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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Making in Memphis

A workshop participant maps out the parts, purposes, and relationships in a light switch.

A workshop participant maps out the parts, purposes, and relationships in a light switch.

By Jenny Ernst, Guest Author

As a member of the Oakland Learning Community (OLC), my work with the Agency by Design (AbD) research project has helped me understand that developing a sensitivity to the design of objects is an elemental part of maker education. Co-facilitating an AbD workshop on this theme at a national conference afforded me some of the very best in professional development. A surprising twist to one of our thinking routines made the experience even richer.

Earlier this month my colleague Brooke Toczylowski (Oakland International High School) and I (Park Day School) were welcomed as presenters at the most recent Project Zero Perspectives conference entitled How and Where Does Learning Thrive? The conference was hosted by Presbyterian Day School (PDS) in Memphis, TN. Over the years 85% of PDS teachers have attended the annual Project Zero Classroom summer institute in Cambridge, MA. As a result, every hallway bulletin board displayed student thinking routines and the staff (and even the students) spoke fluent PZ-terminology.

As classroom teachers and OLC members Brooke and I were asked to co-present with our Project Zero research partners Jen Ryan and Edward Clapp. Since Brooke and I have piloted many of the AbD workshop activities in our classrooms/schools, we offered a “teacher perspective” on AbD’s work. With reverence, we also shared the projects that our colleagues in the OLC have been working on when we were asked about real-world applications of AbD’s approach to teaching and learning.

While Brooke and Edward presented a systems-based workshop session, Jen and I presented a session entitled Developing a Sensitivity to Design: How Making and Design Experiences Can Activate Student Agency. For me personally, I wanted the teachers, learning specialists, and administrators in our workshop sessions to understand that as educators, we too develop a natural sensitivity to design alongside our students as we notice the parts, purposes, and relationships within objects and systems. When we are challenged to design our learning environments to include more maker/design thinking activities, we likewise develop the dispositional characteristics associated with AbD’s emergent concept of maker empowerment.

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The Maker Mind: Taking a Closer Look at the Way Makers’ Minds Work

Does exposure to maker-oriented activities foster the development of a "maker mind" in young people? Artists and designers from the Flux Foundation develop educational experiences for kids, such as these elementary school students from Park Day School, to do just that. Photo by Flickr/Flux Foundation.

Does exposure to maker-oriented activities foster the development of a “maker mind” in young people? Artists and designers from the Flux Foundation develop educational experiences for kids, such as these elementary school students from Park Day School, to do just that. Photo by Brooke Buchanan.

At Project Zero, one of the things we’re interested in is understanding cognition—or in other words—how the mind works. In fact, long time PZ researcher Howard Gardner is famous for investigating, identifying, and naming various kinds of “minds.” The disciplined mind, the creating mind, the synthesizing mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind are all part of the cognitive suite Gardner calls the Five Minds for the Future. Despite the care Gardner has taken in articulating the most essential minds for the 21st century, we wonder if—perhaps—yet another mind can be added to the mix: the Maker Mind.

During our September 2012 visit to the Bay Area our colleagues at the Abundance Foundation arranged for us to have lunch with Jess Hobbs and Catie Magee, two artists who play leadership roles in the Flux Foundation, an Oakland-based not-for-profit organization that “engages people in designing and building large-scale public art as a catalyst for education, collaboration, and empowerment.” Amongst some of their large-scale sculptures have been huge productions such as “Temple of Flux,” a commissioned sculptural work installed—and later burned to the ground—at the 2010 Burning Man Festival. Flux also runs a collaborative community based education initiative known as TweetHaus “a public art + ecology project focused on citizen science, interactive learning and collaboration [that] fosters community through the design, construction and installation of bird habitats and public pathways in urban environments.” Continue reading

Welcome to Making Thinking Happen!

Members of the Agency by Design Learning Community have fun looking at complex objects during a “sensitivity to design” study group session at Park Day School in Oakland, CA.

Welcome to Making Thinking Happen, the official blog of the Agency by Design research and development initiative at Project Zero, a research organization at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Through the support of the Abundance Foundation the focus of this project is to explore the learning opportunities that exist at the intersection of the maker movement, design thinking, and extant Project Zero frameworks.

There are two primary strands of activity for this study. The first is a series of interviews with designers, makers, tinkerers, artists, and educators involved with design thinking and the maker movement, paired with a review of literature related to these domains.

Given the rising presence of design thinking and maker programming in schools and after school programs, the second strand of activity of this study involves a partnership with a group of K-12 educators from several schools in the Temescal region of Oakland, California. Through classroom-based activities and action research, we’ll be investigating ways to strengthen students’ cognitive development in three areas: (1) the capacity to recognize and appreciate the design dimensions of objects, ideas, and systems; (2) the capacity to be agents of change with regard to design in the world, and; (3) the capacity to think and learn through tinkering.

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