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

Advertisements

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

Introducing Educators to the Agency by Design Initiative

On Monday, March 11, 2013 the Agency by Design team was in Oakland, CA to lead our first-ever full-school professional development session for educators. The three-hour session was held at Park Day School and introduced approximately 40 Kindergarten – 8th grade teachers to the core tenets of our project. A variety of hands-on activities and Project Zero thinking routines had teachers looking at the intricacies of objects, situating those objects in broader systems, considering those systems through multiple user perspectives, and then brainstorming and prototyping redesign ideas for those systems. This process of developing a sensitivity to design primed educators to consider how equipping students with a deeper understanding of the design of objects, ideas, and systems may ultimately lead to an enhanced sense of agency.

The Park Day School teachers wowed us with their enthusiasm and cheerful investigation of complex ideas. A lot of great thinking emerged from the session—and we certainly learned a lot!

Park Day School teachers considered the parts, purposes, and complexities of a variety of household objects such as this extension cord, calculator, and box of tissues.

Park Day School teachers considered the parts, purposes, and complexities of a variety of household objects such as this extension cord, calculator, and box of tissues.

Park Day School Teachers carefully investigate a pair of staplers before engaging in the redesign process.

Park Day School teachers carefully investigate a pair of staplers before engaging in the redesign process.

Park Day School teachers used the the Parts/Purposes/Complexities thinking routine to better understand the intricacies of a funky bicycle helmet.

Park Day School teachers used the Parts/Purposes/Complexities thinking routine to better understand the intricacies of a funky bicycle helmet.

Continue reading

Identifying Core Outcomes of Maker and Design Thinking Education: Fostering a Sense of “I Can Do That!”

Science teacher Bruce Hamren shows Agency by Design researchers an early prototype for a speed crutch developed by students and faculty at the Athenian School to help young people in wheel chairs experience the feeling of jogging on a track.

Science teacher Bruce Hamren shows Agency by Design researchers an early prototype for a speed crutch developed by students and faculty at the Athenian School to help young people in wheel chairs experience the feeling of jogging on a track.

There is a growing body of literature advocating for the incorporation of maker and design thinking experiences in a variety of educational settings. Much of this literature suggests that maker and design thinking curricula have the potential to increase student engagement, promote “hand-mind” expertise, and/or bolster performance in STEM subjects. Though such outcomes make intuitive sense, there is little research to back these claims.

This being the case, we’ve been deeply interested in finding out what are the real benefits of maker and design thinking experiences, and how do educators recognize evidence of those outcomes in their students.

Pedagogical approaches to maker and design thinking curricula vary widely from one context to the next. Nonetheless, one of the big questions we consistently ask people who teach such courses is: what do you consider to be the core outcomes of maker and design thinking curricula? When we visited with Bruce Hamren and David Otten at the Athenian School’s Makers Studio we received an exciting answer to our question. Simply put: maker and design thinking experiences foster a sense of “I can do that!” in young people.

Doors to Innovation: The entrance to the Athenian School's Maker Studio presents guests with some exciting options...

Doors to Innovation: The entrance to the Athenian School’s Makers Studio presents guests with some exciting options…

During our September 2012 visit to the Bay Area, the Agency by Design team cruised over to Danville, CA to visit the Makers Studio at the Athenian School. When we arrived we found our way across the school’s campus to a building with two doors. The door on the left was marked with a sign that read Robotics Barn, the door on the right was marked Airplane Barn.

“Airplane Barn?” we thought to ourselves… Continue reading