The Day After, when Love Trumps Hate

On November 9th, the day after the election, I couldn’t think of a place I wanted to be more than Oakland International High School. I brought a couple boxes of chalk with me. I asked two of the many roaming, anxious students to hold the string as I walked around them creating the chalk circles that would become the main structure of the mandala in the courtyard. These two young men could have ignored me, could have walked away, or could have drawn anything in the center circle. At a school where 100% of our students are newcomers, almost half are undocumented, and many are Muslim, Trump’s policies and hate speech against immigrants would have warranted a “Fuck Trump.” But they chose to draw a dove. And the love and positive messaging flowed outward from the center, for hours. We ultimately held a small rally around the circle, and many walked out on a protest march. Love trumped hate on the day after the election, and we found great strength in our community.



Finding Depth in Paper Circuits

Check out a recent Agency by Design blog post I wrote “Finding Depth in Paper Circuits,” about a day-long workshop I co-taught to Santa Barbara art teachers.

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Art Workshop Fundraiser

Join me for an upcoming Printmaking Workshop, also a fundraiser!

REGISTER HERE on Eventbrite!

Final.OIHS.block printing invite

Fractions & Art Integration

Working with the Agency by Design project has changed the way I teach traditional art projects. In the maker-centered learning environment one often starts with close looking and taking something apart. We all know that artists do a lot of close looking, but I wondered how the taking apart might become more visible. My collaborating teacher, Michelle Beal, wanted to support students’ understandings of parts to a whole in fractions so I chose to experiment with grid drawing.

Emerson Elementary Cheetahs: In this one-lesson integration experience students looked at work by the Artist, Chuck Close. In groups they discussed: What do you SEE? What do you THINK? What do you WONDER? 

Next, the young artists learned to make a value scale and think about proportion. This was important so that they could transfer the small image from the cheetah onto a larger square. Like Chuck Close we made a grid drawing, but each person enlarged just 2 or 3 of the parts and we put them all together to make a collaborative drawing. As we added squares to the drawing we kept track of the growing fraction of the cheetah that was filled in – from 1/76th on up.

fractions.image1 fractions.image2Student Reflections

I drew 2/76th of the cheetah. I learned that you can use a grid to draw different kinds of things.

I drew 7/76th of the cheetah. I learned that arts use fractions, which I didn’t know.

[I drew] 3/76th. I learned that when you color in 38 squares you’re really coloring in half.

Teacher Reflection, Ms. Brooke

The goal of this collaboration was to do an art project that would support the students’ understanding of fractions and in particular their understanding of parts to a whole. I notice in the students’ reflections after the art experience that almost everyone can name the fraction that represents how many pieces of the cheetah they themselves drew. For me this means that students can at least make the link between the art experience and math and I hope that it sparks their curiosity about what else is made of fractions in the world around us.  Almost everything!

My next wondering is around whether or not this activity will help Ms. Beal in teaching fractions and how will she refer back to it. I also made the transparency piece that outlines 1/2, 1/4, and other fractions of the whole cheetah so students could see the relationships between different fractions. We didn’t have a lot of time to debrief this part so I wonder if and how Ms. Beale will find this useful and might use her expertise to dive in deeper. I hope this activity supported students’ conceptual understandings of numeracy and I wonder how it could be extended into a whole unit. 



Agency By Design Research on KQED

What an honor to have our Agency by Design teacher research with Project Zero be profiled on KQED! Check it out!

Lots of quotes by me and my work at OIHS in the second section.

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animal prints!

Prints are now for sale at local boutiques in Oakland, including:

Ruby’s Garden in Temescal 

Bella Vita in Rockridge for website - no prices


Kalassal + Annual Artist’s Exhibit


ACOE inventing our future Summer Conference, Part 2 of 2

Last week I had the opportunity to represent the Agency by Design project at ACOE’s Integrated Learning Conference, this year titled, Inventing our Future. I taught two workshops for teachers, “Observation, Elaboration, and Maker Empowerment,” and “Using Systems Thinking to Re-Design Public Education.”  To see my post about the former workshop click here.
systems.blog1How can we use systems thinking to re-design public education? How can systems thinking help young people make sense of and develop a sensitivity to the world around them? As a group we first defined “system” and through guided photos started to identify systems within the public education system. Groups identified one system to work with and started mapping out their thinking around the parts and relationships to the whole. Later they moved into thinking about the actors and motivations within those systems. I immediately realized that the workshop title was a lie and that there was no way we were going to have time to re-design anything. The first step is understanding and systems thinking was bringing us to a deeper level of knowing and making connections. systems.blog2At the same time there was confusion. About 30 minutes into the workshop a participant asked one of the most important and challenging questions a teacher can answer. “Wait, why are we doing this?” I froze and she immediately apologized, but we all knew this was critical. I paused to reflect on my answer and responded that we’re doing this because:

1) Systems thinking promotes high order thinking. When I practice systems thinking I am forced to stretch myself into becoming a better thinker in the world. I thought back to Jeffrey Andrade’s morning talk that day and asked myself internally, “Can that be standardized?” No. Good. Because anything that CAN be standardized is not worth teaching, in my opinion.

2) Because systems thinking is a scaffold and tool on the path towards empowerment. It builds a sensitivity to the design of systems in the world around us and has a built-in structure to help us notice and question the parts and relationships inside them. Ultimately the goal is to have enough of these experiences with systems thinking to re-imagine, re-design, and re-make the systems in our world that do not work.

ACOE Inventing Our Future Summer Conference, part 1 of 2

Last week I had the opportunity to represent the Agency by Design project at ACOE’s Integrated Learning Conference, this year titled, Inventing our Future. I taught two workshops for teachers, “Observation, Elaboration, and Maker Empowerment,” and “Using Systems Thinking to Re-Design Public Education.” Not being a Maker Education expert I went into the workshops feeling nervous about representing the work of the Project Zero researchers and my teacher colleagues in the North Oakland Learning Community. But I came out feeling more excited and committed to Maker Education and what that might look like in the classroom.

Observation, Elaboration, and Maker Empowerment

Above were my understanding goals for the first workshop. The plenary beforehand included brain researcher Ken Wesson who basically endorsed my planned activities. He explained that play is a fundamental part of how our brain develops and that it creates brain shoots that lock in info. He said one of the best ways to develop spatial reasoning, thinking skills, engineering, and problem solving capabilities is to go to Goodwill, buy some old objects, and than TAKE THEM APART. He said, “When you play with objects you also play with ideas…You can’t speak without ideas and you get those ideas from play.” Essentially, our brains are turned on by hands-on experiences and we have to have sensory, tactile learning opportunities to build understanding and meaning. I already knew this of course, but having someone say this right before my workshop was validating.

image2b.clean image3This was an engaged and active group. We spilled out into the outdoor space and there was much conversation, questioning, and learning. As the teacher participants worked to observe through the Elaboration Game and take apart their objects using a Parts, Purposes, Complexities thinking routine I walked around and documented their ideas.

What are you thinking about? What insights are you discovering during the Take Apart?

 “Looks can be deceiving. It’s got a complicated wheel system. The little thing in the middle we had to get to by taking everything apart. That little part was the most complicated. The smallest thing has the most power.”

 “[It’s] put together systematically. Sequencing is really important. The deeper we got the more social it became – we wondered who owned it before, and…”

 “It went from being a train to a toy. It became a representation of a train but not an actual train.”

During the workshop I also shared examples from my colleagues in North Oakland and discussed how these hands-on activities could be used in the classroom. What I was really excited about though was taking a stab at discussing disposition shifts as teachers and learners ourselves. I made a simple continuum for participants to notice if the activities helped them go through any shifts in the way they see the world. My desire to focus on disposition has come out of the thinking of my colleague at Park Day School, Jenny Ernst, who is teaching a class on Teacher Disposition at PZ AWAY in San Francisco in October. We looked at and discussed the continuum at the beginning and the end of the workshop and there were more than a few participants who noticed a change in themselves. For example, one noticed a thinking shift in the way she thought about hands-on activities, and another had a broadened understanding of what it means to be a “maker,” away from being someone who crafts and more towards someone who sees opportunities for change in the world.

Where do YOU fall on the Maker Disposition Continuum?