Developing Professional Learning Communities to Support Maker-Centered Learning

AbD Senior Practitioner Jessica Ross discusses the role of professional learning communities in supporting the work of maker-centered educators.

The Temescal Learning Community reviewing teacher work in 2012.

Forming and supporting professional learning groups can be particularly important in maker-centered contexts, as maker-based activities often occupy a precarious space in the structure and curriculum of traditional schools. That maker education is not yet a formal discipline and does not have the backing of a professional and organized network makes it especially important to develop learning communities that scaffold and connect educators who often work in isolated siloes.

This week, Agency by Design will be onsite at the Maker Educator Convening in San Francisco, CA to present a workshop session about the importance of professional learning communities in the context of maker-centered learning. Considering this, we thought it would be a good time to overview the many learning communities that have developed around the work of AbD.

AbDLC members Lisa Yokana, Bryce Taylor, and Karen Wilkinson looking closely at an object they’ve dissected.

Project Zero (PZ) has long encouraged the role of teacher study groups to support educators as they engage with new or challenging ideas in their practice. During these past few years we have learned quite a bit about the variety of design options for teacher study groups associated with maker-centered learning. The first iteration we proposed for the teachers from the Temescal neighborhood, whom we met with back in 2012, was adopted from models of previous PZ study groups. During that time we held regular face-to-face meetings with opportunities to engage with emergent ideas and to look at student and teacher work.

In subsequent iterations, the study group grew into a community with a larger reach in efforts to include more neighborhoods in the Oakland area. In 2014 we helped catalyze a national learning community, the Agency by Design Learning Community (AbDLC) with a face-to-face launch. Currently we stay in touch with this group through regular online hangouts, and the community maintains ongoing communication via a Google+ page.

Follow the work of the East Bay Maker Educators or get involved via Twitter: @ebmem

In mid April of this year, a few members of the core team returned to the Bay Area for some classroom visits. While there, we were thrilled to be invited to an East Bay Maker Educators Meet-up (EBMEM)—an AbD affiliated learning community that meets monthly. There are many exciting facets of this self-organized group. Members take turns hosting so that they get to see each other’s sites. The dedication of time to hold and host meetings, though not surprising behavior for dedicated educators, is certainly worth acknowledging and celebrating. The Maker Educator Meet-ups (MEMs), as stated on the EBMEM internal Google+ page, are opportunities to meet with like minded educators so we can learn from each other. The goals of MEMs are support, networking, and equity—bringing design and making to all youth. During these monthly meetups, we will share with each other, provide support, network, and maybe even do a little making. 

A unique aspect of this group is its membership: K-12 educators, museum and maker space educators, and education consultants. It is a group of diverse constituents who wouldn’t otherwise have an intimate and regularly scheduled opportunity to learn from each other.

Are you a member of a maker educator professional learning community? What aspects of this community do you find most useful? If not, in what other ways do you find support for your work?

This blog was published on May 13, 2015.
Authored by
Jessica Ross

Jessica Ross is a researcher and Project Manager on the Agency by Design project.