Decolonizing STEMM

Decolonizing STEMM: An Ignite Talk by 2017-2018 Agency by Design Oakland Teacher Fellow Reina Cabezas


Reina Cabezas is a CTE Engineering Coach with the Oakland Unified School District. In her Ignite Talk, presented at Agency by Design Oakland's year-end event on Saturday, May 5, Reina focuses on decolonizing STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, & Making), and how she explored this idea with students. She then invites us to find the elders in our community in order to liberate indigenous STEMM practices, so that students can both know their history and innovate for the future.  

“I offer that liberating STEMM indigenous practices might be what we need to interrupt misguiding ourselves and misguiding our students.”

Watch Reina's inspiring Ignite Talk below!  And follow the #PictureofPractice hashtag to see more Ignite Talks and leadership from our 2017 - 2018 Teacher Fellows.   


"[Maker-centered learning] is inspiring, hands-on, and relevant to the world we interact with all day."

Reina Cabezas
CTE Engineering Coach, OUSD

Reina Cabezas has been an educator for ten years in Oakland and the Bay Area. She started out teaching 4th grade very traditionally, and later found technology, maker edu, fab labs, and engineering, which led to a way of teaching that inspired her. Reina is a mother of two teenage boys, and is herself a Xicana daughter and granddaughter of refugee parents from Central America who define what it means to "make" for her.   

Making it Routine: Parts, Purposes, & Complexities in a Middle School Making Class

Making it Routine: Parts, Purposes, & Complexities in a Middle School Making Class

A Picture of Practice, by Agency by Design Oakland Teaching Fellow Amy Dobras

Amy Dobras is the 7th and 8th grade Making Teacher at Lighthouse Community Charter School. Over the course of her fellowship year, Amy regularly implemented the thinking routine Parts, Purposes & Complexities, using different objects and tools to find out how the student reflections would change over time.

 Students testing their designs in the Creativity Lab at Lighthouse Community Charter School.

Students testing their designs in the Creativity Lab at Lighthouse Community Charter School.

This year, in the Agency by Design Oakland fellowship, I practiced the Thinking Routine Parts, Purposes & Complexities (PPC), multiple times with my class, with different kinds of experiences and prompts, to see if my students would have—over time—deeper understandings of how things work, as well as more genuine reflections and questions.

I teach how to TINKER in my Making class. At first many students have no idea what it mean to tinker and they don’t know how to do it. They often want to be told how to do it, they want to be shown how to do it, and they want to make sure they are doing it “right.”  As they practice learning how to tinker through making activities (such as the building a scribble bot or making a paper circuit), they start to realize that there is no right way to do this. I think it is similar with Parts, Purposes & Complexities when students first start. They are unfamiliar with this kind of thinking routine, they haven’t done it before, and they are maybe intimidated by the open-ended nature of it, or the lack of a “correct answer.” But, they quickly realize—after practicing it a few times—that it is a new way of thinking about something and they begin to develop a design mindset.

experience #1: Parts, Purposes & Complexities of a Pen

All of my students took apart a ball point pen and labeled the PARTS (they created names for the parts when they did not know the real names), attempted to explain the PURPOSE of each part, and came up with several COMPLEXITIES. I realized early on that coming up with complexities was difficult for my students, so for this first activity we brainstormed complexities together. 


I learned that my students struggle with understanding complexities and how to form genuine questions around the complexities of an object.

I also learned that by facilitating a group brainstorm of complexities my students did much better. When we brainstormed the complexities together, of a common item (a pen), we came up with several sentence starts and ideas on how we could approach a complexity. This allowed my students to come up with many complexities.

I wonder….

This reminds me of….

This is similar to or connects to...

I'm wondering about the materials that made the parts...

Wondering how the parts were made or designed...

Asking a question..

I did this same activity (taking apart a pen), with 2 different classes. In one class I did not provide examples of complexities and I did not brainstorm with the class a group list of examples, largely because I wanted to leave it open ended and see what they came up with. However, I was not surprised when they did not come up with many complexities, and I realized quickly that they really didn’t understand how to approach this idea of finding complexities of an everyday object.

The second time I facilitated this same activity with a different group of students I slowed down and took the time to brainstorm as a class many complexities before they did it on their own. This led to a much more successful experience, and all my students were able to come up with several complexities on their own. Upon reflection, I realized that my students just needed practice with this new Thinking Routine. I connected it to the idea of teaching students how to think in a new way and how to have a “Maker Mindset.”

I learned that it is valuable to have students all do a take apart on the same item so that we can share our ideas and learn how to think about complexities together.

Experience #2: Parts, Purposes & Complexities of your hand 

As an introductory lesson in a new unit I had my students practice PPCs of their own hand. They drew and then labeled the parts, explained the purpose of each part, and considered the complexities of their hand and how it works. They then started to build a mechanical hand that could pick up things. 


EXPERIENCE #3: Taking Apart Musical Cards

As an introductory activity before we made light up cards with paper circuits, I had my students take apart musical greeting cards while practicing the PPC routine.


EXPERIENCE #4: Reflecting & Brainstorming Ideas

Students were asked to reflect on the prompts: “Why take apart everyday objects?” and “What can we learn?” They were also asked what they would like to take apart if they could choose. 


Experience #5: Parts, Purposes & Complexities of an Object of their Choice

Students took apart an object of their choice and then curated a poster display. Again, they were prompted to label the parts (this time looking up some of the real names of the parts), explain the purposes, and come up with some complexities. A few of the objects they took apart were phones, cameras, laptops, a CD player, a keyboard, and a fan. 

I learned that student choice leads to student engagement. 

When I asked my students what they wanted to take apart, rather than just giving them something to take apart, they were much more engaged. Some of the most popular items requested to take apart were cell phones, video game controllers, bikes, & mechanical toys. 

I learned that a simple take apart Like a Pen, or observing your own hand, can be just as impactful as a more complicated take apart.

Often, when a take apart was more complex my students got caught up in the excitement of taking apart the objects, which usually translated into spending less time on the thinking routine and documenting their ideas. I found that simple objects that required slow looking, in parallel with the thinking routine, elicited a lot more thoughtful responses and observations. 

I learned that showing my students real world examples of take aparts, like from the book "Things Come Apart," inspired some of them to create thoughtful displays of their take aparts.

Believe or not, such an easy thing like simply showing them some artwork, made a huge difference when it came time for my students to display their work. I encouraged them to display the parts of their object in an artistic way and I noticed that it slowed them down in a new way, the same as how the thinking routine also slowed them down and asked them to think in a new way. For me, the display became yet another way for my students to think and reflect on the Parts, Purposes, and Complexities of everyday objects, further developing their Maker and Design Mindsets. 


"I hope that teaching making will help shake up the equity imbalance in our world and get more students of color and girls in these careers that have always largely been white and male. So, for me, teaching Making is important because it is all about equity and trying to build and "make" a more equitable world."

Amy Dobras
Making Teacher (7th & 8th), Lighthouse Community Charter School, Oakland

Amy Dobras teaches 7th & 8th grade Making at Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, and has been teaching and working in education in public high schools (and non-profits) with low income students of color for the past 15 years in SF and Oakland. She is a mother to two daughters, a soccer coach, and has a passion for origami, carving wooden spoons, and photography. Along with making, Amy loves to swim, bike, surf, climb, and paddle.

How to Sustain the Work when Support Decreases

Integrating Design Thinking and Art in a Public Montessori School

by Agency by Design Oakland Teacher Fellows Ana Carrasco and David Harris, Urban Montessori Charter School

WHAT HAPPENS, AND WHAT WORKS, WHEN SUPPORT DECREASES? After a decrease from outside support for Design Thinking integration, Teacher Fellows David and Ana experimented this school year with new ways of supporting teachers to integrate Design Thinking and the Arts, building on work that had begun at the school in the previous years. Over the course of the fall and winter David and other collaborators tried different strategies and structures to sustain this work. Below is a letter they've written to their school colleagues, as well as a full report on their efforts and reflections. 

Dear Colleagues, Board, and Future Head of School,

We believe it is imperative to prioritize time for planning, goal setting, and building structures and systems in the areas of Art Integration and Design Thinking Practices. Teachers and students would benefit from a clear, sequential curriculum, with hands on training and creative spaces to do this work. There could be a more diverse and differentiated curriculum, which could include inviting experts in to build on teacher creativity. These best practices and a clear arts and design curriculum would foster real project based learning. Classroom levels will experience a sense of identity and unity working through the various projects together. Teachers will feel more aligned in their practices, sharing out student work and learnings in professional learning communities.

Thus, professional development and hands on training throughout the school year in these areas is necessary for maximum support and growth. The Montessori philosophy is directly correlated with the design mindset, both emphasizing observation and understanding through empathy as well as intrinsic creativity and independence. They should be thought of as complementary and we need to build on that foundation. Art and design integration with Montessori would provide multiple access points for all learners.  

Especially since a new Head of School will be in place next year, it is an important time to revisit and renew the systems and goals for these curricular pillars. We need to ask ourselves: What do we want students to get out of this work? What should it look like day-to-day in classrooms? and What should the experience be for students moving through the program from Kindergarten to Middle School?

There are hours of planning to be done and as shown in the data, the teaching staff is ready and willing to do this important work. This demonstrates that teachers understand the significance of this work and know it will have a positive impact on their classrooms. It is critical that we make time to step back to see the big picture in preparation for this next year’s curriculum planning around art and design at Urban Montessori Charter School.


Ana Carrasco

PROBLEM STATEMENT: Teachers are already working hard to deliver the Montessori academic curriculum so there isn’t extra bandwidth for the “more creative” curriculum that we should be integrating. Additionally, I’m not an expert, and I need support to learn the skills myself and to then teach the kids. I need help supporting exciting hands-on projects and a sequentially integrated curriculum that has a clear progression to be successful.

Long Term Proposal: Combine option #1 and #3 in the March survey sent to staff (see the full report to read more). We need someone on staff to hold the art and design work. This would involve but not be limited to curriculum mapping standards across multiple content areas and the arts, demonstrating and co-teaching arts integrated lessons, and planning and preparing arts integration lessons, assignments, assessments and materials. I also suggest a multi-use space where teachers could schedule time outside the classroom, where the teacher could serve students, and that teacher would also host outside specialists to build on curriculum.

David Harris

PROBLEM STATEMENT: A main problem I experienced while being the school lead for this work is that I had no access to leadership decision making, and wasn’t able to advocate for pushing the work forward, purchasing equipment, scheduling meetings and professional development, etc. The second main problem was that it was no longer possible for only one person, with little to no time in my day schedule, to support this work for all four levels (Primary, Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary and Middle School). I had failed to do that for the last two years. Also, though there is the possibility of more teachers participating in the Agency by Design fellowship next year, and also of a return of support from the, Urban Montessori cannot rely on outside agencies to sustain the program, it needs to develop structures and school staff to do the work.

Short Term Proposal: For this upcoming school year, given the budgetary challenges, I would propose that the level leads (one teacher from each level, who represents the level on the Instructional Leadership Team, and runs level meetings several times a month), and a partner from each level, take on the Arts Integration and Design Thinking work. It would be cost effective. The level lead would be advocating for the work on the ILT, and making sure the necessary PD time was allocated, while the co-level advocate supports the logistics, as a teacher coach, facilitating the development of activities or units and running the PDs.


Ana Carrasco, Lead Montessori Teacher in Lower Elementary, Urban Montessori Charter School in Oakland


David Harris, Former Design Thinking and Arts Integration Lead, & Former 1st - 3rd grade Support eacher, Urban Montessori Charter School, Oakland

David Harris was formerly a UMCS support teacher in a 1st to 3rd grade classroom. He was also the school's Creative Catalyst, leading planning, curriculum development and PD for the arts integration and design thinking programs. David came to elementary teaching after doing several kinds of other jobs, including working for seven years in OUSD's adult education program, where he taught English and basic skills and was a teacher on special assignment who served as a site coordinator and planner for professional development. He has also worked as an artist and writer in a variety of ways since college, now focusing his attention on writing and illustrating books for children. 

Maker Identity: Students of Color Sustaining and Creating Identities in Maker Education

Maker Identity, An Ignite Talk by 2017-2018 Agency by Design Oakland Teacher Fellow Roxy Martínez

“Our students, youth of color, navigate worlds that tell them that their home identities and their school identities have to be kept separate. And, in fact, their ability to do that is essential for their success in education. Does the MAKER MOVEMENT contribute to these tensions? YES.”  

Roxy Martínez is a Resource Specialist at Grass Valley Elementary School in Oakland. At the Agency by Design Oakland year end event on Saturday, May 5, Roxy presented her talk entitled, "Students of Color Sustaining and Creating Identities in Maker Education." Roxy spoke to the importance of maker education not being another tool to oppress our students, and instead a means of liberation. 

“Making is a manifestation, it’s a proclamation, and it’s a celebration of who we are, and who we always have been.”
“The maker movement has the potential to reproduce harmful hierarchies. Is it inevitable that the maker movement reproduce these hierarchies? Absolutely not. But unchecked and unchallenged, it will.”  

Check out Roxy's amazing Ignite Talk below! And see more leadership from our 2017 - 2018 Teacher Fellows by following the #PictureofPractice hashtag. 


“Teaching is a Political Act. It’s essential for the liberation of our students of color.”


-Roxy Martínez

Resource Teacher/Education Specialist, Grass Valley Elementary School, OUSD

Thinking Tinkering: A Teacher Podcast Series

Thinking Tinkering Podcast & GUIDE

Picture of Practice by Agency by Design Oakland 2017-2018 Teacher Fellows Susan Lee and Katy Ailes

“The thing that stands out is that people are really joyful at the end of the meeting.” Susan Lee

“Now I have the tools to lead professional development. We used the Parts, Purposes, Complexities thinking routine with teachers to plan curriculum. It was so rich and deep and it only took 15 minutes. People were like, ‘Why have I never taught it this way before?’” Katy Ailes

Katy Ailes and Susan Lee are Lower Elementary teachers at Park Day School in Oakland. Both in their second year of the Agency by Design Oakland fellowship, they decided to focus their inquiry work on leadership & coaching. Because they wanted to have a greater impact at their school site they ultimately chose to implement an opt-in professional learning community. To document this process and share the work with others, Katy and Susan created a podcast series and a flow chart guide, to share how they used Agency by Design ideas to shape and create rich learning opportunities for their colleagues. 

Thinking Tinkering Podcast Series

“And it made me feel very connected in a heartfelt way, to the people I work with, because we weren’t just meeting our minds, we were meeting other parts of ourselves, our souls, our hearts.”- Park Day School Teacher Participant

Episode 1

Susan and Katy discuss how they arrived at this project and the history of maker-centered learning at Park Day School. They interview Ilya Pratt, a member of Agency by Design Oakland's Leadership Team, and the Director of the Design+Make+Engage Program and Innovation Workshop at Park Day School. Ilya describes the developmental and multi-sensory educational approaches used at Park Day, and the roots and evolution of maker-centered learning at the school, and how these connect directly with the Innovation Workshop. Katy and Susan then go on to talk about the development of the professional learning communities, and the strategies and challenges of implementing them. 

Episode 2

Susan and Katy explore what happened during the maker meet-ups they implemented, and hear from teachers about the impact of these workshop on school culture and students, and on their own professional learning. Susan and Katy review thinking routines and how they can provide language and framework for maker-centered learning. Teachers at Park Day then describe what they have learned from the thinking routines and how the maker meet-ups have changed their perspectives and approaches. 

Episode 3

Susan and Katy reflect on how they've worked to bring maker-centered learning to the forefront of how teachers think or re-think their curriculum, and thoughts on how they hope to continue to move forward. Susan and Katy learned that the meet-ups can provide a common ground for everyone to work together when collaborating and planning, and that thinking together in the meetings enabled agency in teachers in a new way. They noticed that participants left meetings happier, lighter, and inspired. Susan and Katy also walk through the logistics of setting up the meet-ups for teachers interested in creating their own at their school. They discuss questions such as: How do you bring in administrators? How do you bring in colleagues who don’t feel like they connect to this kind of work?

Does your school engage in discussions around Maker-Centered Learning?

In addition to the podcast series Katy and Susan also created the resource below for other educators and school leaders thinking about bring maker-centered learning to their school site. This flow chart is an invitation to explore new ideas and resources and was presented at our 2018 Culminating Event, where a number of workshops and activities also explored how to ignite maker-centered learning at your school site. 

FLOW CHART MCL and Abd KAiles and SLee.jpg

"I engage in maker-centered learning because I think it is important to empower children to have agency, to know they can do something about problems they see in the world.  Maker-centered learning is important because it develops children's mindfulness around the complexities of our world and the systems within the world.  I have never seen children more curious, invested and inspired than when they dive into a maker-centered project that matters to them."

Katy Ailes
First Grade Teacher, Park Day School, Oakland

Katy Ailes teaches first grade at Park Day School, where she has been teaching for 3 years. Park Day is a progressive school and our mission centers around social justice and supporting children to see themselves as change makers. She is in her 11th year as a teacher, and has also taught in public schools in New York City and in Sacramento. Katy’s other passion aside from teaching is ballet and she still dances and teaches ballet in the Bay Area. 


"Maker-centered learning allows access points for all students. It empowers students to think critically and creatively. It also helps foster students' abilities to collaborate, problem-solve and to look closely at their own work. I love that it builds positive self-esteem and "can-do" approaches among my students."

-Susan Lee
2nd Grade Teacher, Park Day School, Oakland

Susan Lee is a teacher at Park Day School working with inquisitive and enthusiastic second graders. Her hobbies include reading, writing and baking. 

Many Experts in the Classroom: Redirecting Authority

Many Experts in the Classroom: Redirecting Authority

Picture of Practice with Agency by Design Oakland 2017-2018 Teacher Fellow Mallory Moser

Mallory Moser is the 11th Grade Graphic Design Teacher & Media Academy Director at Oakland International High School, which serves English language learners from around the world. She completed her second year as a Teacher Fellow with Agency by Design Oakland this school year, and decided to focus on the instructional practice of redirecting authority to drive her inquiry and learn how it would affect the dynamics of her classroom. To learn more about maker-centered learning instructional practices read more in Chapter 2 of Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds. 

 Mallory showing her students around a camera at Oakland International High School

Mallory showing her students around a camera at Oakland International High School

Ask any educator who teaches a class of 25 or 30 students what their biggest challenge is, and they will most likely point to the fact that they cannot possibly reach every student with the individualized instruction or support they need. How can we change this?

My inquiry question into this issue was “How can I set up structures in the classroom that will help me redirect authority and promote an ethic of knowledge sharing?” The goal was to eliminate the many voices calling for my help, and instead have:

1) A group of students who were trained to be co-teachers
2) A place in the classroom where struggling students could see who they could ask for help
3) Language frames to support both the experts and those in need of help

 Students at OIHS working together on an interview. 

Students at OIHS working together on an interview. 

I began by training a small group of students in each period to learn specific skills so they could help other students film interviews. Filming an interview requires many technical skills - from the setup of cameras with full batteries, empty SD cards and charged microphones, to location scouting and making sure the video was in focus with good composition, lighting and background. I took the time to train 4-5 students in each of my classes who could circulate to help the 3 or 4 groups that would be out at a time. I put their names on the board in an “Experts This Week” table, and would put helpful language frames in slides that I would leave up during work time.

Students self-selected to be experts in each class. Some of the students who volunteered were not the students I expected (mostly because they weren't the highest level English speakers), but all of them wanted to deepen their understanding of how to use cameras and help other groups in that process.

After the small sessions, these experts had a much deeper understanding of how to set up interviews than their classmates. My classroom went from the image on the left below, to the image on the right. 

 The classroom went from this....

The classroom went from this.... this! this!

You can see a classroom of frustrated students and an overwhelmed teacher in the first picture. After the intervention and inquiry, students were helping one another, learning from each other, and ultimately mastering content through the act of explaining and teaching each other.

Through this experience I learned that training a few experts means that there are more teachers in the room - which was a huge relief! I felt like I was able to help students individually with their messages and the content because the experts were helping with set up. Additionally, having experts move around and support other groups led to much better final products, and I was able to focus on the groups of students that were struggling and really needed my support.

Putting in the little bit of extra time and energy to establish systems that redirected authority away from me and back to the students was well worth it. This inquiry was a total success for me (minus a couple of students that didn’t take the role as seriously as I would have liked), and I’m already thinking about how I can teach experts in every unit to help with the lift of technical support and skills.


"Encouraging students to engage in the making process teaches them problem-solving skills that go beyond the discrete (and quickly obsolete) technical proficiencies of any given software program. I think failure, communication skills, teamwork, and problem solving are universal criteria for building successful teams and products, so I try to support the process of making as much as the development of a final product."

-Mallory Moser
11th Grade Graphic Design Teacher & Media Academy Director, Oakland International High School, OUSD

Mallory Moser is a Bay Area native and is passionate about art, education (policy and practice) and activism. After working internationally in education microfinance and education technology, Mallory decided to change careers and step into the classroom. She loves teaching and working with teenagers, and finds this work to be highly creative because there is always a new challenge around the corner. This is her fourth year teaching at Oakland International High School, which serves newcomer refugees and immigrants, representing over 30 countries from around the world. Mallory teaches media skills to 11th graders - from basic computer skills to photography, graphic design, video game development, coding, and movie making - and is  also the Media Academy Director.