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

A TEDx Talk about the Maker Mind: Why Having a Sensitivity to Design Matters

Agency by Design project manager Jen Ryan discusses the maker mind at TEDxDirigo. Photo by Michael Eric Berube.

Agency by Design project manager Jen Ryan discusses the “maker mind” at TEDxDirigo. Photo by Michael Eric Berube.

Earlier this year I was asked to participate at TEDxDirigo, a statewide TED Talk formatted platform for residents of the state of Maine,* to celebrate and share innovative and creative thought.

Embracing the AbD (and maker) principle of testing ideas in progress, I decided to focus my talk on the team’s current (at the time) concept of Maker Empowerment while highlighting one particular question at the heart of our research: why should we notice the designed dimension of our world?

Though a bit anxiety inducing (talking to 300 people is a lot different than workshopping with 30!), the experience was both illuminating and provocative. The talk resonated with many in the audience, including university STEM educators, parents, and business leaders. Perhaps just as important, it helped me clarify some of the guiding questions behind our research.

Many thanks to Adam Burk and the Treehouse Institute for producing the event, and in particular to Janice O’Rourke for her TEDx guidance.

*Though based in Cambridge, I actually live in Portland, ME.

From Maker Space to Maker Campus

Maker Campus Plans, like this one designed with teachers and students at Oakland International High School, record a school's short- and long-term goals for making their campuses more maker-friendly.

Maker Campus Plans, like this one designed with teachers and students at Oakland International High School, record a school’s short- and long-term goals for making their campuses more maker-friendly.

By David Stephen, Guest Author 

How can schools re-envision their classrooms and campuses to make them more maker-oriented and, in the process, help students and faculty to develop the tools they need to better understand and effect change upon their physical environments?

This is the essential question that we have been asking as we engage a number of Agency by Design’s Oakland Learning Community school sites in the process of redesigning their school campuses using a simple design thinking process for master planning. The beauty of this effort has been the opportunities it affords both students and teachers to interact with, and actively recreate, the learning spaces that they occupy everyday. This is an iterative process that has no particular end state, but that serves to connect people to their environments, foster Maker Empowerment, and positively transform their school campuses in real and ongoing ways.

Various members of the Park Day School's community meet with architect David Stephen to discuss what a space for making may look like on their school's campus.

Members of the Park Day School’s community gather to discuss what a space for making may look like on the school’s campus.

As both an educator and a school architect with a longtime passion for inquiry- and project-based approaches to teaching and learning, I see the design thinking process as providing a perfect vehicle for this exploration. Through a series of workshops with selected groups of teachers and students, during the past nine months each participating AbD school has been working to clarify its learning goals and spatial needs as connected to maker-thinking and doing. This includes generating a list of Guiding Principles and Priorities for Design, identifying specific campus redesign and building projects that support these priorities, and engaging teachers and students in carrying them out.

Signage at Claremont Middle School announces the school's Design Thinking and Making Lab.

Signage at Claremont Middle School announces the school’s Design Thinking and Making Lab.

To help guide this endeavor, each school is creating a “Maker Campus Master Plan” that outlines their short and long-term implementation goals. The process appears to be greatly energizing for those involved, as well as increasing awareness of how spatial adjacencies, design elements, and furniture choices can dramatically influence the ways in which people use space, interact, and collaborate. Although varied, there is considerable overlap in the areas of focus that are being addressed within each school’s master plan. They include:

  1. Articulating a safe, friendly, and clear entry sequence that strives to orient all building inhabitants and visitors to the school and campus as they enter.
  2. Creating consistent and clear branding and messaging platforms that communicate the values, learning goals, and priorities of the school.
  3. Fostering easy navigation and wayfinding to assist students, teachers, and visitors in making their way through the school building and campus.
  4. Showcasing visible learning and engagement through vistas into classroom and meeting spaces, as well as public art projects and installations.
  5. Establishing multiple venues for ongoing display, exhibition, and celebration of student work.
  6. Defining classroom and neighborhood zones that encourage students and teachers to build a sense of ownership, identity, and connection across disciplines.
  7. Designing and developing flexible classroom, gathering, and collaboration spaces that support large group, small group, independent, and project-based work.
  8. Provisioning flexible furniture and equipment that allow students and teachers to quickly transform their learning spaces and empower them as makers and doers.
  9. Developing outdoor learning spaces that promote maker activities and extend learning beyond the classroom.
  10. Initiating the development of maker spaces that support a range of design thinking and maker activities. Continue reading

A Culture (and Economy) of Making and Sharing

Artisan's Asylum, a 40,000 square foot makerspace in Somerville, MA offers its members individual studio spaces, access to a variety of workshops, and a centrally located social space to both share ideas—and hang out.

Artisan’s Asylum, a 40,000 square foot makerspace in Somerville, MA offers its members individual studio spaces, access to a variety of workshops, and a centrally located social space to both share ideas—and hang out.

Taking cues from the burgeoning field of “maker,” the Agency by Design team is investigating work at the cross-roads of the maker movement, tinkering, design thinking, and education. From the DARPA funding of school-based maker spaces to the growing popularity of robotics competitions, educational interest in these spheres has been exploding. But so, too, has interest from the business, non-profit, and even social networking sector. While our research team is learning about the teaching and learning side of maker with the Temescal Learning Community in Oakland, we also are curious about what’s happening on a conceptual level. To do this, we have begun to conduct site visits and talk to folks working in these fields: at fab-labs, makerspaces, schools, businesses, and not-for-profit organizations.

Based on our initial research, there seem to be three concurrent strands driving—or perhaps responding to—the resurgence in the DIY/maker mentality: “I want to do it,” “I can do it,” and “let’s do it together.”

I want to do it

Whether knitting a sweater, tinkering with a broken clock, or hacking a computer program, a maker mentality starts with a desire to do it yourself. Though it may be easier—and perhaps cheaper—to go to the Gap, visit a clockmaker, or hire a recent computer science grad to do the work for you, there’s something satisfying about making. It’s hard to say what’s driving this desire to make, fix, or tinker. (In fact, as AbD develops interview protocols and begins more formal data collection, this will certainly be an area of inquiry for us.) One theory is that it’s a reaction to big box stores, production chains, and corporate influence—a way to feel connected to an object, to see one’s hand in the work, to identify and engage with unique products. Or perhaps it’s an attempt to better understand how things are made—and how they work. After all, we engage on a daily basis with objects and systems that may feel quite distant—systems we may not understand, nor need to understand (um, iPhone?).

I can do it

Of course for many, the want can only be realized if accompanied by a sense of capability. Fortunately, this has been answered in part by 24-7 access to DIY resources, such as how-to sites and online manuals, as well as a growing network of online forums and collaborators. From remixing music to fixing the crack in a plumbing pipe, more and more people (young and old) are engaging their hands in daily life. They are doing it—whatever “it” is—themselves. Wanting to make, and being able to, inspires not only a sense of accomplishment, but a feeling of empowerment. Offering opportunities for people to engage in making, to solve their own problems or answer their own questions, allows for those a-ha moments of “I can do that.”

Let’s do it together

Tech Shop provides its users with a space to access a variety of tools, technology, and other resources.

Tech Shop provides its users with a space to access a variety of tools, technology, and other resources.

Yet an ability to do it yourself can be limited by experience, knowledge, and access to tools and space. Enter the shared economy. Want to build a bookshelf but don’t have the tools or the knowledge? Makerspaces—where you’ll find access to shared tools, introductory classes, even studio space for exploration and storage—are popping up all over the country. And they’re not limited to traditional wood and metal work. Sewing and textile spaces, hackerspaces, fablabs, and even social networking opportunities like hacker/maker meet-ups are all part of this culture of shared maker experiences.

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