About Us

Educational initiatives that emphasize making, design, engineering, and tinkering have been gaining traction in schools and organizations across the country. While maker-centered learning is not a new concept, recent and emerging trends suggest a new kind of hands-on pedagogy—a responsive and flexible pedagogy that encourages community and collaboration (a do-it-together mentality), distributed teaching and learning, and crossing boundaries.

Supported by the Abundance Foundation, Agency by Design (AbD) is a multiyear research initiative at Project Zero investigating the promises, practices, and pedagogies of maker-centered learning experiences.


Beginning in 2012, our work was guided by three questions:

1) How do maker educators and leaders in the field think about the benefits and outcomes of maker-centered learning experiences?

2) What are some of the key characteristics of environments in which maker-centered learning thrives?

3) What kinds of educational interventions can we develop that support thoughtful reflection around maker-centered learning and the made dimensions of our world?

From 2012 – 2015, AbD explored these questions through multiple strands of research that included a literature review, interviews and site visits with maker education thought leaders, observations of student work, and collaborations with a cohort of pre-K – 12 educators in Oakland, California. From this initial work emerged the hypothesis that fostering young people’s sensitivity to the designed dimensions of the world may be a powerful way to increase their sense of agency, as well as the realization that the development of agency and community are two of the core outcomes that many maker-centered educators seek to help their students develop. To explore these ideas, AbD engaged in a program of action research with its partner group of practitioners in Oakland to develop a theoretical framework, a set of thinking routines, and pictures of practice to support educators in helping students think critically about the design of objects and systems. This framework proposes that people of all ages can foster their own agency and empowerment, and become more sensitive to the designed dimensions of the world around them, by developing three core maker capacities: the ability to look closely, explore complexity, and find opportunity.

More about the framework, as well as the thinking routines developed through the project, can be found on the Educator Resources section of this site and in the book Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds. An online course based on the project, called Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom, is also offered through the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Programs in Professional Education department.

Present Day

In 2016, again with the generous support of the Abundance Foundation, Agency by Design began a second phase of work. The premise of this strand of research is that in order for maker-centered learning to have broad-scale and long-term relevance to the education field, it will be necessary to develop documentation and assessment strategies to make thinking and learning visible. The three questions that guide this work are:

1) How can learners make visible their ability to look closely, explore complexity, and find opportunity?

2) How can teachers qualitatively measure students’ performance within the realm of these three core maker capacities?

3) How can we collaborate with students and teachers to design a suite of practical documentation and assessment tools best suited to the development of maker empowerment?

The project researchers continue to explore these questions with a cohort of educator Fellows and fellowship leaders in Oakland, California and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Principal Investigators

Shari Tishman, Edward P. Clapp

Project Manager

Jessica Ross

Former Project Manager

Jennifer Oxman Ryan

Senior Research Manager

Andrea Sachdeva

Graduate Research Assistants

Gabriela Ceribelli Talarico, Amy Hachigian, Sarah May, Cami Gordon, Chandell Stone, Raquel Jimenez

Abundance Foundation Liaison

Wendy Donner

Pittsburgh Maker Educator Learning Community Liaison

Jeff Evancho

Oakland Leadership Team

Wendy Donner, Brooke Toczylowski, Ilya Pratt, Aaron Vanderwerff

Participating Schools and Organizations

Oakland, Phase I
Claremont Middle School, Emerson Elementary School, North Oakland Community Charter School, Oakland International High School, Oakland Technical High School, Park Day School

Oakland, Phase II
Emerson Elementary School, OUSD; Oakland International High School, OUSD; MetWest High School, OUSD; Burkhalter Elementary School, OUSD; Grass Valley Elementary School, OUSD; Alliance Academy Middle School, OUSD; West Oakland Middle School, OUSD; McClymonds High School, OUSD; Roosevelt Middle School, OUSD; Melrose Leadership Academy, OUSD; Lighthouse Community Charter School, OUSD; Lodestar Charter School, OUSD; Oakland Public Library; Alameda County Office of Education; Project H at Realm Charter School in Berkeley Unified School District; Wood Middle School in the Alameda School District; White Hill Middle School in the Ross Valley School District

Avonworth School District, Brentwood Borough School District, Butler Area School District,Chartiers Valley School District, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh,Elizabeth Forward School District,Environmental Charter, Falk Laboratory School, Fox Chapel Area School District, Holy Family Academy, Homewood Children’s Village, Millvale Community Library, Montour Area School District, Propel McKeesport, Quaker Valley School District, Shaler Area School District, Steel Valley School District, Sto-Rox School District

Tools, materials, and writings from this website and the Agency by Design research project are licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

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