Assessment in a Technology and Design classroom, at Wood Middle School

“I just love the jist of building stuff, and the think, make, and improve process where you have to brainstorm, build, think, and re-design. And it was just satisfying, looking at what I built.”
-Student, Wood Middle School

Sixth grade students in Ngà Nguyêñ’s Technology and Design class are supported with multiple assessment structures that promote reflection and agency. At the core of the class are engaging hands-on projects, like the assignment to build a rocket—in two weeks—that flies over 50 feet. These projects build in other content area skills, too, particularly math. “Everything we do is just a trick to get them to learn how to measure,” says Ngà. To successfully make a rocket students had to go through an iterative process of drafting, building, testing, re-design, and another round of testing. But it’s the additional assessment structures that Ngà has been experimenting with these days that are pushing his practice.

Ngà has collaborated with an on-site colleague and arts integration coach, Lindsey Shepard, to develop a student-centered reflection. At the end of the rocket project mentioned above, students create an artist statement, or “Designer Statement,” in which they choose a Studio Habit of Mind as a lens to reflect on their process. The Studio Habits of Mind is part of a framework developed by the research institute, Project Zero, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Similar to the Agency by Design research project, the Studio Think Framework was developing in collaboration with Bay Area educators, and outlines eight habits visibly evident in the art studio. Wood Middle School has introduced these habits school wide, using them as a tool to invest in arts integration across content areas. In Ngà’s class, the designer statements over time turn into portfolios, an authentic assessment tool used by real world professionals.  

“Engage and Persist is one of our Studio Habits of Mind. You just have to persist on what you’re doing. You’re always gonna fail, that’s just the path to success. Failure is not bad. You have to learn from your mistakes and not avoid them.”
-Student, Wood Middle School

Ngà also joined the Agency by Design Oakland fellowship in 2016, which further pushed his thinking around assessment for maker-centered learning in his classroom. In particular, Ngà was interested in having the students develop more agency in the assessment process, and wanted to create a daily structure that would support students’ work. Ultimately he developed a system of goal setting and reflection, where students would reflect on their own learning process and goals, hopefully making kids accountable to themselves. Specifically he hoped to pass on to students a disposition of always wanted to get better, always looking for something to improve on. He says, “[It’s about] always looking for that motion to move forward. Perfection never happens.” -Tinkering and Making Facilitator Ngà Nguyêñ

The routine goes like this: when students enter the class they pull out a worksheet and quickly begin looking a small white board near the door, where Ngà has listed the class agenda for the day. On their worksheet students respond to the questions, “What’s the day’s agenda? and What’s your goal?” Then, at the end of the class period, students spend time following up on the agenda and goal, responding to the questions, “What did you learn? What do you wonder about what you made today? How did the day go?” This process is reviewed at the end of each week with a 1-5 rating and a longer reflection. Ngà’s system and questions appear simple, but he believes that by making it a routine it will become a habit for his learners to be in control of their own learning.

Wood Middle School enrolls 6th, 7th, and 8th graders and is part of the Alameda Unified School District in Alameda, California.

Wonder and Making at Alliance Academy of Integrated Learning

“The more we make in school, the more it just becomes commonplace.”
-Alia Ghabra, 6th Grade Humanities and History Teacher, Alliance Academy of Integrated Learning

A’aron Heard and Alia Ghabra, collaborating teachers at Alliance Academy of Integrated Learning, wanted to incorporate art, design, and critical thinking into their ELA and Humanities lessons. Both were fellows in the Agency by Design Oakland 2016 - 2017 cohort, as well as participants in a School Transformation through the Arts grant, supported by the Integrated Learning Specialist Program. They decided that since Wednesdays were a minimum day—when class periods are so short teachers don’t often plan much—to experiment with this idea of ‘Wonder Wednesdays.’  The activities on Wonder Wednesdays spanned art making techniques such as drawing, watercolor, and sculpture, transforming what is often a dull class period into an engaging opportunity for both teachers and students to experiment.

“Knowing that we’re going to have a whole day to do art—the kids look forward to it. They come in on Wednesdays and are like ‘Art Wednesdays!’ That’s been great because it has made us think about when we are going to do art for each lesson.”
-Alia Ghabra, 6th Grade Humanities and History Teacher, Alliance Academy of Integrated Learning

These hands-on activities were also designed to connect to the lessons and objectives in their academic classes. For example, as part of a Humanities unit on the novel Dragonwings, about a young Chinese immigrant boy who comes to San Francisco in the early twentieth century and meets his father, a kite maker, the students made their own kites. As a way to develop a sensitivity to how kites are designed and constructed students were first asked to look closely at store bought kites. They used the Agency by Design thinking routine “Parts, Purposes, Complexities” to think about how they were built, what parts were they made of, and how they work. From there students did research and created diagrams about kites they would make themselves. Design thinking was emphasized throughout the process, enabling students to come up with their own idea, prototype it, identify where their successes and failures were, and then redesign.

“It’s really about—How can students navigate challenges, uncertainty, and ambiguity? Everything that we’ve been doing this year around systems thinking and maker capacities [in the Agency by Design Oakland fellowship], and really giving [the students] a project where it was up to them and their peers to think critically, problem solve, and be creative in the process.”
-A'aron Heard, 6th Grade Humanities Core Teacher, Alliance Academy of Integrated Learning

Alliance Academy of Integrated Learning is a Title I public middle school located in Oakland, California. The school serves predominantly Latino and African American students with a large population of English Language Learners.

This year Alliance has three teachers in the Agency by Design Oakland fellowship, including A’aron Heard, who has moved into a role teaching Drama. In addition, Alliance has hired an Arts Integration Specialist, Gretchen Baglyos, and Elyse Hatschek joins the cohort as an English and
Humanities teacher at Alliance.

Maker-Centered Learning at Grass Valley Elementary School

“Maker-centered learning means that there’s choice, freedom for students to explore what they’re really interested in, to develop a passion for something, to really get engaged and light up their minds.”
Paula Mitchell, Teacher on Special Assignment for Maker Ed and Blended Learning
Grass Valley Elementary School

In the fall of 2014 Grass Valley teacher Paula Mitchell attended the conference: Project Zero Perspectives: Making, Thinking, and Understanding, in San Francisco. When she returned back to her classroom she brought new ideas, thinking routines, and making. Her principal at the time, Dr. Brandee Stewart, recognized that she was onto something: “I’ve always been on the search for this engaging culturally relevant way of engaging kids. And when I went into Paula’s classroom and saw and heard what she was talking about around maker education...I felt like this was the missing piece throughout my career.” 

Since then, in order to create a sense of agency and empowerment in their learners, Grass Valley has made the shift to maker-centered learning, placing it at the center of the school curriculum and culture. With the guidance of Paula Mitchell, who was hired as a Teacher on Special Assignment with Project Based Learning & Maker Education, the school prioritized hands-on experiences, with the goal of getting students excited and empowered about learning. 

“What can kids notice about their place in the world? And then how can they push against that? And how can they demand more for themselves?”
Roxanne Martinez, Resource Specialist, Grass Valley Elementary School

The overall shift toward maker-centered learning was implemented by first creating a long term vision then adjusting resources and schedules along the way to support that vision. Cohorts of teachers were created to collaborate on maker projects and share strategies within their Professional Learning Communities. Teachers in both special and general education collaborate alongside each other to share approaches and ideas, ensuring that the special education curriculum mirrors that of the general student population. 

“Students who traditionally may not show up as the successful student can actually exhibit a set of skills and knowledge and talents that often surpass students in general education classes.”
Dr. Brandee Stewart, Principal, Grass Valley Elementary School

In September 2016 the school opened their maker space, called the "Wonder Workshop," a classroom dedicated to maker-centered learning during the school day. This space has also served as a space for teacher collaboration, family making night events, and professional development workshops. 

The success of the maker-centered learning program at Grass Valley Elementary is due to collaborations across multiple individuals and organizations. Within the school, Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, provide dedicated weekly meeting time for teachers to come together and share curriculum ideas and professional development tools. In addition to the PLCs, community partners such as Agency by Design have and continue to play a key role in providing professional development, support, supplies, and funding along the way. Not only did Grass Valley teachers Paula Mitchell and Diana Culmer participate in the 2016 - 2017 Agency by Design Oakland fellowship, they, along with two other colleagues, took the online Agency by Design course Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom, which was funded by a grant from the Light Awards. In addition, Grass Valley has partnered with Maker Ed to receive Maker Vistas, and has collaborated with numerous community makers. 

Three times during the course of the 2016-2017 school year teachers brought their students together to share and celebrate their learning. The year-long curriculum focus on Health and Wellness was centered on these driving questions: 

  • How can we as students take control of our food sources?
  • How can we, as food scientists, investigate ways to interact with food?
  • How do we share our knowledge of health and wellness with others by producing, packaging, and marketing a product for a farmer’s market?

In Expo One students demonstrated what they were learning through visualizations of healthy food, maps of local food sources, and planter boxes they had built for seedling vegetable plants. In Expo Two students became food scientists, which was visible in their re-constructions of the human digestion system, cookbooks with their own recipes, and a variety of food offerings they had made. In Expo Three, the culminating event of the year, students produced a farmer’s market, showcasing products they had made, packaged, and marketed themselves. 

Grass Valley teachers’ energy and dedication to pursue maker-centered learning continues to grow. This year there were seven Grass Valley applicants to the 2017 - 2018 Agency by Design Oakland fellowship! We are excited to announce that Monique Parish and Roxy Martinez will be joining us this year, and Paula Mitchell will be joining the Agency by Design Oakland coaching team as a Senior Fellow.

Lastly, we celebrate and appreciate the leadership of the Grass Valley educators! Three years after Paula Mitchell attended the Project Zero Perspectives conference in SF, she and and Diana Culmer share what they’ve learned through a workshop of their own, “Authentic Inclusion and Hands-on Engagement,” at the May 2017 Project Zero Perspectives Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. 


Grass Valley is a small elementary school in the Oakland Unified Public School District serving just under 300 students, mostly students of color, in kindergarten through fifth grade. Over 70% of the student population is socioeconomically disadvantaged, 25% is served by the special education program and approximately 17% of the students are classified as English language learners. 

“Book knowledge is just one piece of a larger education. What you learn must be applied in your everyday life. They’re the next scientists, they’re the next inventors, they’re the next presidents. And all of that starts here.”
Dr. Brandee Stewart, Principal, Grass Valley Elementary School

Fellowship Application Extended until Monday, September 18

Agency by Design Teacher Fellowship, 2017 - 2018

2016-2017 Fellowship Cohort

2016-2017 Fellowship Cohort

Agency by Design Oakland is gathering a cohort of Oakland educators to participate in a professional learning community focused on maker-centered learning and teacher-led classroom inquiry. This fellowship will take place from October 2017 - May 2018. Program details and the application form are below. All applications should be submitted by September 18; accepted applicants will be notified by early October.

Agency by Design Oakland is the Bay Area-based component of the Agency by Design research project. Agency by Design explores the promises, practices, and pedagogies of maker-centered learning developed by  Project Zero, a research center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Agency by Design Oakland participates in action research and dissemination of research findings through professional development and grants for educators, with a focus on equity and sustainable change.  Our priority is to serve underserved student populations and communities of color.

Throughout the year, Agency by Design Fellows will delve deeply into the pedagogical framework and instructional strategies of maker-centered learning, experimenting in their classroom practice and reflecting within the learning cohort. Inquiries will focus on an area of practice the fellow identifies as core to their own next steps in deepening their practice.

Agency by Design Fellows will commit to:

  • Attend three full day study group sessions throughout the school year. A substitute stipend for all three days will be made available to Title I schools. Full day sessions: Monday, November 6, 2017, Monday, December 4, 2017, and Friday, January 12, 2018. 

  • Attend eight Tuesday after school sessions, 4:30-6:30: October 10, November 14, December 12, January 9, February 13, March 13, April 10, and May 8.

  • Participate in and attend a culminating event showcasing our inquiry work on Saturday, May 5, from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

  • Engage in inquiry related to maker-centered learning, experiment within their classroom practice, and reflect and share with the fellows cohort.  

  • Create “Pictures of Practice” documenting inquiry work, with the goal of sharing research with a broader audience. Possibilities include: writing a blog post, hosting a Maker Educator Meet-up, or recording a podcast.

In addition, teachers who participate in the fellowship will have access to one‐on‐one coaching and school site professional development. All Fellows will receive a minimum of $500* in additional teacher pay/stipend.

Please read through the Agency by Design Oakland and Agency by Design websites to learn about our work before completing the application.

The application questions, listed below, are designed to allow you the opportunity to think through what you hope to gain from this experience. Should you wish to apply for the Fellowship,  please submit your answers via google form using these links:

For returning fellows:

  1. What impact did last-year’s fellowship have on you and/or your students?

  2. What ideas or inquiries regarding maker-centered learning are you interested in exploring?

  3. What are your personal leadership goals within the maker-centered learning landscape? What support might help you reach those goals?

For prospective fellows:

1.  Please describe your teaching and learning context, including population demographics, learning needs, community culture, etc.

2.  How do you currently incorporate maker‐centered learning into your practice?

3.  How might your learners benefit from your participation as an Agency by Design Oakland Fellow?

4.  What would you hope to gain from the Agency by Design Oakland Fellowship experience?

5.  In your opinion, why is maker‐centered learning valuable?

6.  It is important that participants understand the time commitment involved with this experience. How do you see this fellowship integrating into your current schedule and workload?

*We are continuing to pursue funding to be able to provide a larger stipend.


The 2016-2017 Agency by Design Oakland Fellowship

Now that the school year has begun, and our research into documentation and assessment practices is off and running, we’re excited to welcome the 2016-2017 Agency by Design Oakland Fellowship cohort, a group of 28 educators from around the San Francisco Bay Area. This group will grow into a professional learning community together, engaging in ongoing inquiry around the project’s current research questions. In turn, we hope to learn from these educators, as well as their students and contexts, to inform how pedagogical ideas work in practice.

When designing a research project, it’s not just nice to have multiple voices in the room—it’s essential to learn from various perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. Who we are impacts what we will create. The AbD Oakland Fellowship cohort is a diverse group of educators serving a variety of student populations, and from the beginning we’ve focused in on what this means for our work. To begin, we’ve taken a values-based approach to this research journey to best outline our own individual perspectives and values as they relate to documentation and assessment.


By partnering with these educators, 93% of whom work in or with California public schools, we hope to shift mainstream ideas about what maker-centered learning looks like, who it’s for, and how to document and assess it. The maker movement has seen a large number of makerspaces in independent and charter schools, which is why it’s noteworthy that 72% of the fellows work in or with district-run public schools. Furthermore, 68% of the fellows work in district-run schools in the Oakland Unified School District.

The geographic distribution of the 2016-2017 Agency by Design Oakland Fellows.

The geographic distribution of the 2016-2017 Agency by Design Oakland Fellows.

The cohort represents 19 different schools and organizations mostly based in the East Bay, including Project H, ACOE’s Integrated Learning, and the Oakland Public Library. Only 3 of the 28 educators work in informal learning environments; most work in formal classroom settings.

Our cohort of fellows is predominately based in Oakland, a city of more than 400,000 people that is known for its racial diversity but also its income inequality; for example, 71% of the student body in Oakland public schools qualifies for free or reduced-priced lunch.

The socioeconomic distribution of students in the learning environments served by the 2016-2017 Agency by Design Oakland Fellows.

The socioeconomic distribution of students in the learning environments served by the 2016-2017 Agency by Design Oakland Fellows.

Consistent with the interests of the Abundance Foundation, a major focus of our work is serving students of color in under-resourced public schools. Our AbD fellows work in schools that serve more than 5,000 students, who come from a range of backgrounds and learning needs, but who are predominantly high-needs and students of color. One notable data point: In the schools at which our fellows work 70% of the students are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Additionally, 33% of the students in these schools are classified as English Language Learners, and 11% are classified with a disability.*

The racial distribution of students served by the 2016-2017 Agency by Design Oakland Fellows.

The racial distribution of students served by the 2016-2017 Agency by Design Oakland Fellows.

As we embark on this second phase of research, we know that having a balance of grade levels and content areas will be important in getting a full view of what documentation and assessment in maker-centered learning looks like. To that end, approximately one-third of the cohort works at the elementary school level, one-third in middle, and one-third in high school.

The distribution of grade levels taught by the 2016-2017 Agency by Design Oakland Fellows.

The distribution of grade levels taught by the 2016-2017 Agency by Design Oakland Fellows.

Additionally, the cohort has a range of content diversity, including:

  • 8 educators who consider themselves maker, art, or design instructors
  • 5 math/science educators
  • 5 humanities and social sciences educators
  • 3 educators who teach technology courses
  • 2 librarians
  • 1 educator who teaches in a bilingual English/Spanish setting
  • 2 special education teachers

The AbD Oakland Fellowship cohort is led by the AbD Oakland Leadership Team, which comprises four educators working in a variety of settings. This team collaboratively guides the fellows in their inquiry with the AbD framework, and their exploration of documentation and assessment strategies for maker-centered learning.


Ilya Pratt

Ilya Pratt

Ilya Pratt is the Design + Make + Engage Program Director at Park Day School, the sole independent school represented in the cohort. Ilya has been a part of the Agency by Design project from its inception and has helped to shape the questions and research along the way, both as a teacher-researcher and project coordinator.

Aaron Vanderwerff

Aaron Vanderwerff

Aaron Vanderwerff is the Creativity Lab Director at Lighthouse Community Public Schools. He is particularly excited about collaborating with educators interested in adopting the Agency by Design framework to turn learning over to students in meaningful ways. Aaron has been integrating making into his teaching and school programs for the past 15 years. He joined the AbD Oakland team in 2015.

Brooke Toczylowski

Brooke Toczylowski

Brooke Toczylowski is an Art/Maker Specialist and Coach in the Oakland Unified School District. She was a teacher-researcher in the first phase of the Agency by Design project, in which she experimented with AbD ideas in her art class at Oakland International High School. In the second phase of AbD research, Brooke is the lead coordinator and coach for the AbD Oakland fellows.

Wendy Donner

Wendy Donner

Wendy Donner is the Education Program Director for the Abundance Foundation, the funder of Agency by Design. A former teacher and school administrator, Wendy has been overseeing the Bay Area based parts of AbD since its formation in 2012.

This project represents a strong collaboration between public school teachers, education coaches, and researchers. Both the Oakland Leadership Team and the Project Zero researchers are thrilled to kick off this year of thinking with such a diverse and engaged group of fellows, and we look forward to the work ahead.

For more information about this local group, check out Who We Are

* These numbers are based on School Accountability Report Cards from the 2014-15 year, filed with the California Departments of Education.