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

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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?

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