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

Advertisements

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

Making Circuits Work: A Learning Journey

With a little help from a colleague, Agency by Design researcher Jessica Ross was empowered to use some basic electronic materials to power an LED light and a small speaker with a 9V battery.

With a little help from a colleague, Agency by Design researcher Jessica Ross was empowered to use some basic electronic materials to power an LED light and a small speaker with a 9V battery.

It is hard to travel long among young makers without stumbling across circuits. TinyCircuits, Snap Circuits, Squishy Circuits, breadboards, soldered circuits…  almost everywhere you look, circuitry design is happening in classrooms, at home, and in after school settings.

Students at Park Day School building props for student written plays with LED circuits.

Students at Park Day School building props for student written plays with LED circuits.

I recently had the privilege of talking to a variety of young circuit designers eager to talk about what they were working on. However, since I didn’t know what a potentiometer does and I had never soldered in my life, I began to feel that my questions were becoming tedious after an eleven year-old had patiently explained to me how electrons move through wires for the third time. AS a result, I decided that it might be time to bridge the gap (if ever so slightly) in my circuit building knowledge, so I decided to learn by doing.

Developing a Sensitivity to Design by Looking… and Doing

The Agency by Design research team has thought a lot about the ways to encourage a sensitivity to design through classroom practices. We have engaged learners both young and old in exercises that require careful looking, considering the parts, the purposes, and noticing the complexities of objects or systems.

A student designed Medusa headdress for an upcoming school play—complete with flashing LED snake eyes!

A student designed Medusa headdress for an upcoming school play—complete with flashing LED snake eyes!

Simple objects, like a light for a bike helmet for example, have a variety of parts, a specific purpose, and design elements that were employed to meet the needs of a variety of users. We can observe many of these elements through a process of careful looking, but what about actually understanding something like the circuit design involved in making an LED light flash when connected to a battery—the basic function of a bike helmet light before the carefully designed outer shell is added?

I can promise you this; it takes a bit more time than ordering the bike helmet light online. For me, it took an entire weekend.

Continue reading

Tales from the Tinkering Table Part Four: Scaling Up at “FOL”

This interactive addition to the Future of Learning tinkering table encourages participants to make their own thinking routines. DIY thinking routines? We love it! #hgsepzfol

This interactive addition to the Future of Learning tinkering table encourages participants to mix, match, and make their own thinking routines. DIY thinking routines? We love it! #hgsepzfol

If you’ve been following our series of blog posts about the Project Zero tinkering table, you’ll know that for months we’ve encouraged Project Zero researchers to think with their hands by accessing the materials we’ve laid out for them at PZ’s office in Cambridge, MA. This week presented us with the unique opportunity to share our tinkering table with a larger audience at the Project Zero Future of Learning institute #hgsepzfol. With over 200 participants and 40 faculty members from around the world, “FOL” has served as an exciting  venue to learn more about how working with tactile materials helps people articulate complex ideas and flesh out their thinking.

While participants eagerly listened to the opening plenary session on Monday morning, Edward and I “craft-bombed” a series of tables outside of Askwith Hall at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. When participants emerged from the opening session, a bounty of tactile materials awaited their imaginations. Some folks jumped right in, cutting, taping, creating. Others took materials home with them and tinkered late into the night after the long day of courses and learning groups. Others still brought our materials to their learning group sessions where they engaged in tinkering activities with their colleagues as they collaboratively made sense of their experiences. Each day we found new whimsical treasures added to the tinkering gallery. Below is a brief view into the Future of Learning tinkering table. All very cool stuff!

While participants were listening to the opening plenary session, the Agency by Design research team was hard at work "craft-bombing" the Future of Learning institute. #hgsepzfol

While participants were listening to the opening plenary session, the Agency by Design research team was hard at work “craft-bombing” the Future of Learning institute. #hgsepzfol

The Future of Learning tinkering table, open for business... #hgsepzfol

The Future of Learning tinkering table, open for business… #hgsepzfol

50 Fuzzy Minds for the Future? A funky Future of Learning tinkering made especially for Howard Gardner. #hgsepzfol

50 Fuzzy Minds for the Future? A funky Future of Learning tinkering made especially for Howard Gardner. #hgsepzfol

My perception, your perception, our perception. A 3D articulation of various points of view hangs above the Future of Learning tinkering table. #hgsepzfol

“My perception, your perception, our perception.” A 3-D articulation of various points of view hangs above the Future of Learning tinkering table. #hgsepzfol

Many participants combined words and craft materials to create visual representations of the various conversations going on throughout the Future of Learning institute. This tinkering toys with shadow to encourage meta-looking and the consideration of multiple perspectives. #hgsepzfol

Many participants combined words and craft materials to create visual representations of the various conversations going on throughout the Future of Learning institute. This tinkering toys with shadow to encourage meta-looking and the consideration of multiple perspectives. #hgsepzfol

Like all trees, this Future of Learning tinkering table tree encourages the nurturing of thinking and learning. #hgsepzfol

Like all trees, this Future of Learning tinkering table tree encourages the nurturing of thinking and learning. #hgsepzfol

The Temescal Learning Community: A Year into the Research

Members of the Temescal Learning Community look at student work with Project Zero researchers.

Members of the Temescal Learning Community look at student work with Project Zero researchers.

Dissecting the design thinking process and debating how to measure agency: that’s how the Temescal Learning Community (TLC) spent our spring study group session. Rollicking discussions prevailed. A year has quickly passed since we had our first session, now seems like an appropriate moment to pause, see where we’ve been, and survey the horizon.

The TLC operates as the practitioner partner of the Agency by Design (AbD) research project. The group is comprised of educators from four schools in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland who were willing to take a leap and join a Project Zero (PZ) research endeavor. With the help of these teachers, we at PZ have tested several activities to learn more about the impact of design and making opportunities in the classroom.

A teacher in the Temescal Learning Community shares a student-redesigned treehouse.

A teacher in the Temescal Learning Community shares a student-redesigned treehouse.

Over the past year, we have been designing and redesigning learning experiences and looking closely at the resulting student work with the TLC teachers. At the first meeting of the TLC, we began with an activity that got the teachers onto the streets near their schools, to take pictures, or find artifacts, in order to create a museum style display that depicted portions of the neighborhood’s story. Last July, the TLC members endured the humidity of the Northeast to participate in the Project Zero Classroom. At the weeklong institute participants learned about research frameworks and teaching practices developed at PZ.

In the fall of 2012, we explored the theme “developing a sensitivity to design in the world” by examining the design of several objects, ideas, and systems. Beginning with objects, teachers explored various activities with us during workshops and then tried them with students in their classrooms. When we came back together we looked at the students’ work to try to determine how young people think about design in the world. Continue reading

Tales from the Tinkering Table, Part Three: Moving to 3-D

A paper tree grows at of the Project Zero Tinkering Table.

A paper tree grows at of the Project Zero Tinkering Table.

If you have been reading our Tales from the Tinkering Table you are aware that we have been puzzling over how to get some three-dimensional thinking introduced into our two-dimensional world.

The cover of A Visual Language by David Cohen and Scott Anderson

The cover of A Visual Language by David Cohen and Scott Anderson

This week, we literally borrowed a few pages from the book, A Visual Language, by David Cohen and Scott Anderson, in order to raise the paper off of the table. The authors are makers and teachers who share their instructional philosophy via a series of lessons and through examples of work from various artists.

A host of geometric configurations have begun to take shape at the Project Zero Tinkering Table.

A host of geometric configurations have begun to take shape at the Project Zero Tinkering Table.

A series of simple lines and shapes on the page can be transformed into three-dimensional spaces with some scissors and an X-Acto knife. We tried it out and left some instructions and models on the Tinkering Table to see what inspiration these might offer to our next visitors. We’ll keep you posted!

Tales from the Tinkering Table, Part Two: Ask the Kids

What did you make today? This Tinkering Table feedback form offers some insightful comments... including a request for yarn and LEGOs!

What did you make today? This Tinkering Table feedback form offers some insightful comments… including a request for yarn and LEGOs!

How might a tinkering table change office culture?

Our colleague, Carrie James showed our blog post about our Tinkering Table to her seven year-old daughter a few weeks ago. Since then, her daughter has been asking her mom when she can come to the office and have at it. When we arrived at work on Monday morning we were greeted by the bounty from a Saturday work session at the Tinkering Table by that same young art maker.

Already adept at the research process, this maker even completed our feedback form! She reported that the experience was fun and made suggestions that we add both LEGOs and yarn to our materials options. We couldn’t agree more.