Joyful Je-ne-sais-quoi: Sense of Play, Spirit of Fun, and the Agency by Design Project

Members of the Agency by Design research team honing their research questions during a recent retreat in Vermont. Clockwise from center Edward P. Clapp, Shari Tishman, Jennifer Oxman Ryan, Jessica Ross, and Wendy Donner. Photo by Raquel Jimenez.

Members of the Agency by Design research team honing their research questions during a recent retreat in Vermont. Clockwise from center Edward P. Clapp, Shari Tishman, Jennifer Oxman Ryan, Jessica Ross, and Wendy Donner. Photo by Raquel Jimenez.

Since the Agency by Design team welcomed me to the project as a research assistant in October, I’ve spent a lot of time getting caught up to speed on many activities commonly associated with the research process. Yet, as I’ve gotten to know my colleagues over the past few months in a beyond-our-bios sort of way, I’ve often reflected on the nature of our work together as a team. In many ways, our work together reminds me of chamber music, a genre of small ensemble music that musicologists often refer to as “the music of friends” due to the highly personal and interpersonal qualities needed to bring this type of music to harmonious fruition.

Here’s a glimpse into the joyfulness and personality that members of our ensemble bring to the Agency by Design project:

Edward, our creative lead behind the Making Thinking Happen blog and social media guru has recently begun ending his sentences with “…that could be a blog post.” Always on the lookout for Web content—and our wellbeing—Edward reminds us to pack our tennis shoes before travelling and freely offers his sartorial counsel.

Jen exercises her incredible commitment to our project by… experimenting on her children. What I mean by that is that Jen is constantly thinking of the real world implications that our work might have on student learning. Her son was our earliest informant when it came to furthering our understanding of how young children perceive the relationship between objects, systems, and ideas.

Jess is our resident Project Zero thinking routine whiz. See-Think-Wonder, Circle of Viewpoints, 3-2-1 Bridge, Think Puzzle Explore— you name it, she knows it, and in less than .01 seconds can tell us exactly which one we should appropriate to promote a particular thinking disposition through our work. It seems safe to say that the routines have migrated from her subconscious and are now embedded in her DNA. We love it!

Working with Shari is a treat, and not just because she makes a killer banana bread that she has shared with us in our team meetings. As a veteran researcher and Director of Project Zero, Shari draws on two decades of Project Zero research, and between baked goodies, helps us bridge our current work with the history of PZ.

Wearing the hats of philanthropist, educator, parent, and co-researcher, Wendy, our west coast counterpart, has boundless energy and always has a smile on her face. In addition to helping us connect research and practice through her work on the ground with the Temescal Learning Community, thanks to Wendy’s planning skills we’ve also been able to meet leaders in maker and design thinking education in the Bay Area and visit many of the most innovative spaces fostering such work.

Besides capturing the joie de vivre that animates our project in a more personal, chamber music sort of way, the ephemera above are indicative of the person- and community-centered values at the heart of the Agency by Design project as we investigate dispositions related to creative ideation, messing around, design, and learning through doing.

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About Raquel Jimenez

Raquel approaches the Agency by Design project with perspectives as an artist, administrator, and as a researcher committed to investigating the ways in which intensive arts experiences act as catalysts for student learning and development. Currently Raquel is pursuing an Ed. M in the Arts in Education program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. In addition to her studies, Raquel serves as Program Manager for the Community Performances and Partnerships program at the New England Conservatory and as a Research Fellow at the Arts Education Partnership, where she has been involved in the expansion of ArtsEdSearch, the nation’s first arts education research and policy clearinghouse.

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