Members of the Agency by Design Community Reflect on the Maker Ed Convening

Earlier this fall, the Maker Ed Convening was hosted by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In this fieldnote post, several members of the Agency by Design community share headlines and highlights from their experiences at the event.

Members of the Agency by Design extended network recently attended The Fifth Annual Maker Ed Convening, an annual gathering of maker educators from around the world.  This year, the event was hosted in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in collaboration with MuseumLab at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and centered around the themes of equity, accessibility, and sustainability. 

Below, the Agency by Design network attendees share their highlights from the Maker Ed Convening:

Brooke Toczylowski is based in Oakland, California, and is the Executive Director of Agency by Design Oakland, which works at the intersection of maker-centered learning, teacher leadership, and inquiry.  She became involved in the Agency by Design research project with Project Zero while formerly working as an art teacher at Oakland International High School, a public alternative school serving emergent bilinguals.  At the Maker Ed Convening she co-facilitated three sessions with her team: Cultivating a Repair Mindset, Shifting Power: Designing for Student Agency, and For Teachers, By Teachers: Taking Professional Development into Your Own Hands.

"As a leader in the maker-centered learning landscape, this was the exact PD I needed! What I took away from the conference were ideas that center EQUITY as well as JOY.  During Dr. Valerie Kinloch and Sunanna Chand's keynote they invited us to reconsider the stories we tell with an equity framing.  And they didn't just talk about it—they modeled for us how to do it, and they provided us with reflection and sharing time.  On the second day of the conference, the inspiring Michelle King shared her wisdom and inquiries around joy, lineage, and failure.  I was deeply moved and inspired to take visual notes during Michelle's keynote."

Toczylowski created visual notes of Michelle King’s inspirational keynote, Reclaiming Joy!
Mitchell’s group banner from the Making as an Act of Multicultural Representation in the Classroom workshop facilitated by Yerko Sepúlveda and Sergio Ruiz-Perez.

Paula Mitchell is a teacher on special assignment for maker-centered learning at Grass Valley Elementary School in Oakland, California.  Paula began as a fellow in the Agency by Design research project in Oakland when it was focused on documentation and assessment and is now the Fellowship Director for Agency by Design Oakland. At the Maker Ed Convening, Paula co-facilitated a workshop on shifting power in the K-12 classroom using maker-centered learning strategies and co-presented a discussion around how to empower teachers to take professional development into their own hands. “I appreciated being able to see and hear how educators from around the country are interpreting and integrating making into their contexts.  I came away filled with excitement about the possibilities making has for creating more equitable outcomes for all learners.”

Jeff Evancho is the Assistant to the Superintendent for Secondary Education at South Fayette Township School District, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Jeff founded and co-leads Agency by Design Pittsburgh (AbD PGH) a research-practice partnership and a teacher learning community intended to build teacher capacity for assessment and documentation of maker-centered learning experiences. The community is a partnership between a university researcher, a district-level administrator and 40 classroom teachers from 18 different school districts/educational organizations in Western Pennsylvania. The fundamental question that keeps this group together is: How can we document and assess learning within maker-based experiences? At the 2019 Maker Ed Convening Jeff co-facilitated a session with Peter Wardrip entitled: Value-based Assessment: A Lens for Looking at Learning. “I enjoyed the opportunity and well-designed experiences to connect with like-minded maker educators coming from around the country. I also thoroughly enjoyed the centering theme of equity that resonated as a throughline weaving throughout all formal and informal sessions.”

Peter Wardrip is Assistant Professor of STEAM Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wisconsin.  Peter co-leads Agency by Design Pittsburgh with Jeff Evancho and co-facilitated the Value-based Assessment: A Lens for Looking at Learning workshop session at the Maker Ed Convening. Peter remarked about the event, “I really enjoyed participating in sessions with educators and researchers together. I also appreciated the chance to work with formal and informal educators side-by-side in the same sessions. I also just enjoyed catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.”

Participants document the parts, purposes, and complexities of Astromelias in Spanish and English as they examined the link between looking closely and developing a sensitivity to design.

Yerko Sepúlveda is a Spanish Instructor & Ph.D. Candidate at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. He is an experienced teacher-trainer, educational consultant, higher education administrator, and whole-hearted Agency by Design practitioner using maker-centered learning to develop agency and intercultural competence.  He is currently a coach of the Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom online course at Project Zero.  At the Maker Ed Convening, Yerko co-facilitated a workshop with Sergio Ruiz-Perez provoking educators to explore cultures of power and making as an act of multicultural representation. As Yerko has said, “In John Dewey’s words ‘we do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience’ and it is impossible not to reflect on the nurturing, welcoming, captivating and inspirational convening that brought us all together to shape a new world in education and society. Teachers, artists, researchers, administrators, students—all of us ignited each other and joined perspectives in one voice; that is, the pivotal need to empower young minds to create a world that is more beautiful, more equitable, more sustainable, more ethical.” A big highlight from Yerko’s experience at Maker Ed was reinforcing the advocacy for documenting struggle, embracing the fact that life is complex, and reclaiming joy. “It was enlightening to see so many educators committed to equity, social justice and maker education that is not about the product, but the process to create a better world. After Maker Ed, I have more clarity of mind and a strengthened spirit.”

Sergio Ruiz-Perez has taught Spanish for ten years in higher education. He is a professional translator and interpreter, and currently a graduate part-time instructor and third year PhD student of Spanish Linguistics at Texas Tech University. His research interests include second language writing, multiliteracies, critical pedagogies, and maker-centered learning. At the Maker Ed Convening, Sergio co-facilitated a workshop with Yerko Sepúlveda offering a practical tool to bring multicultural representation into the classroom through the documentation of students’ voices and perspectives. Some highlights from Sergio´s Maker Ed Convening experience were participating in this annual gathering for the first time and exploring new themes in maker-centered learning such as sustainability and equity. He expressed, “This was a very enriching experience. The museum was an inviting space where I got to learn about amazing projects maker educators from many locations are currently working on. I was guided to look closely at my values as a teacher and learner, as well as to reimagine the purpose of education. I even explored how to cultivate a repair mindset with everyday objects that surround us. On the whole, the Convening has been a breath of fresh air full of joy and human co-inspiration.”

Jodie Ricci is the PS-12 Performing Arts Chair at Hawken School in Cleveland, Ohio. For the past several years, she has collaborated with students, researchers, and educators to develop an actionable framework to support more distributed and participatory forms of creativity.  She is a classroom practitioner of Agency by Design research and a coach in the Project Zero Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom online course. At the Maker Ed Convening, Jodie facilitated a workshop that focused on cultivating and rethinking creativity for all. The biggest takeaway from her Maker Ed Convening experience was the invitation to redesign and reimagine our stories. She shared, “The Maker Ed conference pushed me to think about stories as adaptive and malleable. Looking closely, exploring complexity, and finding opportunity to redesign the stories that we tell is central to our work as makers and transformers of the designed world.”

Lusky and Rains reflect with participants at the MuseumLab to reimagine the systems and structures of school.

Melissa Unger is the K-2 STEAM teacher at South Fayette Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a lifelong maker and is currently a coach for the Agency by Design Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom online course.  At the Maker Ed Convening, Melissa co-presented with a group of teacher-friends about creative assessment techniques for maker-centered elementary classrooms. A highlight from Melissa's Maker Ed Convening experience was taking part in the Play-nary Playwriting Challenge. Working with a diverse group of maker educators, Melissa co-wrote a play focused on equity in education and got to watch in awe as it was presented on stage, acted out by professional actors. “What I enjoyed most about the Maker Ed Convening was the opportunity to spend an entire weekend with others who share the same interests and passions as I do. Whether it was spending time creatively writing a play, or sitting in one of the many gathering spaces in the museum and talking about our practices, the people I surrounded myself with helped me to stretch my thinking and reignite my creative energy. I found that I was excited to get to work on Monday morning—I had so many new ideas that I was ready to try!"

Erika Lusky is a special educator learning alongside students with neurodiversity and an Instructional Coach facilitating professional learning opportunities for educators and administrators. She is passionate about deep understanding in learning and creativity in teaching. Most recently, Erika embarked on an action research project creating a culture of participation for non-verbal cognitively impaired high school students through “making” considering equity and access for this specific population. At Maker Ed Convening, Erika co-facilitated a workshop with Julie Rains reconceptualizing what school is for through imagination and making. Erika shares her memories from Maker Ed Convening, “Highlights for me include learning from first time student presenter, Charlotte Own and feeling inspired by student keynote researchers, speakers, and ‘Tipper Clip’ experts, Sunanna Chand and Valerie Kinloch. Student voice is a big rock for me and I was thrilled they were included in this event. I also felt incredibly privileged to be learning alongside such a devoted and dedicated group of professionals in such a beautiful and creative space.”

Julie Rains is an Ed.D Candidate at the University of Michigan-Flint, participatory action researcher, and Information Literacy Specialist, at Delta Kelly Elementary School in Rochester, Michigan. She has been a longtime classroom practitioner of Agency by Design research, with specific interest in examining the intersection between making and disability justice, and is currently one of the co-instructors of the Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom online course.  At the Maker Ed Convening, Julie co-facilitated a workshop with Erika Lusky encouraging educators to reimagine and redesign the system of school through a series of creativity challenges. A highlight from Julie's Maker Ed Convening experience was connecting with a diverse range of maker educators. “What I really enjoyed about my Maker Ed Convening experience was the time to slow down and connect with maker educators from around the world.  Whether we were engaged in a flower take-apart, designing teacher professional learning, or critically analyzing the role of power, the element that brought us together was our passion. It was incredibly inspiring to see the passionate commitment of maker educators to create opportunities for all learners."

This blog was published on November 14, 2019.
Authored by
Julie Rains

Julie Rains is a co-instructor of the Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom online course, Ed.D Candidate at the University of Michigan-Flint, and Information Literacy Specialist, at Delta Kelly Elementary School in Rochester, Michigan.