The Agency by Design Inquiry Cycle has been designed to support educators in the processes of designing, documenting, assessing, and reflecting on maker-centered learning. This tool was collaboratively developed over time, and formally prototyped with cohorts of maker educators in two locations: Oakland, California, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In this paper, Agency by Design researchers Jessica Ross and Edward P. Clapp loosely use the structure of the Inquiry Cycle to describe the iterative process of developing this tool, along with some suggested implications for practice. Throughout the piece, we share the experiences of our teacher partners as they grappled with this tool—tweaking, hacking, and remixing it—as they explored its potential for designing, documenting, assessing, and reflecting upon their work in the maker-centered classroom.
This tool guides young learners to look closely at a system and explore its complexity by directly experiencing the system and reflecting on that experience. This is particularly helpful when working with very young students who may struggle to conceptualize a complex system without direct experience. In addition, this tool provides suggestions for making student thinking visible by encouraging students to share their ideas and learn from each other.
This piece is based on a workshop titled “Taking Apart Racism: Using Maker-Centered Practices to Break Down Systems of Oppression,” led by Jaime Chao Mignano and Mark Perkins at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (PoCC).
Like a lot of educators, I want my students to be empowered to impact the world around them. I want them to have social and political agency in a sense that is perfectly aligned with what Agency by Design means by agency—that is, skills and tools in combination with intention and impulse to action. When I task my students with dismantling systems of oppression, how do they know what that means? Do they feel ready to enact it? And how can I be a support?
This was the seed of a workshop for this year’s National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (PoCC), a gathering of thousands of educators from around the United States to explore ideas and share experiences around equity and justice in our schools and lives. My colleague, Mark Perkins (Media and Theater Coordinator), and I wondered what insights we could offer by putting Take Apart practice in service to racial justice education. I was nervous to try to build under the conference throughline “Anti-Racist Teaching Tools” - the stakes felt so high. We had an inkling, though, that combining the enthusiastic engine of taking stuff apart with the resonant act of creating stories that reimagine existing narratives of power could be an important experiment.
Mark and I built a workshop we call “Taking Apart Racism: Using Maker-Centered Practices to Break Down Systems of Oppression.” The heart of the workshop is the idea that looking closely and exploring the complexity of an object can create a bridge of metaphor that helps us understand a system of racial oppression. If we build the connection between these two systems—the system of the object and the system of oppression—then we can see the oppressive system in a new light and probe new possibilities.
Ilya Pratt, AbD Oakland Leadership Team member and Design+Make+Engage program director at Park Day School, tells a tale of maker empowerment and collective agency through the story of Kyle and the saber-toothed cat.
Guest Author Jeff Evancho, the Project Zero Programming Specialist at the Quaker Valley School District, describes the process of establishing the Pittsburgh Maker Educator Learning Community, including the community’s interest in developing documentation and assessment strategies for the maker-centered classroom.