Making Across the Curriculum

(Agency by Design)


How do we best prepare young people for a rapidly changing world?

In response to this question, many leading education experts advocate interdisciplinary, project-based learning. Paired with design thinking, this “maker-centered” approach–a methodology providing a framework for looking closely, exploring complexity and finding opportunity–embraces the development of a wide range of dispositions and hands-on skills. Emergent research from the Agency by Design initiative at Project Zero shows promise for students, especially those from historically marginalized communities, to engage more meaningfully with content and to make rich connections across the curriculum on their own.

Managed by the Professional Development Collaborative since its inception in 2018, Agency by Design-DC: Making Across the Curriculum (MAC) aims to change the paradigm of teaching and learning in DC schools by creating a network of educators who use a maker-centered approach in their classrooms to better empower their students to make their mark on the world.

"A key goal of maker-centered learning is to help young people and adults feel empowered to build and shape their worlds."

There are two major strands of inquiry for this project:

(1) How can the practices of maker-centered learning be applied across content areas and grade levels?

(2) How can the practices of maker-centered learning be applied to better reach and engage students–especially young people from historically marginalized communities–who struggle to excel within traditional educational structures?

Teachers involved in the project are learning about AbD pedagogical tools and practices in professional development seminars and then are trying them out in the classroom. They bring documentation of student learning to share with their peers.                                  

The initial phase of the project, funded by the Edward E. Ford Foundation and matching funds, included an ongoing researcher-in-residence program. Starting in February 2018, Edward Clapp and Sarah Sheya, two Agency by Design (AbD) researchers from Project Zero worked alongside 15 Washington International School teachers, across disciplines and grade levels, introducing AbD concepts as well as various related pedagogical tools. In fall 2018, this group expanded to include 25 teachers from the following public schools across the DC metropolitan area:

  • H.D. Cooke Elementary School (DCPS)
  • DC International Public Charter School
  • MacFarland Middle School (DCPS)
  • Roosevelt High School (DCPS)
  • Van Ness Elementary School (DCPS)

In May 2019, the Collaborative hosted the first-ever Making Across the Curriculum Conference! Educators from around the DMV area gathered at WIS’s Tregaron Campus to hear directly from the teachers who participated in this initiative over the previous year. Clapp and Sheya were the keynote speakers.

In the 2019-2020 academic year, the project continued as the Making Across the Curriculum Consortium. Four schools (Barrie School, Sacred Heart School, St. Thomas More Academy, and Washington International School) each recruited a cohort of teachers to participate in MAC. They met for seminars with Clapp and Sheya four times in the year, while also gathering in school-based learning groups to explore AbD ideas. 

In the 2020-2021 academic year, the Consortium–consisting of Sacred Heart School, St. Thomas More Academy, and Washington International School–meet virtually in three cohorts to explore the power of maker-centered learning:

  • MAC I is for teachers who are relatively new to maker-centered learning; the cohort will explore research-based tools, resources and strategies for making in the classroom.
  • MAC II is for those with experience using maker-centered learning in their practice but wanting to delve further with colleagues.

On Friday, May 14, 2021, members of all the cohorts presented at a public Exhibition of Maker-Centered Learning.

On Saturday & Sunday, May 15 &16, 2021, the PD Collaborative hosted a virtual conference, called Making Change through Maker-Centered Learning, that explored the pedagogical frameworks and tools that have been developed in MAC and JusticexDesign. Clapp, Sheya and several local educators were featured speakers, with interactive workshops facilitated by participants who have put these ideas into practice in a variety of contexts. 

In 2021-22, the MAC Consortium continued with the same schools, meeting regularly online with cohorts from three schools. On Friday, April 29, 14 educators from the Consortium and from other educational institutions that had participated in JusticexDesign cohorts presented at a public virtual Exhibition of Maker-Centered Learning. On Saturday & Sunday, April 30 & May 1, 2022, the PD Collaborative hosted the virtual Making Change through Maker-Centered Learning conference–the third year putting on a conference and the second year holding it virtually.
This conference built on the previous years’ learning and expanded the scope of the work presented, both geographically and conceptually. Edward Clapp and Sarah Sheya each presented a plenary session talk and moderated panel discussions with educational leaders doing this work in diverse school and museum settings. Presenters came not only from the DC area but also from Michigan.
In 2022-23, the PDC continues to support educators in using maker-centered practices in the MAC Consortium schools. MAC project leaders are currently writing a book detailing the project and its impact.


To learn more about how this project is going, read this blog post published on the Agency by Design website.