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?




Tinker Lab at Camp Kala

This video was made by a teaching assistant, Yuwei Zheng.

Last week I taught a Make/Design/Tinker/Hack class for middle school students at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley. It allowed me to stretch and explore many of the topics we’ve been researching with the Agency by Design research team. For the first time I drew concrete connections between traditional art making and engineering and design and now I feel confident about how I will bring more of this into my classroom at Oakland International.

Two main sources of inspiration were the Nueva Design Institute I attended in June, and the ever inspiring Exploratorium and their “The Art of Tinkering” Book. Below is the brainstorming I started at Nueva.


I began by thinking about how artists make marks and how we might be able to explore that through making drawing machines. This type of thinking on paper I learned is part of a new field called Visual Thinking in which visual imagery is just as important as the text. Since I’ve been taking notes like this for years I was thrilled to hear that there’s a whole field out there to explore. If you’re interested I encourage you to start by watching this great Ted Talk by Rachel Smith.

making marks3


We first looked at and then watched an ART 21 video of Cai Gui-Qiang who uses gunpowder and explosions to make prints. (We silenced Qiang’s metaphor for art making as love making. I had forgotten it was there!) The students then created their own tools and experimented with mark marking and then presented their most exciting discovery to each other. We also tinkered with printing and added sticky foam shapes to cardboard tubes to experiment with how printmaking can use movement.


Next we played an adapted version of THE ELABORATION GAME, a close-looking activity developed by the Agency By Design researchers at Project Zero. In my version three different artists/observers take turns elaborating on each others’ drawings and writings. During the regular school year at Oakland International I’ve found that ELL students need to be concretely taught to Elaborate, what that means, and how to do it. This activity forces them to search for words deeper than the surface.

take apart

The PPC (Parts, Purposes, Complexities) Thinking Routine has been a central activity created by Agency by Design and a very helpful way of looking at objects and systems. As with my ELL students I found the middle school students more interested in pulling the object apart than recording their thinking on paper. It’s an enthralling activity that consumes kids’ attention and leaves them with exciting questions. As the student on the left wrote for the complexities of a computer mouse, “How it ***ing works!” This is the same 10-year-old that taught me to solder two days later.


teaching teacher

Using the same objects we had taken apart, plus an array of other awesome items from the East Bay Depot the students were asked to transform these objects into art experiences, sculptures, games, or other. This was where I felt super excited and engaged, because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. The kids went into all different directions, combining two items into one (a pencil sharpener and fan), creating a game out of Angry Birds, or making delicate sculptures from reclaimed computer pieces.

During this HACK session we started learning how to re-claim motors from toys and solder on our own wires. Above the kids are teaching me how to use my new soldering iron. The transition of my role from teacher to learner in this moment made me feel like this was becoming a real MAKERSPACE and that all skills were fluid and able to be explored in this kind of environment. It’s important to note that the students in this summer camp were self-selected and came in with an inclination towards being curious tinkerers and hackers. Middle school also felt like the right age for tinkering and hacking. My thought is that my high-schoolers wouldn’t want to hack what they might consider trash and would prefer more refined materials. I look forward to trying out some of these playful activities with the high-schoolers.

design process




Above are images from the last two projects and part of the exhibit at the end of the week. I knew I wanted the kids to design their own drawing machines so I first scaffolded the project with the Exploratorium’s “scribbling machine.” This project in itself can be hacked and designed in so many ways that the students from the beginning created unique machines. We also looked at a number of artists who make drawing machines including Tyree Callahan  and Sam Van Doorn. Then, using what they had learned to date they were challenged to design their own drawing or art machine. This gave us the opportunity to learn more about the full design process that I had just learned at the Nueva Institute. Starting with a Saturation Board in groups students brainstormed then planned out their ideas on paper. After that they started to tinker, solder, play, and experiment. Then we had group critiques and students refined their machines. Some were able to actually draw but others were prototypes of their ideas. These machines were out of this world exciting! It felt less like a MAKERSPACE and more like Nueva’s INNOVATION LAB.

I was disappointed not to incorporate the user centered interviews, which I think develop a deep sense of empathy, but we did do a couple design challenges during the week that did include interviews (i.e. design a nametag for your interview partner). At Nueva the arts classes do not incorporate the interview process into the arts classes because the director told me art is often times more about self-expression, but for me it was such a powerful and important part of the design process that I’m excited to think about how to use it in my arts class this coming year. I also think that the definition of art is so fluid and unconventional that even the interview itself could be considered an act of art.

The last project we worked on was another Exploratorium inspiration – an Automata. This was an EXCELLENT project – so great in fact that  I will write a separate post about it soon.

Studio Habits of Mind

Last week I had the opportunity to co-facilitate a workshop in LA. It was an arts integration conference for California’s Office to Reform Education (CORE). With my colleague, Alane Paul Castro, we presented on the Studio Habits of Mind, an education framework based in Project Zero research. It makes visible what artists do in the studio (not just technique, people!), and it’s a great lens through which to build integrated curriculum. It was an exciting and successful couple of days. If you’re interested in our presentation click here: SHoM Workshop Presentation.

Participants in our SHoM workshop PERSIST in their problem solving and craftsmanship. (They are also just hoping their tower doesn't fall down. When it did they PERSISTED in building it again.)

Participants in our SHoM workshop PERSIST in their problem solving and craftsmanship. (They are also just hoping their tower doesn’t fall down. When it did they PERSISTED in building it again.)

Participants add their ideas and notes to the Studio Habits of Mind Process Wall.

Participants add their ideas and notes to the Studio Habits of Mind Process Wall. Similar to this blog post, I like to make the process visible in the classroom. It is often much more rich than the final product.

I was in the studio during the days leading up to the conference, so I was really thinking about the Studio Habits and how they are true to the artist’s practice. Below you can see how my own personal artmaking process connects to the Studio Habits of Mind.

I look, read, and research other artists so I can UNDERSTAND COMMUNITY.

I look, read, and research other artists so I can UNDERSTAND COMMUNITY.

I REFLECT everyday, before and after making art. A coffee is my company.

I REFLECT everyday, before and after making art. A coffee is my company.

Large, loose ink drawings help me understand my subjects. I start here by looking closely and OBSERVING.

Large, loose ink drawings help me understand my subjects. I start here by looking closely and OBSERVING.

I have to PERSIST everyday, asking myself, "What will I do next." Making decisions is the hardest part of the process for me.

I have to PERSIST everyday, asking myself, “What will I do next.” Making decisions is the hardest part of the process for me.

For me the final piece feels like EXPRESS. It is important work and I am proud to have made it.

For me the final piece feels like EXPRESS. It is important work and I am proud to have made it.

Monoprinting is new for me. I am STRETCHING and EXPLORING. With my stencil underneath the plexi I roll out the ink where I need it to cover the empty spots. I ask other printmakers for advice and experiment with new tricks.

Monoprinting is new for me. I am STRETCHING and EXPLORING. With my stencil underneath the plexi I roll out the ink where I need it to cover the empty spots. I ask other printmakers for advice and experiment with new tricks.

I mix new paints to see what colors I can make. Color mixing feels like DEVELOPING CRAFT to me - I am always learning new things.

I mix new paints to see what colors I can make. Color mixing feels like DEVELOPING CRAFT to me – I am always learning new things.

I often use a camera to help me ENVISION an image before I create it. Here I have someone photography my arms so I can visualize what I have in my mind.

I often use a camera to help me ENVISION an image before I create it. Here I have someone photography my arms so I can visualize what I have in my mind.

screenprinting at Kala

DSC_0028This past fall I taught myself how to screenprint at the Kala Art Institute, in Berkeley. I was so lucky to be an artist in residence there, and I look forward to continuing again in March. I also teach there in the summers – check out the two youth classes I’m teaching in July, “I am an Artist,” and “Thinking Like a Tinkerer.”

Part of my goal this fall was to use drawings from my 180 Day Series to create small limited edition prints. I’ve been wanting to do this for two years, and I feel relieved to have finally accomplished it. You can find these for sale in my Etsy Shop, Noisy River.  They are quite affordable and are meant for educators, students, activists, and anyone who works with youth.

I will share some of the other prints I worked on at Kala soon.

2013 Teaching at Kala

i am grateful. i am in awe. i am in love.

Artwork by Shekinah Eliassen

Lars came into this world for three short weeks and taught me to feel and breathe and listen to my heart. Throughout those three weeks, and now, I’ve wanted to put words to my reflections, but sometimes feelings are formless and language isn’t good enough. Here, I try.

I am grateful. I am in awe. I am in love.

I am grateful.

Even when my baby Max has been screaming without end or waking up every hour during the night to drain me of myself. Even when I wonder if I have anything left to give. Even when there are tears and fights and even when I know I have nothing left, I am grateful.

My baby boy’s lungs are in the here and now and he is using them. My baby boy’s hands are grabbing, his lips are sucking, and his feet are kicking. His eyes show his adoring affection and dependent love.

No matter the projects, the dishes, this silly ol’ blog to make myself feel productive. I have been damn productive, producing a human being. Lars, in his quick life, has taught me to slow down. He asked me to bask in Max’s love and laughter and enjoy every minute of it. Because parenthood is crazy. You are literally jumping off a cliff of responsibility; they might throw shit in your face and you have to take it.

I am grateful for today. I am grateful for this moment. I am grateful for Max’s peaceful napping noises.

I am in awe.

Let me tell you about Lars’ mom, Shekinah. She has been my friend for 13 years and I can say that she has always been strong and wise and curious. But these three weeks have deepened her soul, revealing new layers of rock hidden deep in her earthly core. Imagine. Birthing a being and then having the strength to let it go. Imagine. Carrying the courage of a thousand lions to comfort those around you. Imagine. Choosing to see the joy wrapped up in all the hurt. Shekinah is full of light, full of love. I am in awe of this glorious mama.

I am in love.

With the water, the sky, the blank page, the red curtains. It is all so beautiful, all so real. But since my feelings are formless I search to make sense. I search for connection. I search to know that my baby M and baby L are connected. Since words are not my craft I lean on others. At our wedding Ian and I walked into Roaring Brook and we read from Siddhartha:

“Siddhartha listened…He had often heard all this before, all these numerous voices in the river, but today they sounded different. He could no longer distinguish the different voices—the merry voice from the weeping voice, the childish voice from the manly voice. They all belonged to each other…they were all interwoven and interlocked, entwined in a thousand ways. And all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life…Siddhartha listened attentively to this song of a thousand voices…” ~ Herman Hesse, pp. 110-11

Baby Max’s middle name is River. It connects him to Lars. And when I went to visit Lars in hospice at the George Mark House, I sang him “Listen to the Water,” my new favorite lullaby.

Listen to the water
Listen to the water
Rolling down the river
Rolling down the river

Shekinah couldn’t remember the words after I’d gone, but she adapted it to:

Listen to the water
Listen to the water
It’s calling you back home.

To further deepen the river metaphor, at the top is a piece of artwork made by Shekinah at my baby shower, when she was around 6 months pregnant. I am in love with this river.

Below are images from my sketchbook, as I searched to make sense of Lars’ life.


Today’s bookmaking workshop was a blast! To start we made a small signature and flag book and then everyone worked independently on their own vision. While a couple artists made awesome father’s day gifts for their partners, one made a book for her girls and another made a book for writing poetry! One artist even came with her ideas already story-boarded.  Lots of fun, thanks for being there!



Bookmaking Workshop, June 10

Please join me for an afternoon of ARTING next Sunday! All are welcome. to sign up!

Sun June 10, 2-5pm – DIY Handmade Journals 

HackerMom/arts educator Brooke shows us how to assemble, sew, and design a book to be used as a diary or sketchbook. Using simple art techniques we will create colorful, creative pages that will inspire your writing or drawing. Ages 10 and up, all skill levels welcome. Materials: Feel free to bring: special collage materials, fancy papers, envelopes, paint, letter stamps, old credit or library cards, or anything you want to add to your book. (Materials not required).
Free for HackerMoms, $15 for non-members, $2 materials fee covers special bookmaking glue & thread, all other materials free
$5/hr babysitting available, please RSVP

The fear of giving birth

I’m not afraid to admit that I was afraid of giving birth. Serious FEAR, people. Pregnancy was no picnic for me, and I expected labor to be the end. Would I even survive to see the other side? I didn’t think I was strong enough, mentally or physically. And I was convinced I would let myself and others down. Disappointment all around was coming my way. 

Making artwork about these emotions helped me face them. I started a journal and designed the cover with the baby in mind. Throughout pregnancy I felt drawn to music and lyrics, so I included sheet music as the background, and since this baby was and is going to be an artist, I printed verbs of inquiry about the world. I added the obligatory ultrasound photos and image of my belly, reflected on why I was grateful, and wrote myself notes of courage.






The layered egg/cocoon page above firmly established my connection to the womb. I was pregnant. Holy cow. And this organic fetus thing was going to have to come out! Through my vagina! I hoped.

I made a page in tribute to Frida, my goddess of strength.

After the December meeting of the White Noise Collective, I created the page above about embracing all that you need to face, including the fear of childbirth, the challenge of raising socially conscious white kids, and the need to share resources and build community. The umbilical cord is a discarded print, a draft that was part of a multiplate print for my inspiring mama friend Tenaya. She has taught me to be a loving, compassionate, and educated mama! Although she now lives with her partner and beautiful babe in faraway Idaho, I got to be inspired by her transformation into motherhood, which happened here in California.

At my transformation themed baby shower—a month before my due date—my mother gave out amaryllis bulbs. A few weeks later people started sending me their photos of the bloomed flowers, hoping it was a sign that I had gone into labor. But my bulb remained closed. When it finally began to open I began drawing it every day, reflecting on the journey (or, as I saw it, the barrier) that lay before me, and envisioning my body transforming and opening.

The last page I made before labor was about Surrendering. Ultimately my birth did not go as planned. Whose does?! If I wanted the natural birth I wanted, I needed to focus on surrendering to the pain. As it turns out, I did, in the form of an epidural. My doula says I could have gone without it, but I didn’t want to. After 32 hours of contractions two to three minutes apart, and a left side pain in between that one nurse suggested might be a kidney stone, I was going to surrender to the medication gods. Mind you this was a decision it took me h o u r s to make, but once I did I was in heaven, and I was ready to PUSH. After just two more hours, a bit of pitocin, LOTS of pushing pain (wow, the epidural didn’t numb that out), an episiotomy and a tear, the little babe was born.

Until recently, I struggled with these details. I would never have been able to admit to you that I had all these interventions. It would be a disappointment in your eyes, and therefore in mine. But today I feel confident. I feel grateful. I don’t care about any possible disappointment that exists out there or in here. I can say that for me it doesn’t matter at all how he got here, because that glowing smile of his is glorious.

will my son be racist?

This past Tuesday I returned to the White Noise Collective, a group that looks at the intersection of race and gender. These gatherings are always inspiring and remind me of my passion for anti-racist work. The last meeting I attended, in December, raised the question of child-rearing and white mothering. It occurred to me for the first time that I was about to take on the responsibility of raising a white child. And what if it was a boy? How does one raise a socially conscious, empathetic white male? Now that Max is out in the world, and attending anti-racist meetings, I plan on finding out!

I hope to avoid creating for my son what I—and most white people—experience: the trauma of privilege. Yes, this sounds crazy. But it is the trauma of ignoring the suffering and oppression of others. We are cultured away from being caring, empathetic human beings and are instead told to embrace our privilege. Vanissar Tarakali, a somatic therapist, says that we white people create armor for ourselves that protects us from those memories of helplessness. It wasn’t until I was well into my college years that I started unraveling this armor. And it didn’t really click until I went and worked abroad, in Guatemala, where I was forced to face my own paternalism and colonialism. Racism is an ugly disease, and so of course we hide it away and pretend it doesn’t exist. What, me? Racist? No way! But in order to fight it we must face it head-on. As painful as it is, we must acknowledge our racist tendencies and unravel the mess.

Recently I found this artwork in my old portfolio. Immediately I noticed the anger and sarcasm, both of which are part of the intimate process of discovering that your world is a great big lie. I don’t want Max’s life to be filled with lies, ones that he will later on have to make sense of. I don’t want him to have to ignore the suffering of others and feel the trauma of racism. But can good parenting overcome a culture that pushes my son to be racist?

Please, send along your resources on this topic!