As researchers, we’re always trying to find out more about the topics that we’re studying by reading what’s been written about them in the past. Because the Agency by Design project covers so many different content areas, we’re constantly jumping in and out of different texts that range from academic research studies to online blogs. Below is a list of some of the literature we’re looking at right now, including our thoughts on how we see this material connecting to our project—and what we think about it…
Be sure to check in with this page often, as we’ll be adding new references on a regular basis.
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The Art of Tinkering
By Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich, 2014
After making several visits to the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio in San Francisco, for months the Agency by Design team had been eagerly awaiting the publication of The Art of Tinkering. Earlier this year we were excited when our pre-ordered copy of the book arrived in the mail—and now several copies of the text float around our office.
Compiled by the Exploratorium’s Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich, The Art of Tinkering introduces readers to the work of over 150 makers. The book is beautifully designed and even includes a hackable cover printed with conductive ink. After a series of introductory essays, The Art of Tinkering launches into an exploration of making as seen through the lens of the arts, science, and technology. The book is carefully and consistently structured. Readers will find rich illustrations of individual makers’ work followed by a description of how each maker tinkers—and suggestions for how you too can tinker in much the same way. The tinkering on display in the book ranges from weather balloon-based photography to dancing stuffed animals and from wacky light-up wearables to masking tape world-making. Titles like “Physiological Photograms,” “Animatronic Creatures,” and “Absurdist Automata” lure readers in—and the images throughout the text compel you to grab a soldering iron and make something.
Beyond all of the cool tinkerings portrayed in the text, The Art of Tinkering also provides readers with a background in tinkering, including an inventory of the tools (e.g., wire cutters, power drills, soldering irons, etc.), materials (e.g., cardboard, copper and electrical wire, LED lights, etc.), and even the tenets of tinkering (e.g., “create rather than consume,” “be comfortable not knowing,” and “put yourself in messy, noisy & sometimes dangerous situations,” etc.). Appropriately brief and written for a wide audience, many of the book’s introductory essays offer inspiring reflections on the importance of tinkering. One of my favorite quotes comes from Rob Semper, Executive Associate Director of the Exploratorium:
Sometimes tinkering is thought of as a directionless activity… but I would contend that it is a very serious enterprise indeed. It is one that leads to important learning experiences for scientists and artists and everyone else. Participating in tinkering enhances one’s problem solving skills. It lets one create a feeling for materials, their affordances, and how to work with them. And, most importantly, it stimulates individual curiosity and personal inquiry. (p. 10)
Given the array of content within The Art of Tinkering, one can see the book being applied in a variety of ways: as an advocacy tool for educators and administrators looking to bring maker-centered learning opportunities to their students; as a pedagogical guide for teachers looking to develop maker-centered curriculum, and; as a source of inspiration for young people and adults looking to spend more time exploring materials by working with their hands.
As the What We’re Reading section of our blog suggests, The Art of Tinkering joins a growing list of maker-centered books that have been published in recent months. However, what makes the The Art of Tinkering stand out (aside from its rich design and cover-to-cover color images) is a front and center focus on the art of tinkering—which is often overlooked by other texts that emphasize the relationship between maker-centered learning experiences and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects. As The Art of Tinkering finds its way into the hands of more and more educators, it will be curious to see if tinkering and maker-centered learning experiences in schools likewise take a turn towards the artful aspects of making.
–Edward, June 2, 2014
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Learning Causality in a Complex World: Understandings of Consequence
By Tina A. Grotzer, 2012
If you have been following our evolving ideas around maker empowerment, you are aware that the Agency by Design team has been focusing on opportunities to raise students’ awareness of the design of objects and systems.
Learning about the design of objects offers an exciting assortment of challenges, but systems… well, understanding systems is complex.
Over the next several months we will be working with the Oakland Learning Community to learn more about how young people understand the design of human-made systems. In the meantime, we have been doing some reading to gain knowledge from experts in the field.
Our Project Zero colleague, Tina Grotzer, wrote one text we consulted: Learning Causality in a Complex World: Understandings of Consequence. Last year, when we started collecting student drawn maps of systems, we quickly realized that Tina’s work on causal complexity could help us think about how students depicted the relationships in the systems they drew.
The assumption of different types of causality departs significantly from how systems and complex causes are typically mapped. Usually “causal impact diagrams” are drawn with arrows to show the causal connections and direction of impact. Each arrow implies a causal force. Pluses or minuses accompany the arrows to signal amplification and dampening. Here, I am arguing that the essence of causality at each of those arrows can be very different and that in order to understand the world well, we need to understand how. The arrows in causal impact diagrams can gloss over these distinctions. (p. 6)
Through her work at the Understandings of Consequence Lab, Grotzer and her team have identified six different causal patterns which she describes in her text: simple linear, domino, cyclic, spiraling, mutual, and relational. With each causality, she offers a definition and characteristics, implications for teaching and relevance to curriculum, along with examples and resources from her research. The examples in the text come from specific lessons in biology and physics as well as from literature, history, economics, and other social science topics. The research provides insight about understanding causality throughout developmental stages and across cultural contexts, as well as pointing out several of the cognitive traps that lead us toward simple linear (and often erroneous) explanations for complex problems.
We have the opportunity to help students learn to reframe their causal thinking within the context of the current curriculum. By extending their causal repertoire, we can empower them to understand their world better, choose more informed actions, and to be critical consumers of policy. (p. 10)
In the upcoming months, we hope to learn more about the ways that students notice systems and comprehend their design. For our team, it is encouraging to learn that it is possible to teach even very young learners about the complex causality that occurs within systems as well.
–Jessica, January 22, 2014
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Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just About) Anything
by David Lang, 2013
After losing his job at a tech start up, David Lang decided to dive head first into the maker movement. Lang’s book, Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just About) Anything, is part chronicle of the author’s experience becoming a maker and part introductory manual to the maker movement. Throughout Zero to Maker Lang attempts to demystify the maker movement by providing definitions to maker terminology, explanations of maker tools, step-by-step instructions for getting started, and links to a variety of online resources. All the while, Lang tells his tale of co-founding OpenROV, a DIY “community of citizen ocean explorers and creators of low-cost underwater robots.”
While the field manual aspect of Lang’s book is indeed useful, from the perspective of a researcher working with the Agency by Design initiative, I was most intrigued by four big themes Lang discussed: DIT (Do-It-Together), the maker mentality, enough to be dangerous, and just in time learning.
After his introduction, Lang jumps right into a chapter that suggests that the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) label that is often applied to the maker movement is a misnomer. Lang argues that no maker does anything him- or herself, and that “DIT,” or Do-It-Together, is a much better framing of the deeply collaborative and highly participatory aspect of the maker movement. While DIT may not be as catchy as DIY (and I leave it to the linguists among us to figure out why that may be), it’s a resonant theme that Lang returns to throughout the book.
Next, Lang takes on the concept of the “maker mentality.” This concept is of interest to the Agency by Design research team, especially as we consider the notion of maker empowerment from a dispositional perspective. Lang notes, “For whatever reason, makers see the world differently. If making is something to be learned, understanding the ‘maker mentality’ is a critically important part of the process” (p. 42). Identifying the maker mentality entirely shifted Lang’s perspective on becoming a maker. As he further describes “I shifted my focus from trying to learn the tools to trying to learn the mindset instead” (p. 42).
But describing a mentality is tricky business. Lang notes that the maker mentality was something he had to “dig out” of himself (p. 43). He describes it like this:
The maker mentality is multifaceted: from focusing on learning “enough to be dangerous” to sharing everything you learn, from project-based learning to thinking visually… the realization that I have barely scratched the surface is part of the maker mentality, an aspect that makes me excited to keep coming back. (p. 43)
Embedded within Lang’s definition of the maker mentality is the concept of learning enough to be dangerous “which means knowing how to ask better questions and knowing where to begin looking for answers” (p. 45). Another aspect of learning enough to be dangerous is the importance placed on not trying to learn everything at once. For example, it’s not important to learn every which way to program an Arduino, rather, it’s important to learn how to use the Arduino in a manner that gets the job done for the project at hand.
Connected to the concept of enough to be dangerous is the idea of just in time learning, a phrase we’ve heard throughout our discussions with makers and educators. Whereas traditional educational models teach just in case learning, just in time learning provides students with the relevant information and understandings they need in the moment.
Though Zero to Maker presents a rich learning journey embedded with valuable resources, at the end of the book I was still left wondering what are the ultimate learning goals for introducing maker experiences to young people in a variety of educational settings. As Lang himself notes, it is important not to be seduced by success stories that romanticize the economic benefits of turning an idea into a thriving startup. Nonetheless, the book frequently references six-digit Kickstarter campaigns with great enthusiasm. At the same time, the author regularly refers to his experience at a fully outfitted TechShop, replete with cutting edge tools and a staff of people who know how to use them. In an educational environment where it’s hard enough for some educators to get their hands on a box of glue guns, Lang’s experiences—and the experiences of the successful makers he references—can feel far off in the distance. Nonetheless, I think Lang leaves us with an elegant concluding note. Whether you’re working with a CNC plasma cutter and steel or an X-Acto knife and recycled newsprint, it’s most important to dream it—and then get out there and try to do it. We may or may not come up with the next big thing, but…
we will get somewhere—we will learn something. Either way, we’ll certainly have an interesting story to tell, and at the end of the day, I think that’s what we’re all looking for: a better story to tell. A narrative with more meaning, more excitement, and more agency. That’s the magic of the maker movement. It’s an opportunity to take back the story, to redefine our relationship with technology, and to shape the future in which we want to live. It’s an open invitation for everyone to participate—to contribute to the world we’re all making together. (p. 196)
–Edward, December 31, 2013
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The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice
Edited by Roseanne Somerson and Mara L. Hermano, 2013
In the book The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice various faculty and staff members from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) reposition the work of the reputed art and design school as “critical making.” The contributing authors—who represent RISD’s various art and design departments—view critical making through several lenses, including sketching and drawing, sensitivity to materials, working with objects, and critique. “Critical making,” notes Mara L. Hermano, RISD Executive Director of Strategic Planning and Academic Initiatives, “depends on a host of factors, influences, and methodologies, but relies chiefly on four basic elements: process, context, material knowledge, and questioning” (p. 245). Overall, critical making is identified as an essential form of creative practice that will be vital to young people growing up in a world full of new technologies, tools, and materials. Critical making, as such, is discussed as a form of thinking through doing. “I believe that ideas emerge out of the making,” argues Digital+Media Department Head Kelly Dobson. “Yes you can start with an idea, but it is in the… deep immersion into the making and touching of the material, that ideas really develop” (p. 143).
Throughout The Art of Critical Making there are multiple instances of alignment between Agency by Design’s investigation of maker education and RISD’s repositioning of art and design as critical making. Among them are the authors’ emphases on iteration, prototyping, learning by doing, collaborative ideation, and the constant pursuit of new questions. However, the deepest resonances between The Art of Critical Making and the work of AbD is the authors’ repeated references to developing a sensitivity to objects, materials, and the context within which making takes place—and the connections that are drawn between making and individual agency.
Graphic design professor Lucinda Hitchcock asserts that “when a RISD student can show, after a few years of critical, conscientious making, that they can engage… design tools and processes to author their own positions in the service of making information and ideas meaningful, then we know we have done our job” (p. 189). This sense of authoring one’s own “positions” is akin to the disposition of “maker empowerment” that the Agency by Design research team has been developing. Hermano pushes this concept further when she notes “at RISD, we are not just preparing students for a world that is rapidly changing, we are preparing students to change the world by their own making and remaking of it. We are bringing forth critical makers—artists and designers who can propose answers for the future by continually asking new questions in the present” (p. 248). Indeed, it is this sense of questioning what’s known and what’s possible that puts the “critical” in critical making.
Just like Agency by Design’s notion of maker empowerment, critical making is an emergent concept that is sometimes difficult to hold onto, but clearly has a lot of potential. We’ll be interested to see how the concept of critical making continues to take shape. And just like our own work on maker empowerment, we’ll be very curious to see if the concept sticks!
Edward and Jessica, December 16, 2013
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Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something: The Process, Struggle and Vital Importance of Getting Started
By Miranda Aisling, 2013
There is a story to how I came to know the book, Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something: The Process, Struggle and Vital Importance of Getting Started by Miranda Aisling. While widely available online, this is probably not a book you’ll find at your local bookstore. But it just so happens that through an odd chain of events (which began on a fall day in the parking lot of a Target store in Somerville, MA), the book’s title caught my attention, and I quickly ordered it to see what it was all about.
Miranda Aisling is an emerging artist, maker, singer-songwriter, and self-identified “idea machine.” We learn from reading this short book that Miranda applied to college at the age of thirteen and began her freshman year just after her fourteenth birthday. Throughout Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something, Aisling shares stories from her life and emphasizes the importance of just getting started.
As the title of her book suggests, Aisling advises not to worry about making art—just make something… anything! The logic behind Aisling’s argument is that aiming for “art” is an intimidating starting point. As Aisling notes upfront, “if we’re always trying to make art, we miss out on everything else we can make.” And so, Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something unfolds as a series of short—like, really, really short—vignettes that encourage the reader to get started making. While very different in tone (or perhaps opposite in tone), the 100+ one-pager insights the book offers almost read like a more upbeat 21st Century version of Kafka’s Zürau Aphorisms—with a heightened maker theme.
While the content of Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something may not explicitly connect to the variety of maker/making learning experiences that the Agency by Design research team is studying, I find there to be two deeply resonant connections to our project. First, the very essence of this book provides a new take on the emergent tension we are finding between aesthetics and functionality in the maker movement. Aisling directly addresses this tension by urging would-be makers to never mind the arts, but to just get started making (the art part may very well soon follow). Second, Aisling herself embodies the agentic aspects of Maker Empowerment we have been investigating. The trick is to understand what makes the Miranda Asilings of the world tick—and how best we can foster such maker empowered dispositions in others.
Edward, November 24, 2013
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Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living
By Todd McLellan, 2013
In his photo book Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living photographer and lifelong taker-aparter Todd McLellan artfully displays the inner workings of fifty “design classics”—or objects we use (or have used in the past) on a regular basis. The “teardowns” displayed in this book are arranged in size order. Readers are first presented with the innards of small objects such as a mechanical pencil, a smartphone, and a Swiss army knife, then medium-sized objects such as a record player, a rotary phone, and a telescope. The large objects McLellan takes apart include an accordion, a chain saw, and a snow blower. Finally, the extra-large objects McLellan disassembles include a ten-speed bicycle, an upright piano, and even a two-seater airplane (ok, he didn’t actually take the airplane apart, but we still see it in all of its pieces). McLellan’s teardowns are photographed either in neat arrangements or shot as “drops” of cascading parts falling through space. Each image indicates the number of components of an object, which range from 16 (mechanical pencil) to 7,580 (airplane). Speckled throughout the teardown images are an introduction by McLellan and four other essays by Kyle Wiens, the CEO of an online fix-it community, Gever Tulley, the founder of “Tinkering Schools,” Penny Bendall, a ceramics conservator, and Joseph Chiodo, an inventor of “Active Disassembly” products.
There is deep resonance with the taking apart of things represented in Things Come Apart and the mechanical dissection we have recently engaged in with our colleagues in the Oakland Learning Community. What’s more, the concepts of sensitivity to design, agency, and maker empowerment that we’ve been exploring through our research are frequently expressed throughout this handsome book. As Wiens notes, “once you grok [deeply know and understand] your possessions, a world of possibilities opens up. Knowing how and why a thing works enables you to adapt it to meet your needs…. When we understand the problem and cast a solution, we reclaim mastery over our lives, breaking outside of the bubble that manufacturers have cast for us (pp. 42–43).”
Gever Tulley takes the teardown experience to young people and poetically likens the taking apart process to a conversation between designer and disassembler:
Kids might get something like a broken printer and take it apart until they have separated all the constituent parts. While taking it apart they are in a sense exploring another person’s ideas. It’s almost like having a conversation with the designer about the physical, economic, and marketing constraints that influenced his or her design decisions. (p. 81)
Page after page, the disassembled “stuff” in Things Come Apart fills a reader with wonder. After engaging with McLellan’s teardowns, the biggest puzzle one may have is what they can take apart next. Let the disassembling begin!
Edward, October 21, 2013
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The Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers
By Mark Hatch, 2013
“What do you want to make?” that’s the big question that Mark Hatch asks in The Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers. Hatch’s position as the CEO of TechShop—a network of large-scale, member-based makerspaces that include everything from 3-D printers and laser cutters to powder coating systems and handheld plasma cutters—primes him to write this manifesto for makers. Based on a series of stories Hatch tells about successful innovations borne of the ingenuity of TechShop members, The Maker Movement Manifesto provides a call to action for all makers.
Hatch’s manifesto is captured in ten words: Make, Share, Give, Learn, Tool Up, Play, Participate, Support, and Change. Each of these concepts are discussed early in the text, before Hatch elaborates on some of his broader thoughts about the maker movement and its potential today, tomorrow, and in the decades to come. Like Chris Anderson, Hatch believes that the “maker movement” is the next industrial revolution and has the potential to be even bigger than the Internet. A cornerstone to Hatch’s arguments is the concept of access. Hatch believes that providing access to the tools of production will unleash an infinite stream of unbridled innovation. In his discussion of TechShop-based innovations, Hatch highlights the success of novel ideas that were spurred by their inventors’ access to tools. The book frequently suggests that with $1,000.00 of disposable income, anyone can develop the next big thing—or help change the world for the better. As such, The Maker Movement Manifesto has a deeply economic tone. This resonates with our team’s review of the popular press literature about the maker movement, which places a strong emphasis on the economic benefits of maker learning experiences.
While teaching and learning is not a central focus of The Maker Movement Manifesto, Hatch does indeed take a strong stance on the state of U.S. education:
The entire educational system in the United States is outdated—built for a world that no longer exists, in a world that is continuing to change very rapidly. We have an incredible opportunity—and responsibility—to explore what education means in a fully networked, Internet-enabled, and makerspace fueled world. Creating innovators and technology entrepreneurs should be one of education’s top priorities. (p. 202)
Though there is resonance between The Maker Movement Manifesto and the Agency by Design initiative, the book also spawns some interesting puzzles. For one, it’s interesting to note Hatch’s focus on effective Kickstarter campaigns that lead to the founding of successful start up companies. Indeed, this is a focus of many maker-oriented entrepreneurs. That being said, educationally concerned readers are left wondering what are the cognitive and non-cognitive benefits of pursuing maker learning experiences other than those that can be described in economical terms? Throughout his text, Hatch argues that machines are becoming more intelligent, which makes them more accessible and easier to use. While one can see the benefits of cheaper and easier to use machines, one is also left wondering what learning accrues to users when they access smart machines that do much of the thinking for them? Despite these puzzles, advocates of maker learning experiences—and makers themselves—will find inspiration for their interests in Hatch’s passionately told manifesto.
Edward, October 11, 2013
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New Opportunities for Interest-Driven Arts Learning in a Digital Age
By Kylie Peppler, 2013
Commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, Kylie Peppler’s recent study New Opportunities for Interest-Driven Arts Learning in a Digital Age attempts to understand how we can best support students who independently pursue arts experiences during their out of school time. By reviewing the literature surrounding arts learning and out of school student engagement, this study asserts that young people are already exerting a large amount of artistic energy on a variety of digital platforms that either combine arts mediums or exist outside of the realm of traditional arts disciplines. That being the case, Peppler sets out to explore how we can tap the natural arts interests of young people and meet them where they are.
To establish the problem space of her study, Peppler begins with Project Zero’s Studio Thinking framework—an exploration of the “habits of mind” that are at work when young people participate in visual arts education. While acknowledging the benefits of this PZ study, Peppler suggests that Studio Thinking is limited by its exploration of in-school arts learning experiences focused on the visual arts. By comparison, Peppler’s study is focused on the mostly digitally-oriented arts learning students engage in on their own time. She calls this “interest-driven arts learning,” which she defines as “an eagerness to explore that springs from youth’s own creative passions” (p. 6).
Peppler’s new framework has four main parts, which she refers to as “practices” for cultivating interest-driven arts learning in the digital age:
- “technical practices, such as computer coding for artistic projects;
- critical practices, such as carefully observing and studying an artwork to understand it;
- creative practices, such as making choices [about] how to handle a project by applying artistic principles; and
- ethical practices, such as giving credit to the original creators of a work.” (p. 7)
There are many instances within this report that resonate with the Agency by Design initiative. First, Peppler builds off of Studio Thinking, a well-known Project Zero framework, to establish new opportunities for engaging young people in arts learning experiences. Second, the study’s emphasis on looking carefully at an artwork to understand it aligns with AbD’s concept of “sensitivity to design.” Third, “interest-driven arts learning” has deep resonance with the concept of agency that we are exploring in our current study. And lastly, the study makes explicit connections to the technological aspects of the maker movement and the importance of making in supporting young people’s interests in the arts.
Given the focus on STEM subjects that is frequently cited by maker learning advocates, it’s interesting to read a study that firmly situates maker/making learning experiences within the realm of the arts. It’s also exciting to see a study push beyond what we traditionally understand as arts learning by introducing a whole new array of aesthetic practices.
Edward, October 8, 2013
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Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom
By Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager, 2013
As we have noted previously, there are many roads to take to bring making and design to learners. Those who want to explore the avenue of engineering and programming in relation to making and tinkering in the classroom are in capable hands with Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager, authors of Invent to Learn. Within this incredibly comprehensive text, Martinez and Stager present a compelling argument that the time is ripe for maker-/design-based learning:
Amazing new tools, materials, and skill turn us all into makers. Using technology to make, repair, or customize the things we need brings engineering, design, and computer science to the masses . . . . Fortunately for educators, this “maker movement” overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing. The active learner is at the center of the learning process, amplifying the best tradition of progressive education. (p. 2)
Invent to Learn includes chapters on the history of the maker movement, learning theory, teaching tactics, materials and space recommendations, helpful step-by-step how-to sections, and lists, upon lists, upon lists of additional resources and suppliers of inexpensive materials. There is even an advocacy chapter that presents educators with a host of model language regarding what to say, what not to say, and what to say in response to pesky naysayers who may challenge the development of maker curriculum or makerspaces within their schools or afterschool programs. The authors firmly root maker learning experiences in the philosophy of constructionism established by Seymour Papert, an early advocate of bringing computer programming experiences to young people. As such, the book veers more towards the technological side of making than towards the industrial arts side of making, but educators interested in bringing any variety of making experiences to the young people (or adults!) they teach will find Invent to Learn useful. And that’s one of the best parts—the book is written with an educator audience in mind.
Born out of Martinez and Stager’s Creating Modern Knowledge (CMK) conferences, Invent to Learn not only advocates for maker learning experiences in schools, but makes a case for what is needed to build a culture where maker teaching and learning can happen. The CMK conferences act as a model for what works in teacher professional development—and the authors build on this work throughout the book. For these reasons, teachers of all ilks will be taking notes, typing in URLs, and tracking down helpful pedagogical tools as they thumb through the text. Educators who are inspired by what they read in Invent to Learn can sign up for a CMK conference or find additional tools on the book’s website www.InventtoLearn.com.
As researchers working for the Agency by Design initiative we are charged with considering design and maker learning experiences in relationship to existing Project Zero frameworks. One of the deep resonances between Invent to Learn and our project is that the book uses many of these frameworks to build an argument for bringing maker experiences to young people. Further resonance can be found in the frequent references to agency and empowerment—two core themes of our project—that Martinez and Stager make throughout the text.
–Jess and Edward, September 30, 2013
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Design Make Play: Growing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators
Edited by Margaret Honey and David E. Kanter, 2013
Edited by Margaret Honey and David E. Kanter of the New York Hall of Science, Design-Make-Play is an exciting anthology that explores the roles of—you guessed it—designing, making, and playing in 21st Century STEM education. The book combines a series of framing articles that set the stage for designing, making, and playing in education and then takes a deep dive into a series of case studies that put designing, making, and playing into action. Though this collection of essays and case studies takes readers on a tour of makerspaces, museums, and school settings throughout the United States, it is also worth noting that “Design-Make-Play” is a popular initiative of the New York Hall of Science. Here, Design-Make-Play is described as a learning methodology that has “the potential to foster young people’s scientific imaginations” (more about this program can be found at the New York Hall of Science’s website, or by checking out their cool promo video).
The anthology kicks off with an introduction by Honey and Kanter wherein they discuss the rationale for the anthology and provide some useful definitions for “design,” “make,” and “play.”
Design: the iterative selection and arrangement of elements to form a whole by which people create artifacts, systems, and tools intended to solve a range of problems, large and small. (p. 3)
Make: to build or adapt objects by hand, for the simple personal pleasure of figuring out how things work. (p. 4)
Play: a fun, voluntary activity that often involves make-believe, invention, and innovation. (p. 4)
Following Honey and Kanter’s introduction, the framing essays situate the book’s core ideas within the maker movement, Federal interests in making, and within the Next Generation Science Standards. The case studies are elemental to showing how designing, making, and playing can be put into action in a variety of settings. Told from a variety of perspectives the case studies range from profiles of learning environments at the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio in San Francisco to the Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh and from an exploration of Scratch and the Makey Makey to a discussion of squishy circuits in the classroom.
There is great enthusiasm throughout Design-Make-Play for the STEM learning that takes place when young people engage in maker activities. Nonetheless, most of the case studies are descriptions or profiles of organizations or maker technologies, as opposed to in depth investigations. While I share the enthusiasm for designing, making, and playing in education that the authors express, I’m curious to see what research around these subjects will look like. It’s my hope that the Agency by Design team can add to this knowledge as we continue our investigation of thinking and learning in design and maker educational environments.
-Edward, September 10, 2013
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“Learning by Making: American Kids Should be Building Rockets and Robots, Not Taking Standardized Tests”
By Dale Dougherty, 2012
A link on the Bristol Maker Faire’s website recently led me to “Learning by Making: American Kids Should be Building Rockets and Robots, Not Taking Standardized Tests,” an interesting article about making and learning by Dale Dougherty. In this short piece included in a science education–themed special issue of Slate, Dougherty—the prolific MC of the Maker Movement—rails against the use of high stakes standardized tests in American schools while testifying for the benefits of tinkering, taking things apart, and making as an exhibition of learning. Dougherty’s thoughts on the benefits of maker experiences in education are eloquently stated as such:
The maker movement has the opportunity to transform education by inviting students to be something other than consumers of education. They can become makers and creators of their own educational lives, moving from being directed to do something to becoming self-directed and independent learners. Increasingly, they can take advantage of new tools for creative expression and for exploring the real world around them. They can be active participants in constructing a new kind of education for the 21st-century, which will promote the creativity and critical thinking we say we value in people like Steve Jobs.
Immediately following this testament to the power of making in education, Dougherty explains how he was recently pressed by educational policy makers to explain how the benefits of maker learning could be measured. In this scenario, Dougherty correlates measuring educational effects to testing. Indeed, testing is the default approach to measuring many educational subjects, and a strong if not exclusive focus on testing to gauge the impact of student learning is highly problematic. But at the same time, advocacy of experience-based learning without firm support is also problematic. As Project Zero researchers have found in the past, identifying the real benefits of visual arts education through research brings deeper support to advocates of such learning experiences—and helps guide educators in designing the most powerful arts learning experiences possible.
In his Slate article, Dougherty ultimately concludes that “making creates evidence of learning”—full stop. No further “assessment” is necessary. As educational researchers who support hands-on making in education (in its many forms), it excites us to think that Dougherty’s assertion may be true. At the same time, it also prompts us to wonder: what exactly might such “evidence of learning” look like, and how can we go about finding ways to make that learning visible?
–Edward, June 8, 2013
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Creating Innovators: The Making Of Young People Who Will Change The World
By Tony Wagner (supplementary video material produced by Robert A. Compton), 2012
In his 2012 book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World Tony Wagner boldly takes on the American educational system and argues that schools—as they exist today—are not set up to foster young innovators. To make his argument, Wagner presents case studies of eight young innovators—all 20–30 something Millennials—and concludes that in order to best develop an innovative spirit in young people, schools must provide opportunities for students to play with ideas and concepts, develop a sense of passion for those ideas, and then establish a sense of purpose to pursue their own bold new visions. Wagner bases his theory of play, passion, and purpose on Teresa Amabile’s framework for creativity which positions creativity and innovation at the intersection of expertise, motivation, and creative thinking skills. Throughout Creating Innovators Wagner suggests the concepts of play, passion, and purpose exist in a linear relationship to one another, with play leading to passion and passion leading to purpose.
In addition to his emphasis on play, passion, and purpose, Wagner also presents five dualisms that schools face:
- Collaboration versus individual achievement
- Multidisciplinary learning versus specialization
- Creating things and student empowerment versus passively communicating knowledge
- Encouragement of risk-taking and trial and error versus risk avoidance
- Intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation
For each dichotomy, Wagner advocates the former foster creativity and innovation in young people, while the latter work against these essential outcomes.
With such a strong focus on play and frequent references to making, doing, and design thinking, there is a great amount of resonance between Wagner’s ideals and the work we are engaged with through the Agency by Design initiative. And what’s more, the book is full of nearly 60 Microsoft Tags (variants of a QR code) that can be scanned with a smartphone to directly connect the reader with the individuals Wagner interviewed for this book.
While Creating Innovators offers a lot to get excited about, I found it puzzling that each of his case studies emphasized the individual achievements of one highly motivated individual—despite Wagner’s core argument for the importance of collaboration over an emphasis on individual achievement. I wonder if this is a major flaw in Wagner’s research or if perhaps—as readers and as a broader society—we’re just too hooked on heroes and not ready to make the switch from celebrating the accomplishments of seemingly gifted and uniquely driven individuals to understanding the broader systems within which many individuals participate.
–Edward, June 8, 2013
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“DIY Producer Society”
By Dane Stangler and Kate Maxwell, 2012
Appearing in a special issue of Innovations journal entitled “Making in America” this theoretical essay highlights the recent shift away from the 20th century mass production industrial model towards localized, skilled production as evidence for a new economy comprised of do-it-yourself, community-based enterprises. Whereas many conversations centered on American manufacturing and productivity lament the loss of jobs prompted by increasing off-shore competition and the resultant economic challenges, Stangler and Maxwell offer an optimistic counterpoint to the discussion as they underscore the ways in which technological innovation is deeply connected to high-end manufacturing, particularly in the development of pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, and computers. In light of this reality, the authors view the emerging DIY culture of experimentation and innovation as having transformative implications for the future of making and learning in the United States:
. . . activities like inventing, innovating, and starting a business are not reserved for a special set of “others” but are in the realm of you and me. One need not be an expert to create something, and this shift in attitude and culture is one of the resounding lessons [being taught] . . . A new style of learning is manifesting itself within these concepts—one that emphasizes learning by doing. (p. 8)
Not unlike the view represented above, scholars, policymakers, and economists are increasingly preoccupied by the social dividends that could potentially arise from an expanded investment in interdisciplinary, hands-on learning experiences in K-12 education. However, there remains much to learn about the cognitive mechanisms by which problem solving, creativity, and innovation arise— and similarly, there is still much to learn about the environmental factors that favor such developments. As researchers in the midst of investigating the thinking and learning that might occur through experiences engendered by the DIY movement, it is this educational shift—learning by doing and making—as described by Stangler and Maxwell that is perhaps most germane to the work of the Agency by Design project.
–Raquel, May 20, 2013
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“Old wine in a new bottle: Impact of membership change on group creativity”
By Hoon-Seok Choi and Leigh Thompson, 2005
In many ways, the Agency by Design project is concerned with the productivity and creative capacities of groups. The core principles of design thinking—and to a lesser degree the maker movement—emphasize the importance of diverse groups working together, and our Temescal Learning Community is indeed a collective group that in many ways helps us surface new creative ideas. As we near the end of our first year of work on this project, considering the effects of membership change on group creativity and effectiveness is indeed something we need to take into consideration. For these reasons, I found Choi and Thompson’s 2005 article “Old wine in a new bottle: Impact of membership change on group creativity” of interest to the project.
In this scholarly article the authors present the hypothesis that membership change has the potential to enhance group creativity. To test their hypothesis, the authors conduct two experimental studies wherein “open groups,” whose members change from task to task, and “closed groups” whose membership remain the same from task to task, engage in idea generation activities to see if there is a significant effect in group creativity as a result of membership change. The authors found that open groups outperformed closed groups in both experiments. They conclude that “results from the two experiments indicated that membership change increased the number of ideas (fluency) as well as the variance of these ideas (flexibility)” (p. 128). Though the authors have empirical proof that membership change had positive effects on group creativity in their controlled laboratory experiments, the authors caution that “membership change can cause more harm than good if the change is not under the group’s control and largely unpredictable” (p. 130). They recommend similar studies be carried out in real-life work environments.
Reflecting on our work with the Temescal Learning Community, as we consider adding new members to this group of educators, it is important for us to keep Choi and Thompson’s findings in mind—so that we can best on-ramp new members to this community. At the same time, it is important to take the researchers findings with a grain of salt, as experiments in a controlled laboratory setting can be far different than what actually happens out in the world.
–Edward, March 24, 2013
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“Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education: The Democratization of Invention”
By Paulo Blikstein, 2013 (in press)
Members of the Agency by Design project were excited to read an advance copy of “Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education: The Democratization of Invention,” a chapter by Paulo Blikstein in the forthcoming book FabLabs: Of Machines, Makers and Inventors. In addition to the largely economic explanation offered in previous work on the subject, Professor Blikstein augments our understanding of the contemporary maker world and DIY communities by persuasively situating maker experiences within the context of progressive educational theory (think Dewey, Friere, and Piaget) and history—while drawing eerily familiar comparisons to our 21st century society along the way, as in his analysis of fifteenth century Venetian culture:
…a new set of societal needs, new technologies, new ways of using knowledge, [led to] the recognition that a task previously monopolized by experts [could be] potentially accessible to the masses. Every few decades or centuries, a new set of skills and intellectual activities become crucial for work, conviviality, and citizenship—often democratizing tasks and skills previously only accessible to experts. (p. 1)
Given Blikstein’s experience designing maker experiences for youth, he is able to convincingly offer valuable insights into the nature and benefits of doing such work in educational settings:
…students would often tell me that they used to “make” and build things with their parents and friends, and often had jobs in garages, construction companies, or carpentry shops. However that experience was disconnected from their school life, since they did not see a link between the intellectual work in the classroom and the manual labor in the wood shop. (p. 7)
The four tableaus of youth maker experiences that Blikstein writes of in the latter half of “Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education” speak to his varied attempts to implement digital fabrication curricula in schools, including the challenges he faced. Here, Blikstein begins to delineate early signs of student learning. Given the increased socio-political spotlight on creativity and innovation (most recently as a leitmotif in President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address) and the exponentially-growing interests in developing such spaces in schools, it seems that publication of FabLabs: Of Machines, Makers and Inventors couldn’t come any sooner. Going forward, as more teachers begin to adopt these types of practices, I wonder how the creativity and innovation that are inherent in interdisciplinary projects will be contextualized within other aspects of the curriculum.
–Raquel, February 20, 2013
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“Youth, Technology, and DIY: Developing Participatory Competencies in Creative Media Production”
By Yasmin Kafai and Kylie Peppler, 2011
In this 2011 Review of Research in Education article, authors Yasmin Kafai and Kylie Peppler argue that the hands-on creative enterprises that youth engage in through Scratch, an online open-source computer programming language, allow youth to develop a diverse array of critically important new media literacies. Presenting a considerably hefty overview of media and computer literacies since the 1980s (they know what’s up!) and calling on findings from their previous studies of youth and technology (they’ve done a lot!), the authors provide powerful insight for understanding the converging cultural conditions that are currently paving the way for the unfolding maker movement. The increasing availability of open source, inexpensive, and/or beginner-friendly platforms has prompted the expansion of do-it-yourself activities, which has in turn promoted youths’ fluency in emerging technologies. Furthermore, and seemingly in tandem, the authors argue that this accessibility paves the way for some powerful learning:
DIY production provides opportunities for personal expression, creativity, and critical reflection on media culture, expressed through visual instead of oral or written discourse, and allows youth to reflect on their knowledge of culturally meaningful texts and dominant discourses and formulated a response through their work. (p. 114)
As it turns out, these highly improvisational, less-than-traditional spaces are no accident; notably, the authors point to the often informal, DIY environment as an important context for the student-driven learning that happens in these spaces. Interestingly, although the authors limit the scope of their study to digital and tech mediums in this article, they assert that these findings may be generalized to other DIY learning and making experiences. Buttressing their argument further, the authors describe the rich potential for learning through making as follows:
Educators should be especially interested in DIY communities given the amount of time youth voluntarily spend in intense learning as they tackle technical practices, including film editing, robotics, and writing novels among a host of other activities across DIY networks. (p. 89)
When considering previous research findings on the role of student engagement in learning and lifelong achievement, the implications for the type of volunteerism in learning described above seems crystal clear—and is indeed a growing curiosity for us as researchers working on the Agency by Design project.
–Raquel, February 11, 2013
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“Making Their Way: Creating a New Generation of ‘Thinkerers’”
By Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski, 2010
Written by Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski, “Making Their Way: Creating a New Generation of ‘Thinkerers,’” is a report on a symposium that took place at the 2010 Maker Faire in Dearborn, MI. The symposium was presented by Big Picture Learning and appears to have been more of a working session for a diverse array of makers—including crafts people, educators, administrators, neurologists, carpenters, artists, and a even magician. Based on the write up, it seems like Dale Dougherty—of MAKE magazine fame—was also in the mix.
While “Making their Way” started off with the feel of a formal research study, it quickly went in another direction. In the end, this piece turns out to be half maker movement manifesto and half reflective essay. That being said, there are a lot of juicy bits to this seven-page piece that command attention. First, there is a deep focus on the idea that young people don’t have enough opportunity to engage with hands-on maker experiences in their lives, least of all in schools. Washor and Mojkowski make a passionate case for the importance of working with one’s hands through maker experiences:
People, as one symposium participant observed “use their hands to figure things out,” not just to solve a problem related to what they are making, but also to figure themselves out. Making provides a means of validating who we are, what we know, and what we can do. Making is both an art and a stance. It constitutes a statement of our values. (p. 2)
The authors go on to argue for what they call the hand-mind connection that is made through maker experiences:
To engage the hand is to engage the mind. Thus, schools must provide for all students a hand-mind approach to the essential “academics.” The hand-to-mind pathway is a way to engage all students and deepen their learning, to understand what quality looks like, and through practice and tinkering to apply discipline-based skills. Working the mind without the hands and without a practice community of adults and young people, produces abstract learners who have difficulty applying what they know to the world around them. (p. 3)
But Washor and Majkowski don’t stop there. Beyond simply urging schools to include hand-mind experiences as part of their curricula, the authors further urge schools to resist appending maker experiences to the school day as some sort of awkward attachment “by creating a course ‘down the hall at fifth period’” (p. 4). Instead, they insist upon including the practice of hands-on making throughout the school day:
Schools can reap the rewards of making if they can resist the ‘curse of the course;’ loosen rigid time structures to promote exploration and smart failures; and, in the evening and on weekends, open their labs, sheds, and garages to the community and to makers of all ages and levels of expertise” (p. 6)
In the end, it’s quite amazing to see how many ideas Washor and Mojkowski have packed into so few words, but at the same time, as a reader—and a researcher—I wanted even more. First, I was struck by this concept of “thinkerer” which was, unfortunately, never fleshed out nor further defined. Second, though bold and passionate, nearly all of the claims and assertions the authors make are neither supported by empirical research nor backed by extant literature. The authors acknowledge this, noting that they “attempted to find data about youth as makers and found little” (p. 3). It is my hope that the Agency by Design project, in some way, can find that data that Washor and Mojkowski—and so many others—are looking for.
–Edward, January 15, 2013
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Change by Design
By Tim Brown, 2009
Thanks to the emergent nature of the Agency by Design research initiative, in addition to traditional journal offerings, we had a pile of possibilities for research in the popular press from a wide variety of disciplines. The question was where to start. With no point in delaying the inevitable, I decided to go back and reread Change by Design (HarperCollins, 2009) by Tim Brown, CEO of the design firm IDEO.
Last spring, when we began our deep dive into the literature pertaining to design thinking, the maker movement, and tinkering, there was no way I could avoid IDEO’s interpretation of design thinking in the popular press. Of course there are other design firms out there in the world—and many versions of the working and thinking processes of designers—but it is hard to compete with the presence of Tim Brown and David Kelley (IDEO’s founder) in the media. Articles and interviews about the two icons of the design thinking universe appear in Fast Company, Wired, TED Talks, 60 Minutes and elsewhere. Put together, these mentions in the popular press showcase IDEO’s inventory of the benefits of design thinking in the marketplace. Another door opened wide for design thinking in the philanthropic world this past fall when Bill Clinton endorsed IDEO’s Human Centered Design approach at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting entitled, “Designing for Impact.”
Change by Design has been on my radar since it came out in 2009, thanks to PZ researcher Daniel Wilson. Daniel has included examples from IDEO’s practices in his workshops on Adult Collaborative Learning at the Future of Learning Institute that is run by PZ each August. As Wilson notes in practice, and as Brown clearly articulates in text, design thinking has great potential to impact the field of education:
Perhaps the most important opportunity for long-term impact is through education. Designers have learned some powerful methods for arriving at innovative solutions. How might we use those methods not just to educate the next generation of designers but to think about how education as such might be reinvented to unlock the vast reservoir of human creative potential? (p. 222)
This time around, I read Change by Design looking for specific connections to the Agency by Design initiative. Within the text I found many implications for learning in general, including a variety of references to learning-related design processes, suggestions for collaboration, and beneficial attitudes towards design, among others. Though education is not a key focus of this book, Brown does—however briefly—share information about IDEO’s K-12 collaborations. In addition to looking for connections to education and the AbD initiative in Brown’s work, I also read Change by Design with an eye towards areas of intersection with current and past Project Zero initiatives. It was my hope that I might find resonance between Brown’s theorizing on design and extant PZ frameworks so that the AbD team may draw on the knowledge of our colleagues as we follow our various research threads. It should come as no surprise that Project Zero and IDEO—two organizations focused on thinking, learning, and creativity—would share similar questions and findings. Armed with enthusiastic and pragmatic advice from Tim Brown, it is now our job to learn more about the value and implications of design thinking in a variety of K-12 settings.
–Jess, January 13, 2013
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“Makers, Hackers, and Fabbers: What is the Future for D&T?”
By Torben Steeg, 2008
Awhile back I found this interesting paper Makers, Hackers, and Fabbers: What is the Future for D&T? by Torben Steeg. Originally presented at a 2008 Design and Technology (D&T) conference in the UK, this paper suggests that global concepts such as the maker movement are disrupting traditional UK D&T curricula, and that D&T curricula needs to respond by acting on some of the innovations of the maker movement:
a number of disruptive developments is taking place; these include developments in the ways things are made, and in how individuals are going about ‘making’ things. (p. 2)
It’s curious to see how the commercially oriented D&T community is looking to learn new tricks from the hacker-oriented maker community. When talking about curricula, the author suggests that D&T education should be redesigned to merge the commercial focus of D&T with aspects of the maker movement that are more personalized, DIY, and socially oriented. The focus on personalized, DIY, socially oriented learning is really interesting, and can potentially have ramifications for how we think about educational platforms for design and maker thinking through the Agency by Design initiative. There is also a focus on intellectual property and marketing in this article that doesn’t appear often in the literature, including a discussion of “open source” and the creative commons. Like many other academic texts that discuss maker, design, and technology education, the author positions himself within the realm of STEM education, but gives a quick nod to the arts. Lots of great quotes and powerful points of argument are sprinkled throughout this piece, but curiously enough, design thinking is never mentioned.
–Edward, January 12, 2013
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“The Maker Movement”
By Dale Dougherty, 2012
Every once in a while I type “Maker Movement” + “Education” into Google Scholar to see what pops up. Recently, I found a short essay entitled “The Maker Movement” by Dale Dougherty—originator of MAKE magazine and the creator of the Maker Faire. Dougherty’s essay appears in a special issue of Innovations entitled “Making in America” (Summer 2012, Vol. 7, Issue No. 3, pp. 11-14). The essay is brief, and provides an overview of the maker movement in the United States. I was particularly intrigued by the section of the essay where Dougherty discussed the implications for the maker movement in education. To sum it up, Dougherty suggests we should bring a maker ethos to schools to better engage students. He discusses an instance where he asked kids what they wanted to make, and how excited they got (though, he never says what they made). Dougherty then goes on to talk about his collaboration with DARPA, suggesting that “Our aim is to serve student populations that are not well served by the academic tracks traditionally available to them” (p. 13). I find the most interesting thing Dougherty says about maker in education is the following:
Kids today are disengaged and bored in school, and as a result, many see themselves as poor learners. We should be framing things in our schools not just in terms of “how do we test you on that?” but on “what can you do with what you know?” When you’re making something, the object you create is a demonstration of what you’ve learned to do, thus you are providing evidence of your learning. The opportunity to talk about that object, to communicate about it, to tell a story about it is another way we learn at the same time we teach others. (pp. 12-13)
This is exciting stuff, as I see it connecting with Project Zero’s work on Teaching for Understanding. Nonetheless, I’m wondering what it is students are learning, what it is they are understanding by “making stuff they care about” (which, as it turns out, is Eric Booth’s (in press) definition of art)? I guess it’s the work of the Agency by Design project to figure that out!
–Edward, December 20, 2012
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The Learner Directed Classroom: Developing Critical Thinking Skills Through Art
Edited by Diane B. Jaquith and Nan E. Hathaway, 2012
I just finished reading The Learner Directed Classroom: Developing Critical Thinking Skills Through Art (2012, Teachers College Press) by Diane B. Jaquith and Nan E. Hathaway. The book is an anthology about student directed learning/choice-based education, with a special focus on the visual arts in K-12 classrooms. The book is split into four sections and mostly written by practitioners. I really appreciated the authors’ focus on bringing greater autonomy to students by allowing them to direct their own arts experiences. I especially liked chapters in the book that pushed back on arts education, suggesting that just because it’s art, doesn’t mean it is choice-based. This connects to the Agency by Design project in a big way for me. I feel like a tension in the maker movement (though less so in design thinking) is that which exists between working with whatever materials are at hand to make stuff vs. direct instruction with clearly defined outcomes or kits that include step-by-step instructions for building a robot or sewing headphones into your hat. I guess it can be argued that, just because something is a maker experience doesn’t necessarily mean it fosters creativity, invention, innovation—or student autonomy. One puzzle I had about the book, though, was the idea that many authors argued—that young people are just brimming with invention and waiting to jump in and direct their own experiences. This may very well be true, but it is a big assumption that can’t be generalized to all young learners. I might posit that, for every student that’s out there who can’t wait to be the master of her own experiences in the arts classroom, there are an equal number of students out there who, when given a pile of exciting materials to work with, stare at the materials—awaiting instructions. The trick, I guess, is to not make assumptions about a student’s self direction, but instead to meet students where they are, and find the best route to foster autonomy—and agency—for a wide range of young people.
–Edward, December 17, 2012