Over the past decade there has been a resurgence of interest in making things—as opposed to merely consuming them—and the theme of making has risen to the surface in national and global conversations around economics, entrepreneurship and education. Whether in schools, after-school settings, libraries, or museums, an interest in providing opportunities and spaces for making has become ubiquitous. This renewed interest in making has come to be known as the maker movement—a rising interest in sharing and learning from others while working with one’s hands within interdisciplinary environments that combine a variety of tools and technologies. Maker-centered learning has likewise become increasingly popular—young people (and teachers and parents alike) have greater opportunities to build, hack, redesign, and tinker with a variety of materials, within school- or community-based spaces, through design thinking and engineering programs, and at Maker Faires. This approach to learning requires new frameworks for thinking about pedagogy, as well as updated approaches to learning from classroom data. 
Supported by the Abundance Foundation, Agency by Design (AbD) is a multiyear research initiative launched in 2012 to investigate the promises, practices, and pedagogies of maker-centered learning. Through this work we have identified maker empowerment—a sensitivity to the designed dimensions of objects and systems, along with the inclination and capacity to shape one’s world through building, tinkering, re/designing, or hacking— as a key outcome of maker-centered learning experiences. Arising from conversations with educators in maker-centered learning environments, AbD established a framework for maker-centered learning that includes three core maker capacities: looking closely, exploring complexity, and finding opportunity. To support this framework in a variety of teaching and learning environments, the AbD research team developed a suite of thinking routines and educator resources that were pilot tested and refined in collaboration with a teacher group in Oakland, California. Today, these tools and ideas continue to be used by the Oakland teachers as well as educators around the world who are exploring Project Zero frameworks in their classrooms and through AbD’s online course at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 
Agency by Design’s current work focuses on developing documentation and assessment tools that are designed with maker-centered learning environments in mind and built on the project concepts of maker empowerment, sensitivity to design, and the three maker capacities of looking closely, exploring complexity, and finding opportunity. Core questions that guide this work include: 
  • How can learners make visible their ability to look closely, explore complexity, and find opportunity? 
  • How can teachers qualitatively measure students’ performance within the realm of these three core maker capacities? and
  • 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?

Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds