Planning Felt Monsters Inspired by Ceremonial Masks

As promised, herein lies the beginning stages of my first Maker project grounded in critical pedagogy guided by the Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) Ethnic Studies framework and the Critical Friends Protocol (CFP) with members of the Radical STEMM Educators of the Bay Area.  

Epic Middle School students engaged with the design thinking process for the Felt Monster Project inspired by ceremonial masks.

Dictated by department logistics, the 6th grade class of 2016-17 started out their middle school academic career in Epic’s clean Makerspace.  While barren-looking, at first glance, the “clean” space is equipped with a whole lot of fun: couple of sewing machines, a laser cutter, 3 paper cutters, and 2 heat presses.  To figure out where to start I had to dig deep.

Fair warning: detours ahead.

Detour #1:

OUSD’s Ethnic Studies definition

Ethnic Studies is a content and pedagogy that humanizes and empowers all people by honoring histories and cultures of historically marginalized groups, by employing multiple disciplines and perspectives to critically analyze systems of oppression, and by promoting action in solidarity with others to transform students’ lives and communities.

Raised in an inter-generational, immigrant household I grew up with my grandma, a side-business seamstress in Nicaragua, so I naturally gravitated toward a sewing project.  This choice also lent itself to enrich my “Teacher Fun Facts” series at the beginning of the school year as a way to introduce myself and build community. As I introduced myself and our sewing project, I told the story of my grandmother: a single-mother of two girls working in the Office of Social Security during the day with a clothes-making side hustle, supplementing her income to send her daughters to private school.

However, instead of going straight to the sewing machines I told my students the story of how I started sewing, first hand-hemming clothes to fit me and then making my first purse.  True story: my first sewing project in 1999 was to make a purse which I regret to this day for not taking my idea of a cell phone pocket in purses to the market! So I also explained to my students this horrid first lesson as an business entrepreneurial failure.

Detour #2:

My summer peg board baby with Celine Liu, ACOE’s Core Learning Math Coach and Radical STEMM Educators co-founder, and ACOE’s MMS Director, Francisco Nieto Salazar.

To start the actual project I borrowed some sewing kits from the Alameda County of Education’s Meaning Maker Studio (ACOE MMS), where I was hired to help develop the Lending Library, teacher PD’s and space this summer.  However, before introducing the sewing kits I spent 3 weeks on basic paper and pencil sketching and algorithm lessons to establish group norms and project-based routines and procedures.  So, by the time students started using the sewing kits they had a process of checking them in/out, reporting any missing or damaged materials, sharing materials, and working together.

At ACOE’s MMS I got a chance to work and learn from these two wonderful people: Celine Liu, ACOE’s Core Learning Math Coach and Francisco Nieto Salazar,  ACOE’s MMS Guru.  Celine Liu used to run the Social Justice Math Educators of the Bay Area group.  She and I quickly bonded through our common passion of social justice and STEMM education and debuted both SJMEB and WoCSTEMM together at Teachers for Social Justice conference in October 2016.  At the conference we told of a vision to create a space for professional development and curriculum building in solidarity.

For first and second meeting I facilitated the group through’s design thinking process to grow our vision through incorporating the group’s ideas.  At our third meeting we engaged with CFP and I pitched the Felt Monster project.

The Felt Monster project lended itself to hand-sewing, student personalization, and honoring histories and cultures of historically marginalized groups.

Next post, I’ll finish up with lessons learned from developing this project.  In the mean time, if you have any frameworks to sharpen my planning especially that shed light on Ethnic Studies and critical pedagogy please share in the comments section.

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