic Sailing Team were eager to talk about their autonomous robotic sailboat. They’ve got big plans to send an unmanned vessel sailing across the Atlantic!

The MIT Hobby Shop had a bunch of beautiful hand craft and computer generated musical instruments on display at the MIT Mini Maker Faire.

The MIT Hobby Shop had a bunch of beautiful hand crafted and computer generated musical instruments on display at the MIT Mini Maker Faire.

As the Agency by Design team prepares for next weekend’s Making, Thinking, and Understanding institute in San Francisco, the MIT Mini Maker Faire serves as great reminder of all of the enthusiasm that’s in the air around making—especially for young learners and the curious at heart.

Exploring the Role of the Arts in Maker-Centered Learning Experiences

Time was of the essence as AEP participants worked hard to build the best contraptions they could to complete the task before them.

Time was of the essence as AEP participants worked hard to build the best contraptions they could to complete the task before them.

Earlier this month an eager crew of arts education professionals packed themselves into a hotel ballroom in Pittsburgh, PA to do something that has probably never been done in that space before.

Presented with a host of simple tools and scrappy recycled materials, the assembled arts educators were placed into groups and given the following design challenge:

Using the materials in the room, construct a contraption that is capable of conveying a rubber ball to the floor as slowly as possible when dropped from a height of five feet.

With only fifteen minutes to address this challenge, as soon as they heard the word “Go!” the participants sprung into action—and a joyful commotion quickly filled the room.

This wild maker-rumpus took place at the 2014 Arts Education Partnership (AEP) National Forum, an annual convening of arts educators designed to address “what works in arts education and to advance best practices.” The theme of this year’s AEP National Forum was Preparing Students for the Next America in and through the Arts.

Materials aplenty. Cardboard, newspapers, box cutters, markers, and lots and lots of masking tape (they used it all!) were essential elements of this AEP maker activity.

Materials aplenty. Cardboard, newspapers, box cutters, markers, and lots and lots of masking tape (they used it all!) were essential elements of this AEP maker activity.

Considering the popular rhetoric framing the maker movement as a driver of creativity and innovation, the future of manufacturing in America, and the “new industrial revolution,” my colleague (and former AbD affiliate) Raquel Jimenez and I thought the 2014 AEP National Forum would be a great place to explore the connections between the arts and making.

As individuals who bounce back and forth between the universe of arts education and the new world of maker-centered learning, Raquel and I have been deeply interested in the role of the arts in making experiences—and vice versa. Intrigued by the work we observed in a variety educational makerspaces, our early experiences with the Agency by Design initiative prompted us to ask questions about the tension we began to notice between aesthetics and functionality in maker education. We found these questions to be particularly apt when maker education has been heralded by some as the embodiment of “STEAM”—the combination of the arts with science, technology, engineering, and math education.

To pursue this line of inquiry Raquel and I engaged in an independent research study to better understand what arts learning looks like in maker-centered education. Our 2014 AEP National Forum session “STEM to STEAM” …or “STEM with Stickers?”: Understanding the Role of the Arts in Maker-Center Learning Experiences engaged over 60 AEP participants in a workshop designed to actively explore this problem space.

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Curiosities, Collections, and Curating: Considering Maker Portfolios

As maker-education initiatives expand, how can we think differently about document student work? Pictured above, abstract art and creative writing samples from  Jessica Ross's  “portfolio” of work, saved by her mother.

As maker-education initiatives expand, how can we think differently about documenting student work? Pictured above, abstract art and creative writing samples from Jessica Ross’s “portfolio” of work, saved by her mother.

If you know where to look around my mother’s house, you can find a carefully curated collection of items that I made throughout my life. These artifacts represent my dabbling, over the years, in a wide range of media. There are watercolors, primitive looking sketches, creative writing samples, some black and white photos that are the result of an undergrad arts requirement, and my Mom’s favorite: a ceramic blueberry pie with the unique feature of a removable lid, crafted at Miquon Day Camp the summer that I was seven years-old.

The coveted Ceramic Blueberry Pie (with removable cover) from the Jessica Ross collection.

The coveted Ceramic Blueberry Pie (with removable cover) from the Jessica Ross collection.

Aside from having a good laugh with my mom every few years over why she keeps these items, I hadn’t given them much thought until this past year.

 

 

 

What Advice Can We Offer Young Makers as they Document their Making throughout their Lifetimes?

As maker education experiences begin to expand in schools and after-school settings, there is a great deal to think about when we consider how young makers might document and share their work beyond the front of the family fridge. Some questions to consider include:

How can a young maker’s portfolio show process as well as product? How can the portrayal of a young maker’s work reflect his/her learning? What can a portfolio demonstrate about a young maker’s identity/identities? Who owns a young maker’s documentation? How can technology influence the portfolio process? What might be the role of the educator in building a young maker’s portfolio?

An invitation to think about these questions came early in 2014 from a collaborative initiative called, the Open Portfolio Project. The Agency by Design team was contacted by Kylie Peppler—the director of the Creativity Labs at Indiana University Bloomington—on behalf of the Project, to see if we would be willing to join their National Working Group; we immediately said, “yes.”

First, Some Background
As stated on its website, the Open Portfolio Project “aims to develop a common set of practices for portfolio creation, reflection, sharing, assessment, and technology solutions to create an open, decentralized, and distributed lifetime portfolio system for makers.” Supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the project brings together the Maker Education Initiative and Indiana University’s Creativity Labs. Through a literature review, surveys and interviews with makers, visits to maker spaces, and research into learner documentation, the team hopes to make recommendations to the field about possible design features for maker portfolios. In addition to building on the longstanding traditions of portfolio assessment in the arts and other disciplines, timely encouragement came from the announcement from MIT that they will be accepting maker portfolios as a part of their admissions application.

There was no doubt that the overall goals of the Open Portfolio Project were beautifully synergistic with the work of AbD. Project Zero has a long history of looking at student work and understanding portfolio practice. As far back as 1988, The Apple Project set out to learn more about three questions:

  1. What are effective ways of assessing student performances and project work?
  2. How can a child’s work on a series of projects be documented and assessed fairly?
  3. What is required to implement portfolio assessment in a school so that it will “take root” and serve as an ongoing tool for the evaluation of programs as well as children?

These and similarly related questions have been revisited over the years by many Project Zero researchers in both arts and non-arts related contexts.

The broad spectrum of making processes and products, the ubiquity of digital documentation tools, and our inability to know what the future of learning will look like makes this an expansive possibility space to explore.

Mural artists at Children’s Day School in San Francisco, CA.

Mural artists at Children’s Day School in San Francisco, CA.

Conversations with the National Working Group have helped us to look anew at portfolio practices. Portfolio considerations of audience and purpose get bumped up when you move from analog to digital portfolios—and the shelf life and audience increase exponentially, as well. The dichotomy of school-based computer policies versus out-of-school online behaviors has been debated in the tech-ed sphere for years. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act has to be considered when documenting work in a maker program for children under the age of 13.

Debate over the assessment of portfolios has raged on just about as long as all other assessment debates—and will likely continue to rage on. Coupled with the assessment debate is the role of standards and decisions about which literacies to measure. The maker ethos of collaborative work calls for collaborative documentation. The interdisciplinary, emergent set of skills and competencies—as-yet-undefined boundaries of making (which is what attracts many to the term)—adds a new layer of complexity to portfolio design. Exciting stuff! Continue reading

Hacking Simple Systems: The Tale of an Incomplete Soccer Uniform

All dressed up but not quite ready to go. Tatum's daughter showed up for the first day of soccer practice wearing a party dress and sparkly flats. What to do?

All dressed up but not quite ready to go: Tatum’s daughter showed up for the first day of soccer practice wearing a party dress and sparkly flats. What to do?

By Tatum Omari, Guest Author

When I used to think about systems redesign, and what would inspire a person to redesign something in the first place, images of super smarties standing next to state of the art tech contraptions immediately came to mind. Now that I’ve had a chance to work with Agency by Design as a member of the Oakland Learning Community, I realize that systems are everywhere. There are high tech systems, such as the parts and pieces that go together to make your car start in the morning, and low tech systems, say the parts and pieces that go together to transform your child into a soccer player. This blog post explores the latter: systems redesign as not just a means to innovate but as a means to make due, be resourceful, and get by as a mom.

The context for this redesign is my daughter’s first official day of practice with the new soccer team she joined with friends at school. The first official day of anything is always a little discombobulating for me as a mom. I tend to be a “fly by the seat of my pants” kinda lady and that doesn’t always work in terms of extra-curricular activities going off without a hitch. In these situations I often anticipate something will go wrong. This time, however, was different. It just so happened that my daughter’s father was making a surprise visit to the Bay Area and, of course, totally wanted to go to her first ever soccer practice.

I knew that my daughter’s father would be expecting some sort of underprepared-mom shenanigans to take place. And so I determined that getting my daughter to soccer practice “without a hitch” was now mandatory. I was on a mission to have a shenanigan-free first day of soccer practice.

“Ok,” I thought, “I can do this.” We successfully dug a pair of shin guards out of a sports gear box and whilst digging through that box another box tipped over on me. That box just happened to have our ski gear in it and—voila—ski socks look almost identical to soccer socks! We didn’t have cleats yet, but the soccer team people said not to worry. Regular tennis shoes would work on the indoor field.

With tennis shoes, shin guards, and ski socks in hand, we were ready for practice—and we still had two more hours until we had to be there! I was feeling so proud of myself as a mom that I decided to take my planning to the next level. My daughter had a birthday party to go to after soccer practice so I formulated the bright idea of having her wear her party gear to practice and having her change into her soccer gear once we got there. Fast forward 10 minutes later and my daughter was dressed and ready to go. I felt so proud. First day of soccer practice and we had got this on lock.

When it was time to leave I strutted out of the house towards the car feeling like Super Mom. Super Prepared Mom! This feeling lasted until we were about a block away from the soccer field. Then… it happened. I heard a gasp from the back seat. I glanced back and saw a panic stricken look on my daughter’s little face. Slowly she began to speak, “Mom, I didn’t mean to, but when we left I accidentally set down my tennis shoes for a minute and forgot to pick them back up.”

The offending flats. They're sparkly and cute, but not quite meant for the soccer field.

The offending flats: They’re sparkly and cute, but not quite meant for the soccer field.

My heart sank.

“Ok, ok,” I thought, “super prepared moms don’t freak out, right?” Emergency brainstorm: The kid had no tennis shoes and was dressed for a birthday party. The shoes she was wearing: sparkly flats.

“Hmm—maybe these flats are different from most?” I thought, “Maybe she could run in them just like her tennis shoes?” As soon as we got out of the car I had my daughter do a quick sprint and both shoes flew off before she took her third step. That’s when it started. I had a vision of her dad’s response: the slight eye roll followed by the “I totally expected this” head shake of disappointment. I was in for “the look.”

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A Celebration of Learning

Teachers from various OLC schools discuss the array student work on display, including a library redesign project (left) at OIHS. Photo by Emi Kane.

Teachers from various Oakland Learning Community schools discuss the array of student work on display, including a library redesign project (left) at Oakland International High School. Photo by Emi Kane.

On Tuesday, May 6, 2014 educators, administrators, parents, and friends representing communities throughout the East Bay area came together at Studio One Arts Center in Oakland, CA to celebrate the work of Agency by Design’s Oakland Learning Community (OLC). For the past two years, teachers from six pre-K–12 Oakland schools have been partnering with Agency by Design researchers from Project Zero to explore the potential of maker-centered learning in their classrooms. Following a workshop session with OLC educators, the “Celebration of Learning” event illustrated the rich teaching and learning that took place in OLC classrooms.

OLC member Harriet, a founding teacher at Park Day School, interacts  with student work from Oakland International High School (OIHS). Teachers at OIHS have been part of the Agency by Design initiative for the past two years. One of their AbD projects involved making a movie with their computers and technology teacher, Thi. Photo by Emi Kane.

OLC member Harriet, a founding teacher at Park Day School, interacts with student work from Oakland International High School. Teachers at OIHS have been part of the Agency by Design initiative for the past two years. One of their AbD projects involved making a movie with their computers and technology teacher, Thi. Photo by Emi Kane.

OLC member and Emerson Middle School teacher Carla led her students in an exploration of pencils as designed objects. Here she is installing a giant student-made pencil before the opening of the OLC Celebration of Learning exhibit.

OLC member and Emerson Elementary School teacher Carla led her students in an exploration of pencils as designed objects. Here she is installing a giant student-made pencil before the opening of the OLC Celebration of Learning exhibit.

Under the guidance of Kurt, an OLC member and Claremont Middle School history and ethnic studies teacher, students applied systems and design thinking to explore community, history, and self.  “What are the parts, purposes, and complexities of community systems?” Photo by Emi Kane.

Under the guidance of Kurt, an OLC member and Claremont Middle School history and ethnic studies teacher, students paired systems and design thinking with Project Zero thinking routines to explore community, history, and self. “What are the parts, purposes, and complexities of community systems?” Photo by Emi Kane.

Claremont Middle School teacher and OLC member Maite utilized old-school viewfinders to document the transformation of her school’s maker and design corridor. Photo by Emi Kane.

Claremont Middle School teacher and OLC member Maite utilized old-school viewmasters to document the transformation of her school’s maker and design corridor. Photo by Emi Kane.

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