As we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, we have been partnering for a while now with Agency by Design (AbD), a research group out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero. As we dive in to this work, we’ve been exploring ways that making not only creates space for play and creativity in school, but allows students to see and shape their world in new ways.
The basic premise is this: you can’t be an effective change agent unless you understand that everything around you — from the pen you write with, to the education system students and teachers are part of, to the social and economic systems that support the education system — are designed. They may not have been designed intentionally, or well, but nearly everything in human society has been designed by people just like the students we work with. In order to help them understand this, we must help our students develop a sensitivity to design, which AbD also calls maker empowerment. Through this feeling of empowerment, students begin to see how the world around them is designed and put together, and where they might be able to apply leverage to effect change — in other words, they begin to develop a sense of agency.
Through their research, AbD has found that there are three skills which most support development of maker empowerment: looking closely, exploring complexity, and finding opportunity. Well-designed making projects inherently offer opportunities to develop these skills, as do the thinking routines from AbD and Visible Thinking (also from Project Zero).
The work here clearly doesn’t have to be one or the other; thinking routines can be a great support for students engaging in a making project, and for teachers who are designing one. There are a lot of details that can get lost in the shuffle, however, so we’ve been working on a document, Designing Making Experiences 2.0, to help teachers select a meaningful project, and figure out how to implement it. It’s still a draft, and a tad dense, but we’re working on streamlining it so it’s easier to read and perhaps less overwhelming. While it’s in revision, we decided to share the current draft here; once complete, it will end up in the Resources section of our page.
We hope it helps you come up with exciting, new ideas. And please remember that many of the questions are only there to help your planning; if they’re not relevant to your work, just skip them!