Creating The Makery

From backyard dreaming to reality, The Makery installed its first storefront Pop Up.  For the last two weeks in August, we transformed an art gallery in Brooklyn, NY into a temporary Makerspace.  Aside from outfitting the space with tools like Makerbot Replicators, soldering equipment, electronics, and fabrication materials, the heart of the transformation was the people and workshop environment.  Through centering activities around creative imagineering and what kids wanted to make, we weaved in learning about 3D digital design and fabrication, physical computing, game design, and computer programming.  In the evenings and weekends, we opened our doors to adults to try out and tinker as well.  The Makery moves this type of opportunity outside of institutional settings onto the street front and hopefully enables kids who may not have found this entry point to begin figuring out how to make what they imagine.  The aim is to eventually open a permanent storefront and space where the community can come together to explore, design, and make, but until then we intend to keep popping up.

From launching paper rockets to being gifted huge red balloons which we turned into aerial photography contraption by hacking a camera and building a circuit to remotely control it, every day at The Makery has been an adventure.   Here’s an article that paints a picture about the fun we had learning and our Flickr stream.

Constantly Iterating

A lot learned in the pilot year of EDesign Lab (formerly called DTC Lab).  There are various structural dynamics that make the real time needs of learners and teachers difficult to see, prioritize, and expertly address through designed solutions.   The lab was able to bridge the expertise of creative technologists and teachers for user-centered prototyping.   Part of the model’s inspiration borrows from witnessing the powerful solutions that can be developed within just a weekend long hackathon (commonly used in the technology industry), and simultaneously addresses the limitations of what can be thoughtfully made and persist beyond those types of events.   Every lab member holds their primary full-time jobs as either a teacher or technologist.  Thus teachers are bringing in the real time needs and experiences of their students, likewise the technologists are bringing in their real time experience of developing creative applications for their commercial clients.   The lab sessions facilitated the productive use of this limited but powerful time together.    In practice, the lab is basically an extended and strongly facilitated hackathaon/designathon — providing the forum and methods to enable longer term collaborative thinking and making.  While meeting as a whole lab about 2-3 times per month and while holding other full time jobs , over  ~ 3.5 month design cycles, we managed to rapidly generate and transform user-driven concepts into trial-able prototypes for students and teachers.  The concepts ranged from re-imagining the discussion board to considering the benefits of karaoke.  In our second design cycle, we built and engaged students with two prototypes Reading Robot, an iPad app exploring teachable agents to support active reading and Evidently, an open, youth scientific community.  

Each prototype hopefully clearly articulates a real time need we identified, and offers tangible specs for a potential solution.  Aside from what we made, a special community of interdisciplinary colleagues formed that will hopefully grow.  Excited for its second year.   More frequent updates on the lab’s site.

Experimenting with Collaborative Prototyping

For many reasons, the design of digital learning experiences and technologies are quite distanced from the end user.  The amount of user-centered design that goes into the creation of a new consumer product should be the same as the amount of user-centered design that goes into creating new education.  While smart and passionate people have been venturing into the ed tech start up space, many do not come from educator backgrounds and may not see the full spectrum of needs that represent opportunities to make an impact.  What would happen if you mixed teachers with deep expertise in student-centered learning needs and technologists with deep expertise about digital interactions to concept together from the beginning?  What kinds of digital learning experiences could be imagined?  Would it produce prototypes that highlight unmet needs? Kind of like an extended hackjam, the DTC Lab is a collaborative between educators, technologists, and designers to prototype examples of what interactive learning experiences can look like that integrate emerging digital contexts and focus on the learner.  More about the experiment and the concepts we’re building here.

Design-thinking & Future-thinking with Kids

A group of NYC cultural institutions tapped me for a fun design project, work with students to design education in 2050.   Given 2050 is rather abstract, our mission ratcheted down to redesigning current products for “the future.” Aside from soaking in the imagination boost that 5th graders radiate, I was surprised by some of the thoughts that surfaced.

When you ask adults to imagine the future of education, they often gravitate to algorithmically individualized learning and interactions with objects.   Yet in nearly every storyboard scenario created and every conversation on how they would use products to learn, the students gravitated to highly valuing social and face-to-face interactions.  When asked how they would use the “virtual helmet” they designed, the high schoolers replied,”[to connect] at home.” One of many take-aways is that we must design for both personalized learning and social learning.

Each imagining session was rapid (1/2 day long) , but importantly, we started by posing the question of how you learned something (understand the problem you are designing a solution for).   The fifth graders produced some colorful storyboards (with common themes arising of learning from hands-on, context-rich, out of the classroom experiences).


We asked the fifth graders to examine (purpose/problems/strengths of) the desk, the whiteboard, and the notebook and to then redesign them.   One product that emerged was inter-connected big/mini boards that filled the needs of ESL students through auto-translation and verbal command features.   Similarly we asked high school students to map out how they learn and challenged them to define the purpose of the lecture, the homework, and the test and then to create new products for improving those learning processes.  The students presented their product designs last week at MobilityShifts and impressed at least one reporter as young designers of learning futures.


YouPD and Peer-led Professional Development

a quest for what works

What are ways adults can (and already do) learn from each other?  How can we think differently about how teachers can develop their craft and be recognized for their expertise? Especially in the profession of teaching, what of value goes unacknowledged that can instead be visualized, celebrated, and professionalized? After very rapid design/development this past spring and a limited introduction this summer, (beta) has been a useful exploration of these questions through real world application of some hypotheses. is a peer-driven professional development community, questing together for what works.   Noticing the numbers of teachers seeking out other teachers and resources online,  as well as the large gaps in understanding how to effectively engage in virtual and blended learning, we wondered how a platform could better support that need and community.   The site mimics a lot of the ways  learning and professional development occurs in the coding and tech communities —  often self-directed, open-sourced, and peer-supported.   It also tries to integrate some of the positive dynamics of social networks and social incentives.   Part crowd-sourcing and part crowd-supporting, YouPD’s iterative development is attempting to figure out a few ideas:  1)  how to bubble-up teachers’ unique and valuable bottom-up knowledge in way that goes beyond just trading lesson plans,  2) how to motivate through social recognition both individual and community professional growth, 3) how to design meaningful challenges to facilitate teachers in pushing themselves and each other further, 4) if facilitating blended learning for students requires teachers to first experience blended learning themselves,  5) how to enable an authentic, peer-led community.

On you can do three main things:  1) Post or watch hacks — in this context a short 3-5 minute video or screencast explaining how you creatively solved a problem that you think others might benefit from trying as well,  2) Take badge-earning challenges that facilitate steps to developing a skill and outcome goal,  3) Participate in the peer community — giving feedback on others’ hacks, recommending a hack, tagging content, visiting other teachers who inspire you, going to a Blender/physical meetup,  etc.

Micro-actions on the site add to an individual’s “Cred Quotient” and earn points as Learners, Sharers, Influencers, and Collaborators.  The “Cred Quotient” is visible on individuals’ profile pages.  In addition to the community spaces, the individual profile acts as both an organizing tool (e.g. to find saved “playlists” of hacks, contributions, challenge badges) and potentially, in the future, a professionally valued portfolio of sorts.

As opposed to top-down, district-defined PD needs, YouPD is experimenting with ways for teachers to define their own learning needs, help solve each other’s learning needs, and be recognized for that personal growth and professional community.   From a research perspective, as participation grows,  it’s also a data-driven way to begin to see and understand aggregate patterns in what teachers are interested in learning (hacks they are clicking on and/or creating), which can potentially inform where and how to invest more resources.

Many questions and challenges remain as this site is further introduced, but some promising anecdotes are emerging of peer connections being forged.   See a snapshot of features not covered in this post through this short prezi, or visit the site.

Flipping The Classroom

Salman Khan of Khan Academy concisely articulates the potential for online learning to flip the classroom.  The goal is to use technology to humanize education.   Rather than focusing on student to teacher ratios, the key metric is the ratio of student to valuable human time.  Rather than lecturing and grading, teachers (or peers) can sit with the learner and facilitate what is normally assigned for homework, flipping the classroom.   Meanwhile, Video pause, rewind, and replay enables self-pacing.  So far data at Khan Academy seems to suggest that labels of gifted vs. challenged may often be due to a coincidence of time.  And that true, full mastery should be a goal for all.

For me, the interplay with Los Altos School District is also an interesting example of closer connections between emerging solution development and end users — a gap I’ve been thinking much about while working towards creating EDesign, a more user-centered and interdisciplinary collaborative to problem-solve for education innovation.

Animating Where Ideas Come From

The continuous drawings that Cognitive Media creates for RSA Animate and others convey information and simultaneously highlight the power of reading and writing beyond text.  From my personal perspective, both animations below, Steven Johnson on “Where Good Ideas Come From” and Sir Ken Robinson on “Changing Education Paradigms”, are engaging.  A useful thought exercise is considering how the visualizations and media format change the users’ experience and understanding of their ideas/knowledge compared to reading their words or watching them talk.  Layered on top is what if any difference channel creates, e.g. watching on a semi-social public platform like YouTube vs streaming from this post vs watching on one’s iphone vs watching in-person with other audience members.