Agency by Design in Translation: Exploring the Complexities of Sharing Maker-Centered Practices Across Cultures

Educators Rita Camargo, Simone Lederman, and Paola Ricci of Instituto Catalisador in São Paulo, Brazil describe their journey towards translating the Agency by Design thinking routines into Portuguese—and more broadly disseminating the work of the Agency by Design research team throughout Brazil.

The framework for maker-centered learning developed by the Agency by Design research team has great potential to open new opportunities for learning for a variety of students—especially students who come from under-resourced schools. But incorporating the tools and thinking routines associated with the Agency by Design framework for maker-centered learning may at times require some translation—especially when introducing this work into cultural settings that are different from those where the framework was originally developed. Through our work with a Brazilian education organization called Instituto Catalisador, we have been on a journey to do just that—translate the work of Agency by Design so it will be most accessible to students and teachers in our community.

Instituto Catalisador is a São Paulo-based Brazilian non-profit organization that has as a mission to affect a significant number of educators and learners, who through creative learning experiences, may become authors of their own pathways and agents of individual and social change. In our work at the Instituto Catalisador we are particularly interested in designing and implementing maker-centered learning projects that engage people and school communities in genuinely meaningful educational practices that require a playful problem solving attitude. With a focus on serving teachers and students in São Paulo’s public schools, the Institute’s projects promote the convergence of diverse languages creating possible links between local culture, science, technology, the arts, and student agency. Constructionism, creative learning, educating cities, STEAM, inclusion and—since the beginning of 2018 the Agency by Design framework for maker-centered learning—have been the theoretical pillars that sustain and guide our work.

Students looking closely and exploring the complexity of electrical circuit components during a Instituto Catalisador workshop in Brazil.

Aiming to make visible to teachers and students that they are not only having fun in our workshops and activity sessions, but also learning, we recently began exploring and experimenting with a variety of thinking routines from Project Zero. That was when we found out about the work of the Agency by Design research team—and the Thinking and Learning in the Maker Centered Classroom (TLMCC) online course. With a group of six Brazilian educators we organized a study group to apply for the course. Writing up our weekly inquiry cycle templates for the course, receiving feedback from our TLMCC coaches and from other educators around the world who were also engaged in the TLMCC course, along with the discussions we had at our team meetings, made clear to us how powerful the Agency by Design thinking routines could be when applied to our work with teachers and students in Brazil.

Incorporating these thinking routines into our practice was an important turning point. Some of the maker-themed activities that we have been doing for a long time—such as creating scribbling machines, paper circuits, and marble run panels—reached new levels of learning and student engagement after we began implementing the Agency by Design thinking routines. After putting the Parts, Purposes, Complexities and the Parts, People, Interactions, thinking routines into practice, we noticed that students were moving away from a mere intuitive approach to construction towards more sophisticated and conscious decision-making processes that affected the way they thought about and built the inventions they developed through our programs.

Documentation of students looking closely and exploring the complexity of a scribbling machine using the Parts, Purposes, Complexities thinking routine.

After witnessing this improvement in our practice, we decided we had to learn more about the work of Project Zero and committed ourselves to making the big trip to Cambridge to attend the Project Zero summer institute, otherwise known as the PZ Classroom—or PZC. Connecting  with such a diverse community of educators from all over the globe—all of whom were involved and invested in transforming how students learn—was an amazing experience. Having the opportunity to share our practices and learn so much more from others was memorable and made us feel more confident to apply what we have learned to our work as educators in public schools in São Paulo, Brazil.

Considering the impact we saw when we incorporated the Agency by Design framework for maker-centered learning into our work in Brazil, we could not help but think that more Brazilian educators should have access to the tools and materials that AbD and PZ have to offer. To this end, while at PZC we had the opportunity to meet with Agency by Design researchers Edward Clapp, Jessica Ross, Sarah Sheya, and Shari Tishman. In our conversations with these researchers we agreed that a first step towards bringing the Agency by Design framework for maker-centered learning to more educators in Brazil would be to translate the AbD thinking routines into Portuguese. Once we returned to São Paulo, we immediately embarked on this work.

Translating this material was an honor for us, it was a big responsibility but also a great opportunity to dive deeper into the purpose and precise meaning of of each one of the thinking routines. Thinking about the meaning of each word and choosing the Portuguese expression that best fit what the original English text was trying to convey was a challenge we thoroughly enjoyed. After many months of working on these translations, we are excited to see that they are now available on the Agency by Design website:

Partes, Propósitos, Complexidades

Partes, Pessoas, e Interações

Partes, Perspectivas, e Eu

Pense, Sinta, Se Importe

Imagine Se

To spread the Agency by Design framework for maker-centered learning amongst educators has become a part of the Instituto Catalisador’s agenda in our mission to contribute to the development of more meaningful and impactful maker-centered practices in education throughout São Paulo—especially within the public schools that we serve. We see translating the Agency by Design thinking routines into Portuguese as a meaningful first step in this direction.

Special thanks to former Agency by Design research assistant Gabriela Talarico for her assistance with the Portuguese translations of the thinking routines.

This blog was published on February 6, 2019.
Authored by
Rita Camargo

Rita is a researcher, educator, and co-creator of Instituto Catalisador. 

Simone Lederman

Simone is a researcher, educator,  and co-creator of Instituto Catalisador.  

Paola Ricci

Paola is a researcher and educator at Avenues World School SP and co-creator of Instituto Catalisador.