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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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

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.

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