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.