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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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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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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Build, Tinker, Hack

Success! Kicking your feet off the ground is the best way to prove a cardboard chair can hold your weight.

Success! Kicking your feet off the ground is the best way to prove a cardboard chair can hold your weight.

On Wednesday, April 9  Agency by Design project manager Jennifer Ryan and I teamed up to host back to back workshops at the 2014 Learning Environments for Tomorrow (LEFT) conference. Co-hosted by the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Harvard Graduate School of Education, the LEFT conference brought together educators, architects, and school administrators to consider how best to design learning environments to meet the needs of today’s (and tomorrow’s) students.

The workshops Jen and I led were entitled “Build, Tinker, Hack: Designing Learning Environments for Maker Learning Experiences.” Our workshops were driven by two guiding questions: (1) What do making-centered learning experiences look like? and (2) what are some design considerations for learning environments that may support this kind of learning?

To address these questions, we first engaged participants in a Project Zero thinking routine that had them consider the “parts” of our workshop space, as well as the “purposes” of each of those parts. After developing a baseline sensitivity to the design of our workshop space, participants were then given the following design challenge: Using only the materials provided (cardboard, box cutters, roofing nails, and document fasteners), design and build a functional chair that will hold your weight. Once set to this task, participants had forty minutes to build their chairs. Immediately, a flurry of activity took place. 

Following their chair building and tinkering time, participants discussed their new insights and puzzles concerning the design of learning environments that best suit making-centered learning experiences.

Below are some images from our LEFT workshops. Be sure to check out our Instagram page for even more fun picts from this exciting event!

 

Stacks of cardboard, an assortment of box cutters, and dozens of document fasteners awaited our participants at the LEFT conference.

Stacks of cardboard, an assortment of box cutters, and dozens of document fasteners awaited our participants at the LEFT conference.

Before beginning their chair-making activity, participants used a Project Zero thinking routine to map out the "parts" and "purposes" of our workshop space.

Before beginning their chair-making activity, participants used a Project Zero thinking routine to map out the “parts” and “purposes” of our workshop space.

Participants used text and images to map out the "parts" and "purposes" of our workshop space... and developed an increased sensitivity to the design of learning environments in the process!

Participants used text and images to map out the “parts” and “purposes” of our workshop space… and developed an increased sensitivity to the design of learning environments in the process!

A simple task, an exciting challenge...

A simple task, an exciting challenge…

 

An assortment of boxcutters were our participants' tools of choice.

An assortment of box cutters were our participants’ tools of choice.

Using only cardboard, boxcutters, roofing nails, and document fasteners, participants got to work making their chairs. Triangles were a popular structural strategy.

Using only cardboard, box cutters, roofing nails, and document fasteners, participants got to work making their chairs. Triangles were a popular structural strategy.

This was no ordinary conference session—participants were both up on their feet—and down on the floor—as they got to work on their cardboard chairs.

This was no ordinary conference session—participants were both up on their feet—and down on the floor—as they got to work on their cardboard chairs.

A comfortable cardboard seat—with an accompanying ottoman.

A comfortable cardboard seat—with an accompanying ottoman.

Another successful seat.

Another successful seat.

Let there be no doubt, this cardboard construction can hold his weight!

Let there be no doubt, this cardboard construction can hold his weight!

A fashionable triangular chair. It's more comfortable—and more sturdy—than it looks!

A fashionable triangular chair. It’s more comfortable—and more sturdy—than it looks!

Chair, schmair. This participant group made a cardboard bench and accompanying footrest!

Chair, schmair. This participant group made a cardboard bench and accompanying footrest!

Special thanks to David Stephen, Daniel Wilson, Madeline Tarabelli and the Programs in Professional Education staff, Volk Packaging Corporation (for the generous cardboard donation), and all of the educators, architects, consultants, and administrators we worked with for making these workshop sessions a success. We had great fun—and learned a lot!

Understanding Agency Part II: Putting an Abstract Concept into Action

With a name like Agency by Design, it goes without saying that agency is a central element of our work. But as we’ve noted in our earlier Understanding Agency posts, the word agency is not so easy to define. While we’ve set our sights on reviewing agency-related scholarly texts, we’ve also engaged in two pilot activities to see how our colleagues in Oakland—and students here at the Harvard Graduate School of Education—understand this important concept.

A teacher in the Temescal Learning Community analyzes an AbD agency vignette.

A teacher in the Temescal Learning Community analyzes an AbD agency vignette. (Click on this image to read a sample vignette. How would you rank the agency expressed in this scenario?)

To do this, we developed a series of short narratives that we call the AbD “agency vignettes.” Within these vignettes, fictitious characters engage in specific acts situated within a variety of settings. The purpose of the AbD agency vignettes is to use hypothetical scenarios as a way to test ideas about agency and, specifically, to discuss variables at play for “ranking” agency in action. However, the degree of agency exhibited in each vignette is not so easy to gauge. The intentional ambiguity in the agency vignettes has led to some powerful discussions concerning the nature of agency.

This past March, we shared these vignettes with members of the Temescal Learning Community (TLC). To begin, we hung a clothesline up in a classroom and used it as a spectrum stretching from low, to medium, to high agency. After the TLC teachers read each vignette, they were asked to pin their names on the clothesline in a manner that corresponded to the agency they identified in each piece. Invariably, group members expressed differences in opinion—sometimes to great degrees. Participants had an opportunity to explain their decision, ask one another questions, and ultimately, change their positions on the clothesline if they wanted. It was fascinating to see how each member of the group either held their stance, or changed their position.

TLC educators adjust their positions on the Agency Continuum.

TLC educators adjust their positions on the Agency Continuum.

In a conversation before this activity, TLC group members identified terms like “empowered to make change,” “responsible risk taking,” “having a sense of self-worth,” and “cooperative” to describe the concept of agency. Following the session, TLC group members used a different set of words and phrases to describe agency, such as “reactive,” “initiative,” “perseverance, stamina, steadfastness, and resilience,” “access to resources,” “an ability to identify and overcome hurdles,” and “being quick to act early.”

AbD researcher Edward Clapp unpacks the agency vignette exercise.

AbD researcher Edward Clapp unpacks the agency vignette exercise with the TLC educators.

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