July 17, 2013

The Temescal Learning Community: A Year into the Research

Members of the Temescal Learning Community look at student work with Project Zero researchers.

Members of the Temescal Learning Community look at student work with Project Zero researchers.

Dissecting the design thinking process and debating how to measure agency: that’s how the Temescal Learning Community (TLC) spent our spring study group session. Rollicking discussions prevailed. A year has quickly passed since we had our first session, now seems like an appropriate moment to pause, see where we’ve been, and survey the horizon.

The TLC operates as the practitioner partner of the Agency by Design (AbD) research project. The group is comprised of educators from four schools in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland who were willing to take a leap and join a Project Zero (PZ) research endeavor. With the help of these teachers, we at PZ have tested several activities to learn more about the impact of design and making opportunities in the classroom.

A teacher in the Temescal Learning Community shares a student-redesigned treehouse.

A teacher in the Temescal Learning Community shares a student-redesigned treehouse.

Over the past year, we have been designing and redesigning learning experiences and looking closely at the resulting student work with the TLC teachers. At the first meeting of the TLC, we began with an activity that got the teachers onto the streets near their schools, to take pictures, or find artifacts, in order to create a museum style display that depicted portions of the neighborhood’s story. Last July, the TLC members endured the humidity of the Northeast to participate in the Project Zero Classroom. At the weeklong institute participants learned about research frameworks and teaching practices developed at PZ.

In the fall of 2012, we explored the theme “developing a sensitivity to design in the world” by examining the design of several objects, ideas, and systems. Beginning with objects, teachers explored various activities with us during workshops and then tried them with students in their classrooms. When we came back together we looked at the students’ work to try to determine how young people think about design in the world.

Members of the Temescal Learning Community using tactile materials to redesign systems in their community.

Members of the Temescal Learning Community using tactile materials to redesign systems in their community.

In the middle of the school year, we worked through a version of the design thinking process to redesign objects first, and then systems. Later, TLC educators had their students do the same. It might not be surprising to learn that examining and redesigning systems presents a challenging task for learners of all ages. In our learning group we looked carefully at students’ models of systems and their understanding of the parts, purposes, and complexities of systems. As you might guess this process resulted in new questions for our research team.

In late March we had our last full learning group session for the school year. We divided our time into two conversations. First, the teachers reflected on using the design thinking process with their students and then moved into our next theme: “developing a sense of agency with regard to design in the world.” (Check back for more details on these two conversations in upcoming blog posts.)

It has been a fruitful year. At the last meeting, during very passionate debates over how to measure agency, it became quite clear that we had really created a community.  During that meeting several of us voiced our appreciation for the opportunity to work with a group of educators who were committed to taking risks, thinking out loud, agreeing, disagreeing, and laughing together. Now, we look forward to welcoming new teacher members to our expanding group and thinking about our goals for next year.

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